Facing New Migration flows. Elements of Analysis

by Andrea T. Torre[1] 


  1. Premise

Despite being a phenomenon that has been developing for more than thirty years, immigration towards Italy is constantly treated as an emergency. This approach, consistently used by the media over decades, has been recently accentuated following the destabilisation of many regional regimes during the Arab Springs.

These issues were further highlighted by the persistence and worsening of two situations in particular: the Syrian crisis and the crumbling of the Libyan government after the fall of Gaddafi. The arrivals associated with the operation “Mare Nostrum” that was implemented between 2013 and 2014 have fostered a climate of imminent invasion. It seems from newspapers that Italy has turned into a host country for refugees while the number of immigrants for economic reasons has decreased because of the crisis. This document aim at investigating the issue by analyzing facts and figures to check whether this scenario is truly ongoing.

  1. The foreign population in Italy

The immigration scenario outlined by the IDOS[2] annual report shows a foreign population of 4.4 to 5.2 million people, with an estimated additional 400,000 people in an irregular situation. The composition of the foreign citizenship in Italy is predominantly European, female, Christian (Orthodox) with a shift in the place of provenance from Eastern Europe. Over seven years (between 2003 and 2009), the rate of the foreign population has grown with an increase of 12.7% per year for seven years (431,000 units per year). As we shown further on, this growth has been heavily challenged by the economic crisis, from 2009. Another important factor has been the growth of immigration for family reasons (+ 216% between 1998 and 2008. In the period 2001-2009 the minors population has tripled from 295 to 941 thousands. Currently the estimate of the under aged population is calculated at around one million and  many of them were born in Italy. The number of foreign students has also significantly increased: it is now 786,000 (8.8% of the total). As said, the data show a stabilization process that over the last five years has been partially countered by the economic crisis. This led to a decrease of arrivals for business and also for reunification that, according to some observers, tells the story of a real flight  from Italy. These scenarios are very far from reality, but there is no doubt that there was a slowdown – as is obvious by virtue of a law that binds the arrivals to a job. In 2013, for example, according to the IDOS report, there was a decrease of arrivals for business and also family reunification. The entry visas for employment had reached the quota of 219,317[3] in 2007 while they were only 33,236 in 2013. We should say that this decrease is also due to a significant reduction linked to the implementation of recent decrees (decreto flussi) that annually set quotas of arrivals. As mentioned, the number of visas for family reasons has also decreased. In 2009,  they had reached 107,410[4] but in 2013 they were 76,164 2013. Facing this data, we should point out that there is also a decrease in the growth of other indicators of “stabilization” as the rise in mixed marriages (20,764 in 2013) and the acquisition of citizenship (100,712), that significantly increased for reasons of residence compared to those obtained from marriage .

  1. Are immigrants leaving Italy?

These data, corroborated also by a decrease that had been highlighted by the figures from the general population census of 2011, have led many commentators to advocate an escape of foreigners from Italy. If we use the OECD data (December 2014) we find a confirmation of this slowdown because the picture shows a general slowing of immigration in OECD countries, given that they were in sharp decline between 2007 and 2012 (-15%).  Incidentally, according to OECD, half of this heat is due precisely to Italy, where the number of new permanent immigrants has dropped by 19% between 2011 and 2012 (only in Spain the number has declined more). However, if the arrivals of foreign citizens were attenuated by the crisis, 321 thousand in 2012 (27.7% less than in 2007) and the number of foreigners who leaves Italy is increasing, about 38,000 cancellations in 2012 (+ 17.9% over the previous year), the relationship between arrivals and departures is still in a ratio of 9 to 1 in favour of the arrivals. Therefore, a first consideration can lead us to see a drop but not in terms of a real flight. Less  people enter but the stabilization process proceeds.

