Italy's migrant crisis will not be solved by force

Italy's migrant crisis will not be solved by force
3 min read
13 May, 2015
Comment: Italy backs plans for military raids in Libya to stop the flow of migrants reaching Sicilian shores. Despite pressure at home, it's not the answer, says Angela Lano.
Blowing up boats before migrants embark will not address the root of the crisis [AFP]
The EU answer to the migrant crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean is the blow up the boats of smugglers before they set off, to make sure migrants can't make it to Italy.

An estimated 3,419 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2014, and thousands this year. About 13,000 have been rescued at sea over the past weeks, while 130,000 reached Italian shores in the last year. 

For Italy, those figures represent a national emergency - not only the deaths but the hundreds of thousands of people who have reached its shores.

The hospitality of Sicily, the place where most survivors arrive, has been sorely tested by the huge numbers of newcomers. Sicilians are on the front line of dealing with their needs, such as accommodation and medical needs.

Italy, and in particular its poorer south, is still reeling from the effects of global recession. The flow of migrants has placed great strain on already stretched public finances, which has led to cuts in public services.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high while central government has forced through cuts to health, welfare and education to balance the national budget and cut deficits.

Like in England with Ukip, nationalist, anti-immigration politicians in Italy have pushed the idea that many of those who have arrived seeking a better life are an unwelcome strain on Italy.

Right-wing parties such as the Northern League (Lega Nord) have seized on the migrant issue to present it as a scapegoat for society's ills, leading to the most extreme of politicians urging for boats to be sunk and migrants to be fired upon.

The Italian government has instead proposed to send commandos to Libyans ports to destroy the boats of smugglers. This proposal has been backed by the EU, and a a resolution for military action is due to be approved by the UN security council in the next few days.

But the use of military force is fighting fire with fire, and will add to the many conflicts already present in the Mediterranean. As recent history in the region proves, military interventions do not solve problems. It is, after all, largely the policies of the West that has led to instability in the Middle East and North Africa we see today.

This intervention will be no different, no matter how loud the calls to do something - the root problem will remain.

Proposals in the EC's recent European Agenda on immigration are far more level-headed. It recommends the creation of a centre for asylum-seekers in Niger, an important place of transit of migrants. It calls for a "first programme of resettlement", an essential tool to build mechanisms for legal access to Europe.

It suggests the creation of a code of European asylum based on mutual recognition between states.

Human rights groups and legal experts repeatedly state that traffickers are not the cause of the humanitarian crisis, but one of the most terrible consequences. Confusion between cause and effect will only misinform public opinion and continue to have devastating effects in the region.