January 16th, 2017
Palermo, January 16th, 2017
We are here in Palermo, for the first event of the project named Lampedusa-Berlino, Diario di viaggio (a travel diary).
The participants come from civil society organization from eight different countries: Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Poland.
We are representatives of associations, volunteers, citizens. In this project, we will meet in different cities to come in contact with local realities and to discuss together a few questions that are fundamental for Europe:
- What are our reflections on the current EU policies and strategies to manage the migratory phenomenon? What is good, and what should be improved, changed?
- How to stop the diffusion of racist and xenophobic attitudes and points of view?
- How to develop intercultural dialogue in Europe?
- How to prevent the spread of stereotypes about migrants? How to support the creation of more adequate narratives and knowledge to understand this phenomenon, and able to promote positive coexistence?
- How to encourage the participation of migrants to civil society in the hosting countries?
In this first event, held in Palermo and Lampedusa, the question we will focus on is:
What are our reflections on the current EU policies and strategies to manage the migratory phenomenon? What is good, and what should be improved, changed?
The first part of the event was dedicated to a confrontation with experts in order to share the necessary information to understand the migratory phenomenon in Europe, with particular attention on the migratory routes across the Mediterranean sea.
We also did some research by ourselves before arriving here… because, in fact, we believe that to be informed, to study, to become “experts” of the problem we are facing, is the basis to propose any change.
Data concerning migration through the Mediterranean sea
This is some of the information we have found thanks to this research...
1) Forced migration: a worldwide phenomenon - We have found out that the forced migration linked to persecutions, conflicts and human rights violations doesn’t concern Europe only. The UNCHR’s data show that forced migrants in the world, only in the year 2015, were 65,3 million people. And only a tenth of these people has found refuge in Europe...
2) The Mediterranean migrants emergency - The emergency concerning migrants crossing the Mediterranean sea is a phenomenon that has especially reached large dimensions in the last years:
- In 2010 only 9700 people arrived in Europe on improvised boats;
- In 2011, with the beginning of the Arab spring (the end of 2010) and especially with the fall of Gheddafi’s regime and his death (October 2011), the number raised to 70,000.
- In 2014 (with the stabilization of the entire area), 220,000 people landed on European shores, a number three times higher than the previous year’s.
- 2015 and 2016 have surpassed again the previous years, reaching a number higher than one million.
These data confirm , if there was any further need, the fact that we are dealing with an extremely important historical and social phenomenon...
3) Deaths at sea - Sadly, also the deaths at sea have risen in numbers. According to OIM’s data, the documented deaths in the Mediterranean in 2015 were 3770, in 2016 they were 5079. And certainly many more died in both the Mediterranean Sea and the desert that migrants cross to reach Libya, and because of the mistreatment and torture experienced during the routes.
4) The reasons behind migrations - A further question concerns the reasons behind this exodus and what pushes these migrants to leave their countries, facing long travels during which they risk their lives and their loved ones. The reasons behind migration are mainly wars, oppressive regimes, and poverty.
5) What happens in the host countries - First of all, it should be remembered that according to the Dublin Regulation (so called because it was signed by a first European nucleus in Dublin in 1990), the first Member State where fingerprints are stored or an asylum application is registered is in charge of the 'A refugee's asylum. This regulation is put into deep discussion, both by civil society, by entities such as the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and UNHCR. It has been demonstrated on several occasions in fact, that the regulation prevents the legal rights and well-being of asylum seekers, including the right to a fair examination of their asylum application and, if recognized, to effective protection. It also leads to an unequal distribution of asylum applications between Member States.
Apart from this premises, what happens to migrants arriving in various European countries varies from country to country. There are countries where protection request procedures and assistance measures are quite effective, such as Germany, on the contrary countries such as Italy and Greece, which, as countries of first arrival, fail to handle requests. So it happens that thousands of migrants remain dormant for months in various types of camps, or do not have the opportunity to submit their applications.
There are also countries like Hungary, which have approved a law for migrants without a residence permit to be detained and brought to collection centers, and the same government carries on a systematic xenophobic campaign.
