Italy, the EU, and the Refugee Crisis

Apr 13 2011

Italy, the EU, and the Refugee Crisis

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Starting in December 2010, Tunisian protesters created an uprising that resulted in a regime change. Unfortunately, the new regime is not exactly what some people expected, which has led to many Tunisian citizens fleeing to Europe. “Political unrest, increased enforcement in other areas and calmer waters have all contributed to what is becoming an issue that the European Union will have to face.

As stated, this influx of migrants from North Africa has created issues for the 27 member European Union. Nearly 23,000 migrants have traveled across the Mediterranean to take shelter on the small Italian island of Lampedusa. This tiny island, with a population of about 5,000, is actually closer to Africa than to mainland Italy. With so many refugees landing in Lampedusa, the island has become overcrowded. A few thousand people have found shelter in the island’s migrant center built for 800 but, many are still left with no form of protection from the elements.

Recently, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi personally visited the small island to see what steps should be taken to alleviate the issue. “Berlusconi said Saturday the Italian government will provide aid, including 150 off-road vehicles and four coastal patrol boats to Tunisia. There also is an agreement to send ships just outside territorial waters to intercept boats, the prime minister said.” Italy has also agreed to issue temporary residence permits to qualified migrants. But, even though Italy is trying to solve the issue, it needs help from the rest of Europe.

In late March, the UN refugee agency urged the European Union to help Italy with the situation. Italy has also personally asked for help and has not gotten the response they had hoped for. Currently, the EU is dealing with the global financial crisis and friction over NATO’s intervention in Libya. The migration issue is definitely not something many of the European countries want to deal with especially because many of them are also dealing with a rise of xenophobia in their societies.

So, as stated earlier, Italy is trying to issue temporary residence permits to qualified migrants. Italy asked the members of the European Union to recognize these permits, allowing migrants passage and entry into other EU countries. The response was negative. “Individual European countries have their own policies for handling immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Under European law, the country where migrants first arrive is responsible for determining their status, a norm that Italy and Malta have asked to be waived. (So far, they have been rebuffed.)

To make matters worse, France not only rejected the permit idea, they also increased their patrols on the French Italian border, and have turned away hundreds of refugees. Germany, also having a negative response to the permits, has stated that the refugees have landed in Italy and it is Italy’s responsibility to deal with the problem.

Overall, the influx of migrants from North Africa has caused a lot of tension in the European Union. The Italian interior minister is questioning whether Italy should even stay in the EU and many countries in the EU are criticizing the way Italy has dealt with the migrants. As more migrants start to arrive in Europe, the issues in the EU have to be solved or else even more problems could arise.

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