Fifty Thousand and Counting – Melanie De Vincentiis, Italy/USA

Italy is a beautiful boot-shaped country in the middle of the Mediterranean. For many, it’s a place of natural reserves, history, art and good food; for others, it’s a bridge to safety. tunisia-rifugiati As of June 7th, 50,000 immigrants have reached the Italian shores in the year 2015, however that’s without counting the innumerable lives that were lost because of the unpredictable sea and the boatmen who don’t take into consideration even the most basic needs of their passengers and throw people, who can’t swim, into the water because they don’t want to be caught and arrested for their inhumane and illegal actions. In 2014, the immigrants’ numbers were up to 170,000, with 69,204 registered asylum seekers. The ones who have arrived, though, are far too many for one small country to handle;  especially if that one country has a population density of 202 people per km², with a national debt up to 130% and an unemployment rate that has reached 12%. According to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the EU hasn’t offered an acceptable distribution plan for the migrants. This brings up the Dublin Regulation, which is a law that determines that the EU Member State responsible for examining the applications for asylum seekers asking for international protection under the Geneva Convention will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU. By these standards, Italy should be responsible for most of the immigrants that reach Europe, but its complicated and slow-to-act government is not prepared to face these fifty thousand, and counting, immigrants alone. The country’s population isn’t either. Though Italy is not at all a homogeneous country, Italians feel very strongly about their cultural identity, and that is what should be kept in mind when we talk about their feelings towards immigration. There are racists in Italy, like there are everywhere else, but to say that Italy as a population is racist is inaccurate. It does suffer, however, from xenophobia, the unreasonable fear of anything foreign or “strange” (yes, it’s also a country of conformists).  As a result, one must consider its tendency to exaggerate; according to Ipsos Mori’s research, Italians think that 30% of the national population is made up of immigrants (the real number is 7%) and that 20% is made up of Muslims (only 4%). Because of these views, immigrants in Italy aren’t usually well-integrated into their communities, have trouble finding a job and, consequently, struggle with supporting their families. Many Italians criticize them for turning down food and shelter, but there are biological and religious explanations for this: many immigrants cannot digest pasta and/or are fasting for Ramadan, a religious occurrence for Muslims, and they also refuse to sleep in the same place as women for moral and yet again religious reasons. On top of that, most Italians consider all immigrants to be the same, and do not understand the difference between an economic migrant (who voluntarily leaves his country to look for work and better living options) and a refugee. But what is a refugee? Article 1 of the 1951 Geneva Convention states that a refugee is “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it…”. As can be read, refugees are people fleeing from a life-threatening situation. To be sent back would be a death sentence, and yet the xenophobic and misinformed Italian population claims that the refugees are “ruining Italy” and “stealing jobs”. Lots of refugees don’t want their fingerprints to be taken by the Italian Government for fear of the consequences, as the Dublin Regulation would be put into action and they would be stuck in a country they never meant to stay in. Some are trying to reach their families, who have already migrated towards northern European countries; others never dreamed of starting a new life in Italy. “I always thought the world spoke either Arabic or English!” says Moustef, a young refugee who has been studying Italian for the past few years, with help from a national integration program. “I could have never imagined a country like Italy existed!” Meanwhile, due to this absurd regulation, there are hundreds of migrants waiting at the Ventimiglia train-station, at the Italian-French border. The majority have spent all their money on tickets that have turned out to be useless, since the French police has caught and sent almost every one of them back to Italy. When asked about the reason behind his migration and perseverance, Ahmad, a refugee from Somalia assisted by the Astalli Center of Rome (a Jesuit social service), answers: “We are not stupid, nor crazy. We are desperate and persecuted. To stay [in our home country] would mean certain death, to leave would mean probable death. What would you choose? Or rather, what would you choose for your children? […] We’re looking for safety, a future, we’re trying to survive. It’s not our fault if we were born on the wrong side and you certainly have no merit in being born on the right one.” In conclusion, immigration in Italy is a pressing issue with no easy solution. Italians are waiting, holding their breaths, hoping the EU will come to their rescue. The patience of the Italian Government is running thin with certain Member States that are acting lawfully (according to the Dublin Regulation) but not cooperatively or even morally.  In the meantime, the country is investing its resources in the newly arrived and is bracing itself for the next wave of refugees. For more information check out this video

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