The new European Agenda on Migration
Another aspect that we dealt with in the morning of January 16th, is the new European Agenda on migration – 2015.
It seemed important to us to understand in what ways our political European decision-makers (who are, by the way, our representatives…) are dealing with the problem; this also because the press and the media in our countries have offered – until now – a very superficial kind of information concerning the issue.
What happened is that on May 13th 2015 the European commission has approved the new European Agenda on Migration - 2015.
This agenda of the European Commission is built on four pillars:
- Reducing the incentives to irregular migration, which includes: bolstering the fight against the traffickers, improving the repatriation procedures, partnerships with the countries the migrants come from, etc.;
- A strong politic of asylum, which proposes for example the creation of a single decisional process for asylum seekers in Europe.
- Saving human lives and making the external frontiers safe, which includes aspects such as: reflecting creating a European system of frontier guards; reinforcing the role of Frontex, etc;
- New politics concerning legal migration, which strives for an improvement of the paths and entry procedures for the so-called economic migrants.
Along with these four pillars, the Agenda envisaged a series of Immediate Answer actions, among which:
- Triplicating the means and capacities of the joined operations Frontex, Triton and Poseidon, in 2015 and 2016.
- A program of re-settlement for 50 million euros aiming to transfer 20.000 people in Europe in a secure and legal way.
- Strengthening cooperation with the transit countries, or the countries where the migrants are from, such as Turkey, Syria and Nigeria, in order to limit the number of migrants.
Well, a large number of civil organizations that operate in the field of migrations are strongly critical on these points!
In our journey, we intend to meet and discuss with the European decision makers the reasons that lay behind these politics, but meanwhile we talked in depth about these critical issues with organizations which are in first line when it comes to issues concerning migrants and human rights (ASGI, Associazione Diritti e Frontiere, and others...). Thanks to their contribution we report hereby, summed up, some of the points that experts and representatives of these association discussed:
Re-settlement of asylum seekers
The re-settlement, in the current status of things, would concern about 160.000 refugees, with an increment in comparison to the initial plan of the Commission. What emerges for sure, first of all, is that it’s still a very scarce number if we take into account that more than 1.300.000 people reached Europe in 2015/2016. Factually, the re-settlements are happening extremely slowly. It seems that only 8.162 people have been actually re-settled in 2016.
The cost of rejections
In the last fifteen years, European countries have spent about 11,3 billion euros to expel irregular immigrants, and 1,6 billion to strengthen the border controls. It is to be assumed that these resources, as well as the enormous costs of Frontex (see below), could have a much more useful function if spent in other ways (international cooperation, solving the causes of migration, humanitarian corridors for refugees, etc.)
Although the New Agenda for Migration mentions "saving human lives", in practice this does not happen. The new policy of Frontex doesn’t include anymore rescues at sea outside territorial waters, which was what the operation Mare Nostrum instead envisioned; this brought to a higher number of deaths, since shipwrecks are almost always out of the territorial waters. Such has happened in the shipwreck of April 18th 2015, which saw only 28 survivors and in between 700 and 900 missing people. One of the worst tragedies in the Mediterranean Sea of our times.
The motivation behind this choice is not to incentivize arrivals. And so it happens that Europe is watching hundreds of people dying without doing anything. This is really absurd, and in complete contradiction with the principles of solidarity underlying the united Europe! Do not encourage to leave, should be done in other ways and above all by improving the living conditions in the countries of departure. Bailouts at sea today are made by NGO ships, which have recently been accused, absurdly, of being in agreement with traffickers.
Agreements with third parties
The agreements with the third-party transit countries, or the countries where the migrants come from such as Libya and Niger, have been widely criticized by several organizations. Indeed, we are talking about countries that do not guarantee at all the respect of human rights. For example, in Libya, migrants are detained in centers where they are victims of mistreatments, sexual violence and torture.
According to many NGOs, these are illegal agreements because they violate the established principles of EU law and international law, from the ban on collective
expulsion and refoulement to countries where inhuman or degrading treatment may be carried out.
Again, in this case, we are seeing a European policy which is absolutely contrary to the basic principles of the United Europe. We see Europe moving migrants into countries without any guarantee of how they will be treated, or - even worse - knowing what will happen to them. And in addition to do this, we pay these states profusely.
