Guest Post/ASMIRA: It’s not me, it’s you! Italy’s blame game against the EU over migration influxes

“Imagine there are 2 million students this school year, but I prepared only 500 thousand seats in the classrooms. If every year the number of students is three times higher than my previsions, the problem is neither the students nor the European Union: It’s me”.

Syrians sleeping rough at Milan Central Station

In a recent article, Professor Paolo Bonetti (Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at the University Milano-Bicocca) used this metaphor to point his finger at Italy, to criticise the country’s relentless blame game against the European Union (EU) for not helping with the “refugee crisis”. While Italy’s politicians have accused for quite some time the EU of ignoring their cry for help during these past “refugee emergencies”, Professor Bonetti believes that “the real emergency is the systematic Italian underestimation of migratory flows“. The available figures confirm his statements.

Historically, other countries have prepared and equipped themselves to deal with even larger migratory flows. For example, soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Germany received 440,000 asylum applications and Sweden 84,000 (which is proportionally impressive since Sweden had, at the time, little more over 8.6 million citizens). Professor Bonetti notes that both France and Germany dedicated, at times of mass influxes, higher quotas of their budgets to receive asylum seekers, whereas Italy, “with over 8,000 km of coasts on the easiest navigable sea”, did not adapt its policies to the foreseeable influxes of immigrants. Instead, expressions such as “large immigration flows”, “emergency phase” and “extraordinary measures” became widespread during the “North Africa Emergency” period (January 2011 – February 2013) and are all included in this press release of the Italian Ministry of Interior congratulating the country’s reception of 62,000 immigrants (over a two-year period, for a country with almost 60 million citizens at the time).

For the sake of comparison, while Italy received little over 17,000 asylum applications in 2012, Germany received over 77,000.

Moreover, Professor Bonetti highlights how Italy is seen as a transit country for refugees also because of its poor reception conditions: instead of providing the 200.000 placements needed to effectively respond to the current humanitarian crisis, Italy has only 13’000 spaces available, despite the recent enlargement of the accommodation system for asylum seekers and refugees (SPRAR).

A number of Italian politicians blame European policies, especially the Dublin III regulation, for not including a “burden sharing” system that allows sending asylum seekers to other European Member States for the processing of their asylum application. Not only is their interpretation of the Regulation wrong, but Professor Bonetti highlighted also how the right to asylum for foreigners coming from states preventing the exercise of their democratic freedoms is enshrined in the Italian Constitution (Art. 10). Therefore, he stated, “before speaking of the responsibilities of others, Italy has the constitutional obligation to grant asylum”.

Another common misunderstanding among Italian politicians is that the European Union does not support Italy financially to address these migratory flows. However, Italy has received almost 300 million euro over six years from different EU funds to address immigration-related issues.

Recently, both the “politics of fear” used during the past European elections and Italy’s Prime Minister’s declaration that “Europe left us on our own” and that the EU“can’t save the States, the banks and then leave mothers and children to die” clearly shows the Italian political class’ inability to address asylum and migration issues objectively.

Therefore, although the EU is criticisable under many aspects and has especially failed to implement its migration and asylum policies that promote the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility between Member States (Art. 80 TFUE), Italy should own up to its own responsibilities and do its part of the work.

In conclusion, as Professor Bonetti seems to suggest, the recently presented “Frontex Plus” operation – although its contents are still very vague – might represent the worst of the two worlds: a way for Italy to accept even less responsibilities on search and rescue operations, and an Europe-wide programme aimed at better protecting Europe’s borders rather than at saving people’s lives.


Contributor: Chiara De Capitani