The issue of migration is still one of the most discussed topics at the European level. It is a very divisive topic on which member states strongly struggle to agree. In fact, there have been attempts to find a migration policy at continental level for about 10 years without any success. It is an extremely sensitive issue and, above all, a highly electoral one. It is used a lot by government leaders and opposition parties to move votes because they are heard and, above all, because there is no concrete impact. We all know the European Union as a large bureaucratic machine in which the balance of power is highly delicate. If we focus on the issue of migration, and especially relocation, there are many member states that feel they have their power of sovereignty taken away because they cannot decide "who they can have and who they cannot" (an aspect that shows how nationalist this issue is).
In general, migratory flows are constantly changing, and for this very reason, in June, the European Council reached an agreement to introduce minimum annual relocation quotas aimed at relieving the pressure on the countries of first arrival, such as Italy. The issue of relocation was also central in the new dialogue, in which a new regulation was established according to which all asylum application procedures must be handled by the member state that first receives the traveller, regardless of whether the person wants to apply for asylum in the same country or in another.
However, this mechanism creates several tensions as the regulation does not provide for a mandatory relocation mechanism and therefore does not guarantee a fairer distribution of asylum applications, which to date are very irregular, with Germany receiving 187,000 in the first six months of 2023 in contrast to the 62,000 received by Italy. Of extreme importance in this context is also the complexity of the legislation. It includes numerous steps, and they are currently being followed with great difficulty. In the migration pact, for example, there are several texts that have to be kept in mind. Among the most important we have the crisis management regulation, the screening regulation that will manage part of the asylum procedures, a database called Euroduck, and then other famous texts on relocations, solidarity, and asylum procedures. The problem with these texts is that they are one linked to the other, namely, they’re complementary, and one cannot choose which one to approve and which one not – they can only be approved all together.
Wanting to talk about the next legislative steps that will most likely be commented on in the coming months, we have the agreement of December 20, 2023, a historic agreement and a fundamental step to get the legislation and the various texts approved before the end of the mandate. Here, the first political step will be to come together and figure out what the balance will be between asylum procedures, security, and respect for human rights, a debate that has governed the various legislative steps of this European migration package. Then there will be a separate chapter concerning the agreements that the European Union and its members will make with countries of departure.
Let’s think, for example, about the 2016 agreement with Turkey to try to limit the arrival of migrants from Syria, or the 2017 memorandum between Libya and Italy to block the departure of boats with migrants coming from the Libyan coast, and lastly, the very recent memorandum between the European Union and Tunisia, which in recent months was becoming the largest country of departure on the Mediterranean route. These are memorandum agreements signed by the European Union or Italy, and they have all had major side effects. In particular, the Italy-Libya memorandum has made us complicit in several human rights violations perpetrated against migrants by the Libyan coast guard and by the Libyan authorities in general.
According to Amnesty International, migrants who are returned to Libya end up, in most cases, in detention centres where they are subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment. In some cases, they are abused and/or even killed. And it is not only Amnesty International that is sounding this alarm. According to many other international human rights organizations, Libya is not considered a safe country for migrants. This memorandum has also made the country very vulnerable to political blackmail by a government that is de facto divided between two authorities, an UN-recognised one based in Tripoli and a government de facto controlled by General Khalifa Haftar. Then we have the new memorandum between the European Union and Tunisia. This memorandum provides funds to Tunisia, which is experiencing a very serious economic crisis, in exchange for a greater commitment by the Tunisian government to block the departure of boats laden with migrants heading precisely for Italy.
It is important to note that there are many controversial and debated aspects of this specific memorandum between the European Union and Tunisia. First of all, it should be considered that the EU's approach towards third countries has for many years been to try to contain migratory flows. In particular, this can be considered a controversial memorandum as the text was not supervised by the member states before it was signed. Moreover, a press conference was held without journalists and was only called such when the signing was first announced. The situation in Tunisia is pretty well known: a major economic crisis, a tug-of-war with the International Monetary Fund, which is demanding certain reforms from Tunisia in order to get the money, and on the other side, a dictator who is trying – now a little less than before – to deflect attention from the racist dynamic towards sub-Saharan residents. It is therefore a controversial deal, as the EU has started to sign agreements with dictators in order to contain migrants.
This shows how sensitive this issue is for many member states and the EU, both from an electoral and a perception point of view. In Europe, there is this great need to clam up because there is a “jungle” outside. But migration is nothing more than a phenomenon, and one that has always existed. If we change some terms and some narratives, we will see that people are people who move, and that in the Schengen area, millions of people move every day. Therefore, migration should be seen without prejudice.
However, people feel safer hearing that the EU stops migrants. This is precisely why it is easier to violate the rights of a migrant than the rights of an Italian living in Rome, despite the former having more or less the same ways of being and/or doing things. The case of the Ukrainian migrants can be considered a good example: Italians felt much more sympathetic towards them because the Ukrainian migrants travelled with suitcases, jackets, and pushchairs; they were more privileged people with whom Italians saw more similarities. But in the end, every person is the same and deserves equal rights and dignity, regardless of their origin or circumstances. It is essential for society to recognize the common humanity shared by all individuals, fostering empathy and understanding to build a more inclusive and compassionate world.