“What is that?” asked the man when I said that I was coming from Brussels, headquarters of the European Union. The couple I’m talking to comes from the US, so that justifies the question. We met on a boat to Amalfi, the name of which they cannot really pronounce either. But generally speaking they know we are in Italy. Europe.
Lately, however, during my efforts to grapple with one of the most sensitive and hot topics to date on the European agenda – immigration- I came to ask myself the same question as my American friend. I, too, am lost as to the European Union’s position, even though I am able to locate the building. But where is it, really, when it comes to addressing the unprecedented illegal mass migration that is currently reshaping the most crucial aspects of the European economic, social and political landscape?
Take Lampedusa, for instance. Now, if I were to explain the situation to my newly-made encounter from the States, I would put it simply: a small, once quiet and touristy island in Italy 115 km away from the Tunisian coast, this is where asylum-seekers first arrive before they evaporate somewhere in Europe. But Lampedusa has a problem: too many boats it can handle arrive filled with immigrants. And it also has few more: the locals are exceeded by the number of uninvited visitors and start to be fed up with it. They are kind people, mind you, but they cannot stay passive forever and watch their lives take a U-turn while the only source of revenue – tourism – turns into a fiction and they experience fear in their courtyard. Anyone would lose patience, sympathy, and even humanity.
Sadly for Lampedusa, it cannot count on its government’s attention too much and so it deals with this massive problem the best it can. But Lampedusa knows it is only a transitional territory, a gateway for the immigrants to spread across Europe. And so, Lampedusa, carrying its big problems on its feeble shoulders all alone might wonder, how is it that the broader European Union turns a blind eye to what is going on and leaves the burden of rescuing, welcoming, sheltering, feeding, shipping immigrants elsewhere on its population and resources alone?
Greece, which bleeds its way out of the worse financial crisis only to wake up the country with the highest debt in Europe (Italy comes second), could ask itself the same question, considering that 9 out of 10 illegal immigrants to Europe enter through its territory. I think even my 7-year old nephew would ask himself how is it that two of the most indebted countries, already fraught with corruption, poverty, unemployment, and other plagues that come with the realities and extent of their troubles, are left to deal with a tsunami of immigrants all by themselves. Because they happen to benefit from an immigrant-friendly geographical position?
So far, June 2014, it is estimated that around 42,000 people engaged in the crossing of the Mediterranean to reach the Italian shore, which is already the equivalent of last year. And Greece never even had African colonies in the recent history, so why should it deal with the aftermath for which other European countries should rightfully be responsible?
In light of the EU’s frail involvement and its mere acknowledgment that yes, “Houston, we have a problem”, the European countries will start taking decisions of their own. “If the mainstream does not act, extremists will,” warns the controversial journalist Douglas Murray during a BBC World News debate on the motion “Europe should shut the door on immigration”. This he said in 2013.
The man is a psychic. It is 2014 and the far-right National Front –yes, an anti-Europe, anti-immigration party led by Marine Le Pen – wins the European parliament elections in France. Founder of the party is the man who had the courtesy to state that “Ebola could solve France’s immigration problem in three months.” There you go. My hope is that what he needs is simply another speechwriter.
Crossing the English Channel, we find a similar trend – the UK Independence party wins. Their dream of getting out of the European Union is about to come true. Murray was saying the truth: the EU non-action triggers country per country reaction. The UK is already struggling to cope respectfully with legal immigration and has experienced major distress at the thought that the border would be open to a Bulgaro-Romanian invasion that never happened. They surely couldn’t bear the sight of more Somalis delivered via Lampedusa.
Migration is by no means a new phenomenon, but at the scale and the speed at which it occurs, it is a determining one for Europe nonetheless. It is a problem that waits for adequate solutions. With hundreds of thousands of people fleeing North Africa into Europe to final destinations I’m not even sure that any authority of any country takes note of, this has the potential of creating a domino effect. The Maltese and Italian coast guards try to save the immigrants from drowning when they can, but what if in time they decide not to anymore, submerged themselves by the incapacity to deal with new arrivals daily?
Most importantly, immigration is about people who wait for solutions. Behind the growing numbers of refugees that try to escape wars, poverty or simply try their luck and find a better life, there are people. People who do not put their lives at risk for fun. People who are desperate. People whom none of us would like to be. People who literally go through hell and back in hope for the better. Because try is all they have. They are often people smuggled, injured, kept in inhuman conditions in overcrowded camps until they are packed and sent somewhere else with few chances of ever knowing integration because Europe is too overwhelmed to be guaranteeing this today. A large number does not make it to the shore.
Illegal immigration is dead serious business. It impacts all levels of life and for everyone. Today, the Dublin II Regulation has a hard time proving its efficacy. Its objective of “avoiding asylum seekers from being sent from one country to the other” is clearly crippled. Nor should the “Member state into which the asylum seeker has irregularly crossed the border” hold full responsibility “for examining the asylum application.” Not in the conditions in which a Member state is but an entry point which can hardly support its own population and certainly not when it faces such number of incomers. That union makes strength should at the very least be shown by revising this regulation and adapting it to more contemporary circumstances.
Some interesting videos: