In the Same Boat Morocco: Part III

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Mare Nostrum has rescued more than half of the 120,000 migrants who have reached Italy's shores so far in 2014. Photo: Kate Thomas/IRIN

Over the course of January 2016, a Harvard University Field Study is investigating migration into and out of Morocco, how the country has managed its migration and what lessons the EU and other states can learn from Morocco’s considerable experience in this field.

Hail to the Bus Driver - Argyro Nicolaou

As part of a refreshing approach to the issue of migrant access to the Italian labor market, the ASGI (Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration) offered us a recommendation that is as original as it is socially progressive: give migrants and refugees jobs that make them socially visible.

While we have often heard about the suitability of agricultural jobs for migrant or refugee workers – as such work requires neither language nor cultural familiarity and since agriculture is a major economic driver in Europe – this solution seems to relegate migrant labor to a sector that has traditionally taken advantage of disenfranchised social groups and communities, with limited opportunities for development and mobility to boot. That these are ‘jobs that Italians do not want’ seems to add to the convenience offered by the proposition. The constant references to agriculture as a cookie-cutter solution to the problem of migrant labor was often brought up in our meetings in Morocco as well: in that case, the mass movement of Moroccans to urban areas only amplified the inevitability of the link between migrant workers and low-skill agricultural work.

In contrast to this, ASGI’s intervention aims to give migrants and refugees access to the kinds of jobs most readily available in Italy: civil service jobs – especially those at a local government level such as municipalities – that make up almost 50% of the country’s work positions.

By adopting a government watchdog position, ASGI is trying to make sure that the government or other public entity that offers these jobs does not discriminate against non-Italians with resident and work permits when hiring. According to Italian law a refugee or regularized migrant has virtually the same rights as a native resident of the country, bar the right to vote. To give migrants and refugees access to jobs such as nursing or driving a bus would not only push the implementation of a much-needed strategy of professional training and language learning – thereby facilitating (currently-absent) broad integration in Italy – it would also give migrants a place at the center of the Italian social structure.

No longer excluded from participating in public spaces in roles of shared social responsibility, migrants will begin to be perceived as an integral, and integrated, part of Italian society. Such a move can only help overcome the stereotypes that dominate public perceptions on immigration in Italy.

The Hand that Feeds - Johannes Laepple

Heavy legalistic reforms are rarely the best way to manage migration flows. Instead, two weeks in Morocco have convinced us that temporary and flexible mechanisms are needed to effectively deal with migration challenges.

With our Moroccan experience in our backpacks, we have now arrived at the European shores of the Mediterranean. Our first meetings with Italian experts have already highlighted the frustration around migration issues. Much of this stems from the lack of an effective European response to Europe’s migration crisis.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 153,052 migrants arrived in Italy by sea in the year 2015. Due to the increased operations of the coast guard and NGOs, many refugee lives – at huge risk at sea – were saved. At the same time, local NGOs as well as international organizations, such as UNHCR, Save the Children and the Red Cross are helping to receive migrants arriving by boat in Italy.

Yet the real challenges often begin after migrants have landed in Italy. Due to the Italian authorities’ inadequate efforts at integration, immigrants are soon left on their own. In theory, refugees gain the same rights as Italians, including the right to work in Italy, but the lack of sufficient financing for integration programs and insufficient information provided to migrants by Italy make such work permits useless in practice.

Most migrants are aware of their limited prospects on Italian shores. But often they know that according to the Dublin Convention they are obliged to stay in Italy if registered as a refugee upon arrival. While numbers are extremely difficult to confirm, the Italian Ministry of Interior estimates that in 2014 about 100,000 migrants slipped through the mandatory registration process in Italy in order to move on to countries like Germany, Norway or Sweden. By all accounts this seems deliberate; it is useless to place our faith in the fact that prospective asylum seeks are ignorant of EU law.

Above all, the low quality of integration in Italy has made the country a transit country, rather than one of destination. This is unlikely to change, as more integration efforts are politically sensitive. According to the IOM, however, this attitude is shortsighted. Without immigration, the Italian labor market is eventually going to collapse, due to Italy’s aging society. Already, 11-12% of Italy’s GDP is made up of immigrants, which represent only 7% of the Italian population. Migrants working in Italy currently pay 60,000 Italian pensions.

Migration fuels our future.

European Lifeboats - Johannes Laepple

“You can’t stop immigration by sea at sea, you can only save lives.”

So we were told today at the headquarters of the Italian Coast Guard in Rome. While the EU is struggling for an effective political response, the Italian Coast Guard has long been dealing with the realities of migration at sea. Since 1991, 638,612 migrants at distress in the Mediterranean have been saved, thanks to search and rescue missions led by the Italian Coast Guard.

In 2015 alone, 154,018 mostly Sub-Saharan migrants paid hundreds of thousands of Euros to smugglers to board overcrowded rubber boats or fishing vessels – hardly able to make the journey from the shores of Libya, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt or Algeria to the coasts of Lampedusa or Sicily.

Despite new technology and satellite phone equipment on many refugee boats, the sheer size of the area surveilled by the Italian Coast Guard (about half of the Mediterranean) poses a great challenge to its work, despite support from the EU’s border guard agency Frontex. Due to the lack of a Libyan rescue service and Italy’s commitment to the highest standards of humanitarian rescue at sea, Italian ships patrol off the Libya coast to rescue vulnerable migrant boats. As a rule, any boat carrying migrants is deemed worthy of rescue; if not yet in distress, they pose a significant risk to other shipping. So reliable is rescue by the Italians that smugglers typically order their passengers to call for assistance – regardless of the state of their vessel – when away from the Mediterranean’s southern coast. Unlike the images of refugees beaching on Greek shores, now all but a handful of refugees headed to Italy are rescued out at sea.

Equally impressive is the work of the Red Cross, which provides crucial assistance to refugees at the point of disembarking, including medical checks and the provision of food, water and clothes. As explained by two of its Italian representatives today, the Red Cross disregards any legal differences between a “migrant” and a “refugee” and provides assistance simply according to the need of any human being, regardless of his or her legal status.

At the same time, the Red Cross today strongly countered allegations that naval search and rescue missions, such as the “Mare Nostrum” operation in 2013 have led to an increase in migration flows. Both made it clear that migrant flows had begun in force before these rescue efforts and show no sign of abating. Our meetings, however, also made clear that migrants have to be better informed about the risks of migration and the potential myths that lead them to undertake the dangerous journey to Europe.

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