There were 272 million international migrants (3.5% of the world’s population) living across the world, for various reasons like tourism, education, business, job-seeking or even better conditions of living. There is a disproportionately greater burden on some states to manage millions of immigrants. This makes immigration politics very central to most states’ foreign policy and their reputation. This article’s focus will be on immigration politics on Italy, a member of the European Union, with respect to the asylum seekers from north African states, who flee their home states due to conflict, genocidal states, abuse, exploitation, etcetera to seek better living conditions. The article will break down certain terminologies that are often used while talking about immigration issues. Following that, it will provide an overview of the Italian policy and claims towards immigration, before puncturing them and laying down the reality.
Demarcating the Terminologies
The terms “refugees”, “asylum-seekers” and “migrants” are used interchangeably several times. However, they have distinct meanings and one can draw a lot of inferences from their usage in policy documents. Amnesty International defines a “refugee” as someone
“who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there.”
This is different from an “asylum-seeker”, who is someone
“who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim.”
Although the living conditions of asylum seekers and refugees are similar and not top-of-the-class in the host countries, the acceptance of asylum-seekers as refugees impacts the rights they enjoy. Asylum-seekers have a human right to seek asylum and hence be allowed to enter a country to seek asylum. However, it is their acceptance as refugees which gives them the right to international protection. Hence, the demarcation between the two terminologies is extremely important. Despite the lack of an internationally recognised definition of “migrants”, Amnesty International simply understands it as “people staying outside their country of origin, who are not asylum-seekers or refugees.” This usually refers to cases where individuals have travelled from one country to another legally. All three terminologies are often aggregately understood as “immigrants”.
The Italian Illusion
Like most of the European Union members, Italy too claims to be open to all immigrants and that it is committed to integrating them into Italy irrespective of their origin country, religion or diverse cultures. At the same time, it is also committed to protecting its own population from threats that “illegal immigrants” may pose. In 2017, Italy adopted the Law 46/2017 formulating new immigration and border policies and control measures for asylum-seekers who landed on the Italian shores in 2016 in great numbers. Through the law, the Italian government toughened its stance on sending “illegals” back to their home countries and not just expelling them. Simultaneously, they expanded the existing detention facilities by almost quadrupling them in number. The government’s commitment to speeding up the asylum-seeking process and cutting down on “red-tapism” has led to a reduction on the jurisdictional guarantees that are provided to the refugees. This however compromises the right to international protection of refugees and the right to appeal the denial of asylum in the first instance, making them more vulnerable. Moreover, to avoid the “empty wait”, they could be used to carry out “unpaid public utility” work. The silver lining to this is the claim that by cutting down on unnecessary processes, the government could now direct more funds into humanitarian work and make the process more transparent. Hence, the law seems to be illusionary owing to its abstraction from reality.
Breaking the Code
The claims about inclusion and tolerance of immigrants are far from real. The treatment of asylum-seekers travelling across the Mediterranean Sea, on overcrowded and “un-seaworthy” boats, is egregious. Its draconian decrees put the asylum-seekers at more risk and increase their precariousness. Moreover, these policies prioritise and attach legitimacy to Italians and European nationals over anyone else, which is contrary to their inclusion claim. It is interesting that an anti-immigration deal was signed between Libya and Italy, and extended recently. It supports the Libyan coastguard in intercepting refugee boats in the Mediterranean, headed towards Italy. These are then taken back to Libya, where people are exposed to horrifying and unimaginable suffering. It also reflects on the Italian neglect and apathy towards these asylum-seekers and points towards its hypocritical claims of being an immigrant-friendly country. The intention behind such empty claims ought to be decoded. Providing posthumous citizenship and ‘dignified burials’ to those who died in rabid boats while crossing the Mediterranean, highlights how these western states politicise immigrant death to gain the reputation of the “well-wisher” or the sole “Messiah” of those fleeing their home countries. This effaces colonial histories of prejudice and violence to which these nations were subjugated and builds on the idea of the “white-man’s innocence” as a good-Samaritan. It brings out the contrast between the inclusive law and the xenophobic reality.
Hence, through various instances of the past and the present, this article highlights the double-faceted nature of those policies and how much they overlook the ground reality. The entire immigrant issue is treated like a tool in the game of gaining power and influence. It is imperative to break the codes and point out the hypocrisy in states’ behaviour and policies concerning this. The issue of immigration is real and in order to handle it efficiently – states need to incorporate more nuanced outlook to policy rather than focusing on superfluous propaganda only aiding in reputation building.
Deepanshu Singal is an undergraduate student at Ashoka University with a keen interest in Economics and International Relations.