  1. Is Italy becoming a country of asylum seekers?

While seeing a decrease in the number of immigrants for economic reasons – a category not so easy to define –  for the issues mentioned in the premise we could outline a great flow of migrants arriving with the theoretical label of asylum seekers. The issue was influenced by the crisis in Southern Mediterranean countries in connection with the geographic location and geopolitics of Italy. This, however, is to be to proved and the data tell us something different. To start with a broader scenario, we should remark that 86% of refugees are admitted in Third World countries.  Ten years ago, it was 70%. The EU accepts less than 15%[5]. According to the latest estimates that refer only to the Syrian crisis, there are around one million displaced persons on the border with Turkey, and nearly a million and a half in Lebanon (a country of just over 4 million inhabitants). Concerning Europe, according to UNHCR in 2013 600,000 asylum seekers have been recorded in Turkey, 232,000 in France, 190,000 in Germany, 126,000 in the United Kingdom, 114,000 in Sweden; In Italy just 78,000. With reference to the number of inhabitants, Sweden exceeds nine refugees per 1,000 inhabitants, the Netherlands around 4.5, France 3, while Italy receives a little more than one. Of the approximately 170,000 persons landed in 2014 in the context of the “Mare Nostrum”, a number far greater than the 43,000 of 2013, only a minority have applied for asylum; it is estimated that more than 50% have continued their journey from Italy to other European countries. In short, despite the operation “Mare Nostrum”, the geographical position, the current crisis and the current regulations Italy does not seem to become a country of asylum seekers.  

  1. The narrative of the landings and the causes of illegal entry.

What in recent years has not changed, however, is the existence of a sort of invasion syndrome; scrolling through newspaper pages over the last twenty years we record a long series of articles (basically during the summer) on landings in Lampedusa, always alarmist and with analysis more or less founded. In short, the syndrome of landings has regularly accompanied us for over twenty years. Regrettably, this happened regardless of the size of the phenomenon. If we analyse 18 years of landings[6] we note that the significant numbers of 2014 cannot be compared with other years’ figures; in fact, a similar peak occurred in 2011, but with much lower numbers (62,692). It is worth remembering that the numbers of 2014 cannot be technically considered landings since these people gathered at sea and were accompanied by Navy ships to some ports. We can immediately see that data related to landings of the late 90s are to be combined with a phenomenon historically over: immigration from Albania. The flow of immigrants of the 2000s are very modest and, among others, are often less than the number of asylum applications highlighted in the next column (Table 1). This reveals how, for a long time, the majority of asylum applications did not arrive by people landed in Lampedusa but by those who came by other ways (aerial or ground); we will focus on this issue later.            Table n.1 – 18 years of landings: 1997 to 2014

Year Immigrants landed Asylum Seekers
1997 22,343 2,595
1998 38,134 18,496
1999 49,999 37,318
2001 20,143 21,575
2002 23,719 18,754
2003 14,331 15,274
2004 13,635 10,869
2006 22,016 10,026
2007 20,455 13,310
2008 36,951 31,723
2009 9,573 19,090
2010 4,406 12,121
2011 62,692 37,350
2012 13,267 17,352
2013 42,925 26,620
2014 170,100 64,886
Total 614,445

Source: ISMU, data from the Ministry of Interior To summarize on landings, in eighteen years – 1997/2014 – 614,445 people have landed by sea. Between those persons, 120,000 are part of an historical period which ended (flows from Albania). Only in 2014, 170,000 persons landed and 50% of those immigrants are no longer present in Italy, We can make a further consideration. While for many years Summer news have reported with great clamour about Lampedusa, the great majority of irregular migrants and also of asylum seekers has arrived  regularly, especially on tourist visas. If we compare the number of landings with that of tourist visas which, to give an idea of the different numbers, were more than 6 million[7] only in the 2009-2013 period, we can imagine that the strength was different. The size of the arrivals is more complex than the “hydraulic” picture that every day is provided to us. The composition of the illegal foreign population is made up just in a small percentage of people who entered “illegally”. It is made up of citizens who remained beyond the expiration of their tourist visa, by asylum seekers who have been rejected and by foreign residents with an expired residence permit. For the same reasons, the external factors that contribute to these arrivals vary. In addition to severe humanitarian crisis there are more complex and articulated mechanisms, such as:

