A united front by Europeby Margherita Boniver
4 October 2002
The tragic events we have witnessed over the last few days will not stop other ships laden with clandestine immigrants who are, in all probability, already headed for our shores. Even Pantelleria, with its steep and dangerous cliffs, cannot hold off the waves of clandestine immigrants. This phenomenon involves all the coastal areas of southern Italy and cannot be solved either by heeding the intemperate slogans of the Northern League or by trusting to the right-thinking approach that is always invoked by the Catholic-Communist grassroots. Anyone who knows anything at all about the immigration problem has always claimed, at the risk of repeating themselves, that there is no law anywhere in the world that can fully tackle a phenomenon that is constantly subject to abrupt transformations. Now that a framework law has been passed we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate instruments to adapt easily and smoothly to the changing situation. The Fini-Bossi Law is a good one, but as is always the case with this issue there is a risk that in some points at least it has already been overtaken by events. And this will be the case with any domestic law that might be passed in the future. Only with a systematic European regulatory framework that is able to take into account the different situations prevailing in the countries of the Union will we be able, if not to actually solve, then at least to lighten the burden of the fight against clandestine immigration.
We need to consider that after the attacks of 11 September some countries grasped the opportunity of the worldwide alliance against terrorism to have a good clear-out at home, as unobtrusively as possible, for example by expelling unwelcome minority groups. Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, Russian Chechens, Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan, Afghan refugees in Pakistan, to give just some examples, are ethnic groups that by reason of their recent history are among the first to be suspected of connivance or infiltration by terrorism and are becoming less and less tolerated by their host countries.
For months now there has been a flow towards the Mediterranean that is no longer composed of young men on their own in search of a better future, as was the case until just a short time ago. Rather, we are witnessing an exodus of entire communities, with complete families, children included, in search of a place to live. The numbers fleeing persecution in their own countries now look like overtaking those in search of work, while for asylum seekers the application of policies to regulate migratory flows through quotas is quite simply out of the question.
The European countries to which these flows are directed cannot continue to hope that the problem only concerns their neighbours. To take one example, the great majority of Kurds landing in Sicily say they are trying to reach family and friends in Germany. This is borne out by phone calls from Germany to humanitarian organisations, seeking confirmation that uncles and aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters have arrived safely and are well. The latest exodus affects all of Europe, which as soon as possible will need to harmonise its policies for the reception and circulation of non-EU citizens and asylum seekers within the Union. The effort to combat clandestine immigration and the trafficking in human beings requires stronger cooperation between the countries of the European Union, prompt exchanges of information, and joint control at least of the most vulnerable frontiers. Intelligence activity too will need to be tightened up, and to bring a sharper and closer focus to play on the problem.
Finally, a recommendation to our television companies: we need to stop sending out messages to the four corners of the globe encouraging clandestine immigration! Smiling police officers giving kids a big hug and helping women off boats; doctors providing care, ambulances carrying patients to welcoming hospitals; immigrants, male and female, of every age sitting down cheerfully to eat delicious looking plates of maccheroni in spotless canteens; and volunteers organising games for clean, happy children. If RAI and Mediaset are at all interested in this issue they should be sending out more telling images, like the terrible ones we have witnessed over the last few days: the dreadful loss of human lives during the crossing; the scenes of would-be immigrants being turned back, and their pathetic attempts to respond to officials’ questioning; the prostitution, and the 50% of the Italian prison population that is made up of immigrants; the squalor into which many of these unfortunate people fall. Merely observing humanitarian rights, as is our duty, is not enough: we need to ensure that anyone coming to Italy with a valid permit is given a more orderly welcome and a more integrated future.
Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs