Monday, 21 February 2011

Italy Feeling The Refugee Pressure

Over the past couple of weeks one of the most amusing sights has been renown Northern League xenophobe Roberto Maroni virtually frothing at the mouth over the sudden appearance of boat loads of migrants in Lampedusa. So comfortable had he and his cronies become since they struck their 'push-back' deal with their best friend Muammar Gaddafi that they thought that this modern form of gunboat deplomacy had solved all their problems.

That is until the edifice of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisian regime fell, feeing desperate political and economic refugees to try the perilous crossing to promised lands of Fortress Europe. First stop Lampedusa, a small island closer to Tunisia itself than anywhere else but currently Italian territory after a long and torturous history where it has been traded between the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Spanish until it was finally purchased by the Italians (in the guise of the Kingdom of Naples) in C17th, going on to become a penal colony.

Latterly it served as a useful offshore detention centre for the Berlusconi regime until the Gaddafi deal was struck in 2009. Not that Libya was the only source of migrants that ended up on Lampedusa as there has always been a steady trickle of Tunisian refugees arriving on the island, many of whom were involved in the riot and mass breakout from the internment camp there in January 2009. Admittedly, Maroni's rhetoric about a "biblical exodus that has never been seen before" coupled with demands that Italy be allowed to send its own troops to Tunisia to prevent more migrants trying to make the crossing has prompted the interim government to deploy its military in the coastal belt and agree to its own 'push-back' deal with Italy.

Now with the situation in neighbouring Libya poses another potential headache for the Italian government. With the widespread street fighting and massive repression of the population, the claims that foreign mercenaries (sub-Saharan Africans) are being used by the Gaddafi regime as part of that repression, in turn adding to the threats posed to an already vulnerable and marginalised migrant population trying to use the country as a stepping stone to Europe, all this will inevitably lead to a significant increase to the numbers of people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

It will be interesting to see if the push-back deal will hold and whether the Italian-funded patrol boats will prevent a new wave of migrants to Europe, many of whom will inevitably arrive on Lampedusa, adding further fuel to Maroni's spat with the rest of the EU and sending his blood pressure even higher.


According to Reuters the Libyan authorities are threatening to suspend cooperation with the EU over migration issues unless European governments stop giving vocal support to pro-democracy protesters in its country.

EU concerned about situation in Libya and "the violence and death of civilians" but are in fact more worried about Libya's threat to end co-operation in the fight against irregular migration, not to mention Italian Foreign Minister Frattini's Islamophobic fears over the "really serious threat" posed by "the self-proclamation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Benghazi."

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