Human mobility across borders has been a long-standing global problem. Masses of people fleeing war, racism, various forms of oppression and violence leave their countries in search of safety and better living conditions. After the red alert for the Covid-19 pandemic was largely lifted, the world agenda started to focus on refugees again due to the reopening of borders, normalization of travel opportunities, etc.
However, the attitude of each country and society towards refugees varies. Türkiye Colombia and Uganda host the largest number of refugees, but countries like Italy also attract a certain number of refugees every year due to their geographical location. For this reason, refugees are also high on the agenda in Italy. The overcrowding of refugee camps, especially on Italy’s borders close to Tunisia, has been among the most discussed topics in the first weeks of 2023. For example, the last refugee ships arriving on January 8, 2023 on Lampedusa Island, which is located off the Mediterranean Sea, very close to Tunisia, sparked controversy about the situation on the island. Because more than 1,000 people are currently living in the camp, which is said to be 300 people.
As it is known, Italy, where the first case was detected on January 31, 2020, has been one of the countries most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. During the first wave of the pandemic and the second wave that started in October of the same year, measures such as the suspension of flights, local or general quarantines and the closure of many workplaces were taken. Considering that tourism is the sector with the largest share in the Italian economy, it is obvious that the country has also been shaken economically. So much so that the country’s GDP fell by 8.9% in 2020.
The economic downturn has been global in scale but has also affected refugees around the world. The situation of refugees has worsened, with refugees living in overcrowded camps at high risk, inadequate access to health facilities and limited financial resources. In the Italian context, the quarantine of refugees testing positive for Covid-19 on board ships is one of the most important issues of debate. The concentration of refugees on these ships, which are crowded and lack access to health facilities, has been interpreted as a discriminatory and illegal practice.
On February 24, 2022, the emergence of a new mass influx with the start of the Russia-Ukraine War and the appointment of Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia, a nationalist, conservative and far-right party, as Prime Minister of Italy on October 22, 2022, raised new question marks for Italy and refugees. In terms of Ukrainian refugees, it is reported that more than 150,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Italy. This makes Italy the fourth largest host country for Ukrainian refugees.
On the other hand, it is stated that more than 100,000 refugees arrived in Italy by sea in 2022, an increase of almost 50% compared to 2021 and 300% compared to 2020. According to the report of the Italian Ministry of Interior, the countries of origin of these refugees are Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Syria and Afghanistan.
In this context, on December 29, 2022, the Italian Government approved a new decree with stricter regulations in an attempt to stop the flow of people, especially landings from humanitarian aid ships. This can be interpreted as a move in line with Meloni’s rhetoric during the election period, which emphasized the need to stop the influx of people into Italy and Europe in general.
With another decree signed on January 2, 2023, Meloni not only showed that he would continue in the same line but also drew the arrows of criticism on him again. According to this decree, the activities of search and rescue vessels leaving the Italian coast are restricted.
On the other hand, according to the International Rescue Committee, Italy hosts the vast majority of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. In this context, Meloni’s move towards restrictive immigration policies can also be interpreted as a reaction against other EU countries.
For the first time since the Second World War, a far-right party has come to power in Italy. Meloni, who drew attention with his anti-refugee rhetoric during the election campaign, wants to eliminate his country’s status as one of the gateways to Europe. In this context, Italy may be expected to take stricter measures under Meloni.
However, since 2014 it is known that Italy’s population is aging and birth rates have been declining. This being the case, given the reality that refugees are a labor force in Italy, as they are in other parts of the world, Italy needs a working population. If Rome is determined to limit the flow of people into the country, it will also need to address the problem of the working-age population. In the current situation, however, policies aimed at increasing the birth rate have not been successful.
As a result, it is unclear how the Rome administration, which focuses on solving the problems of refugees, will deal with the consequences once this “issue” is solved. Nevertheless, it can be predicted that Italy’s attitude towards refugees will harden. However, it is also clear that these policies will not discourage people seeking a better future from trying. Therefore, it can be predicted that tragedies off the coast of Italy will increase in the future.
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