Civil society’s proposals
The issues we have discussed at the end of this moment of study and confrontation in Palermo, for the first meeting of the project Lampedusa Berlin, Travel journey, is: how could we improve European migratory policies?
What we have discovered in this case is that possible solutions do exist!
A contribution came from ASGI, an Italian association that elaborated some proposals called “the ten points of reform of immigration rights”: those proposals are tailored on Italy’s situation, but might be interesting for other national contexts, and at a European level.
Some of these proposals concern the modalities of access to the country and regularizing the rights of the migrants already present in the country who don’t yet
have a permit of stay, like:
- Introduce a new entry mechanism, issuing foreign citizens a one-year ‘job seeking permit’ and providing a subsidy to return to the country of origin if unable to find a job;
- encourage development of bilateral agreements to run professional and vocational trainings in the countries of origin;
-amend the existing law that regulate the number of foreing workers that can be employed, and ensure the entrance of foreign citizens in a faster way and effectively match it with the domestic job market.;
Along with these proposals (which you can explore in the slides), there is the interesting experience of humanitarian corridors....
European Panel: “Europe’s migration crisis: proposal of the civil society”.
The afternoon of the first day then proceeded with the realization of apanel; the members of the partnering project associations participated, along with several others from civil society organizations in Sicily.
We have worked on three thematic areas:
- The asylum crisis in Europe
- Economic migrants and opportunities for their legal access
- The cooperation with third-party countries
Lampedusa, January 17th 2017
The morning of 17 started with the transfer of the group to Lampedusa, and a visit to The Gate Of Europe, a symbol dedicated to migrants who, overcoming terrible adversities, reach the Sicilian island looking for a new and more dignified existence. It’s a made of refractory ceramic and it’s almost five meters tall and three meters large and it was designed by artist Mimmo Paladino.
Visit to the Madonna Porto Salvo Santuary
Another important moment have been the visit to the Madonna Porto Salvo Santuary, an important place for Lampedusa and its inhabitants. According to what the tradition says, it was founded in 1200 and it has always represented a place for Islam and Christianity to meet and cohabit peacefully.
Meeting with Lampedusa’s mayor Giusy Nicolini
We then had the great pleasure of meeting Lampedusa’s mayor, Giusy Nicolini, in the headquarters of the Lampedusa e Linosa municipality. Our meeting was very intense: you can see moments of it down below.
Giusy Nicolini stayed with us for a long time, and this allowed us to discuss with her a lot of issues tied to the migrants emergency, at Lampedusa’s role and European policies. Among the questions, we asked her what she thinks of the current European policies to handle the migratory phenomenon and this is what she told us:
“I think that this refugee crisis, which is not justified by the numbers, has been intentionally agitated in order to cover the real failures of the European projects and the real questions that should be asked, and the point is that the European project betrayed the purposes for which it was founded. Of course, Europe guaranteed peace until now, but has never guaranteed growth in solidarity, justice or progress for everyone; it has been an economical union, where the largest role was played by the hugest economic powers, but hasn’t managed to rise to the challenge brought by globalization and everything that it brings when it comes to unemployment, welfare, security. So, this is Europe’s real problem, not the refugee crisis".
Inauguration of the AUSER headquarters in Lampedusa
After the meeting, we participated in the inauguration of the AUSER headquarters in Lampedusa. AUSER is a national Italian association that deals with the elderly, to sponsor active ageing. The idea behind opening a branch in Lampedusa is supporting the social context of the island with activity and services aimed to help both populations and migrants.
Meeting with the Lampedusa Solidarity Forum
The meeting took place in the San Gerlando parish; the volunteers and operators of the Evangelical Churches project “Mediterranean Hope’ also participated and brought their contributions. The Lampedusa Solidale Forum was born out of the union of associations, volunteer organizations, parishioners, men and women from the civil society who are available to put effort into the realization of an alternative model of welcoming and solidarity, intended not only as the meeting in between individuals, but as a chance that might allow Lampedusa’s community to reflect on itself and the values upon which building its future.