  • The pressure of the labour market (including the families occupying carers and domestic workers), the competing interests (e.g. tourism, business, cultural exchanges …).
  • The abolition of tourist visas from different countries: from 2010 the visa requirement to enter from Brazil, Serbia and other Balkan countries, including Albania, was revoked.
  • The work of networks of immigrants (migration networks that guide and facilitate arrivals).
  • The  liberal  constraint: conventions on human rights, the principle of non-refoulement.
  • The lobby pro-immigrant  and the action of solidarity on the ground that, as we know, is significant in Italy even if it varies from region to region.

The situation is complex; it is clear though  that in recent months the issue of arrivals became central in the public debate. We need to raise a question, which also concerns the weakness of the solidarity approach. Perhaps during an economic crisis the big impact of these news on the public debate is also emphasised by the costs of these rescue and reception operations. “How much does immigration costs?”. At least 1 billion a year to cover the expenses of reception centres and landings. This reception system costs 600 million euro, to which it should be added the cost of controls[8]. Immigration costs to public finance at least one billion euro per year. A figure rounded downward but with a high rate of variability and a perspective still upward. The truth is that facing landings, carrying out police checks, moving people to care centres, accommodating them and then, perhaps, integrating immigrants costs a lot of money. However, the money is never enough. (…) ”  This is the title and the opening of an article published some time ago by Il Sole 24 Ore in which the issue of immigrations costs is highlighted. Again, however, the theme of the fallout on the economy on the territories where he reception system are implemented – in terms of jobs, purchasing goods and services etc. – is never quite articulated.

  1. Immigrants not able to reach our coasts: this is a scandal

If figures do not tell us of a huge size of arrivals by sea, this data should not prevent us to highlight the serious problem of deaths in the Mediterranean, of those people, unable to get to our shores: this is a scandal. According to UNHCR, in 2014 3,419 immigrants – men, women and children – died   at sea during their journey. In the first quarter of 2015, 470 people have disappeared in the Mediterranean during their journeys of hope towards Europe. This tragic figures are estimates: it is impossible to calculate the real number. According to sources, from 2000 to 2013 more than 23,000 immigrants[9] died trying to reach Europe by sea or by crossing the borders of the old continent by land: 50 % more than it appears from official data. The data provided by Gabriele Del Grande of Fortress Europe are similar. According to him, since 1988, at least 21,439 people died along the borders of Europe[10]. So if quantitatively migrants attempts to enter by sea are not the majority, the issue of risk (and costs) incurred by migrants at sea are certainly greater.  

  1. Conclusions

Italy is a country that over the last 30 years has been profoundly changed by immigration. Despite the economic crisis, the stabilisation process continues and the numbers of migrants have a quantitative dimension that is not comparable with the numbers of humanitarian emergencies. Unfortunately, the media continue to use the emergency narrative. This approach, among other things, stops from focusing on policies that promote the full inclusion of those who have lived in Italy for years and hundreds of thousands of young foreigners who were born in our country. Obviously there are emergencies and we should intervene through a European plan. Furthermore, it is absolutely a priority to protect the condition of the weakest setting up, for example, legal channels for arrivals that may become more “convenient” than irregular ones. Finally, it seems necessary to adapt institutions, communication, attitudes to the globilisìzation of the world: these dynamics cannot end without our action, they must be governed with foresight and courage. [1] Director of  Centro Studi Medì. Migrazioni nel Mediterraneo (Genoa), www.csmedi.com [2] Immigration Statistics Report: Rapporto UNAR 2014, Idos, Rome, 2014 [3] ISMU – Minister of Foreign Affair [4] Ibidem [5] Data UNHCR, 2014 Report [6] Source: ISMU, data from the Ministry of Interior. [7] idem [8] Il Sole 24 Ore, Thursday 19th February 2015, Marco Ludovico [9] https://www.detective.io/detective/the-migrants-files/ [10] http://fortresseurope.blogspot.it/