Deaths at sea and a chaotic refugee influx reflect the failure of European Union leaders to settle on a common immigration policy, one of Italy’s top elected officials tells ProPublica
, the president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, has unusually strong credentials to discuss the immigration crisis gripping Europe. She worked for a quarter century at United Nations humanitarian agencies, serving as spokeswoman in southern Europe for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees.
Boldrini, 54, saw global migration at the front lines: the Italian island of Lampedusa, where seagoing migrants and refugees wash up, dead and alive, on the tides of despair and poverty; the refugee centers in Sicily where human traffickers exploit teenage Nigerian girls forced into prostitution; and the Greek coasts that are beachheads for an unprecedented wave of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.
In 2013, she was elected to Italy’s Parliament as a candidate of today’s governing center-left coalition. Two days after she took office, she was catapulted into the presidency of lower house of the Legislature, the equivalent of the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Boldrini recently was in New York City and spoke with ProPublica about the immigration drama. European Union leaders have since moved closer to approving a plan to accept 160,000 refugees
, though many see it as insufficient. This interview has been translated from Italian and edited for brevity.
Q. What are the roots of Europe’s immigration crisis and what are the solutions?
I am not surprised that these migratory flows have increased. Last year, we attained the terrible record of 60 million refugees in the world, the highest number since World War II, because conflicts have increased. Sadly, solutions are not in sight. There is intense donor fatigue, which reduces the level of aid in the refugee camps, and this pushes people to travel further and risk their lives. There are protracted crises such as Syria. In the refugee camps, whoever has some savings left decides to attempt the big leap. We have to understand that during these past five years, nations such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have accepted millions of refugees in their nations.
Immigration is the offspring of unresolved crises, the first collateral effect and the most visible one. In Europe, we are surrounded by instability. We have a nation like Libya a hundred miles away from us. A nation divided with a government in Tobruk, another in Tripoli, and then the tribes. We also have Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa. Somalia, still a hostage to al-Shabaab
(the Islamic terrorist group). Eritrea, which has a dictator named Afwerki
who forces young men and women to do indefinite military service and does not permit any freedom of expression.
Europe right now is not succeeding in responding to the challenges it confronts. We have to take advantage of this moment of difficulty and the opportunity it presents. In 70 years we have done a lot to construct our European identity. In a short time, we have undertaken an extraordinary journey. We have freedom of movement. When I was a girl, there were internal European borders. Our young people can study in any country. We have judicial cooperation. So this is positive, but it is no longer enough.
Now we have gone halfway, we have reached a ford in the river. Because today without a strong Europe, we don’t count for anything compared to the rising global giants. We have to cross the ford and restart the motor of European integration, a motor that has stopped. But that means we have to give up something. We have to give up power to the European institutions. We have to share sovereignty. We need a single economic policy. A single European industrial policy. And an immigration policy
It’s not possible that only Italy and Greece receive migrants and that Germany is the only place where people go to request asylum. Or Sweden. If we are a union, we have to cooperate.
Q. What are some concrete responses to the migration crisis that Europe should implement?
We have to develop a coordinated asylum system. And have the same standard in all countries: European teams that manage the asylum issue. The same thing in Greece as in Norway as in Sweden as in other nations. If an Eritrean comes and asks me for asylum in Italy, he gets the same treatment as he would in Sweden. Today, on the other hand, if the same person requests asylum in one country he gets a certain response; if that person makes the request in another country, he gets a different response. So it’s clear that they all want to go where they have the best chance of getting asylum. This leads to asylum-shopping in the EU.
We have to act on several levels. We have to continue to save human lives at sea. Not everyone agrees with this. But it’s inhuman to think that if you have a passport, you get saved, and if you don’t, you drown. But there are people who say that. I am proud that my country has taken the lead on this issue. We did Mare Nostrum
(an Italian rescue operation in the Mediterranean) alone for a year at a cost of 9 million euros a month. Then it became European. Today we have Operation Triton
Next: How do we reduce the number of people who risk human life at sea? We have to give an alternative, because if people know there is an alternative they won’t risk their lives. The most concrete idea is to act in transit countries with a certain level of stability. You could create centers where international agencies do work – which, in fact, they are doing now, but with very limited resources. They do the screening… Continue Reading…