Nicholas Farrell, a British writer who lives in Italy, looks at that country's refugee crisis without the wishful thinking. He reports a number of interesting facts, including (1) 70% of the refugees are from sub-Saharan Africa and Pakistan; (2) only a small fraction bother to apply for political asylum; and (3) once they arrive, the majority of them disappear into the immigrant underworld of Europe:
The same left-wing Italian government [Renzi] also took the extraordinary step of decriminalising illegal immigration, which means among other things that none of the boat people are arrested once on dry land. Instead, they are taken to ‘Centri di accoglienza’ (welcome centres) for identification and a decision on their destinies. In theory, only those who identify themselves and claim political asylum can remain in Italy until their application is refused — or, if it is accepted, indefinitely. And in theory, under the Dublin Accords, they can only claim political asylum in Italy — the country where they arrived in the EU. In practice, however, only a minority claim political asylum in Italy. Pretty well all of them remain there incognito, or else move on to other EU countries.
Here’s how it works. In the welcome centres, they are given free board and lodging plus mobile phones, €3 a day in pocket money, and lessons — if they can be bothered — in such things as ice-cream-making or driving a car and (I nearly forgot) Italian. Their presence in these welcome centres is voluntary and they are free to come and go, though not to work, and each of them costs those Italians who do pay tax €35 a day (nearly €13,000 a year). Yes, they are supposed to have their photographs and fingerprints taken, but many refuse and the Italian police, it seems, do not insist. As the Italian interior minister, Angelino Alfano, explained to a TV reporter the other day: ‘They don’t want to be identified here — otherwise, under the Dublin Accords, they would have to stay in our country. So when a police officer is in front of an Eritrean who is two metres tall who doesn’t want his fingerprints taken, he can’t break his fingers, but must respect his human rights.’
This year, there is space for just 75,000 migrants in such places. Hotels are filling the breach, including the four-star Kulm hotel perched high above the luxury resort of Portofino on the Ligurian coast. But most of the rescued migrants could not care less about all that jazz and have just disappeared.
The ones who stay long in the welcome centres are those who have revealed their identities in order to apply for political asylum in Italy. Last year, 64,900 migrants did so in Italy — roughly a third of those saved by the Italian navy. But this being Italy, the judicial system only had time to reach a decision on half those applications (accepting 60 per cent of them), and anyway, thanks to the byzantine Italian appeals procedure, those refused asylum can remain for years. Even if their asylum claim is finally rejected and by some cruel quirk of fate they are actually handed a deportation order, it is easily ignored: last year Italy forcibly deported just 6,944 people — a figure set to shrink even more once a law before parliament is passed banning deportation to countries where human rights are abused.
Fair enough, you might say, if all the asylum seekers were genuine refugees from war zones. But contrary to the impression given by most of the world’s media, hardly any of 2014’s intake were from war-torn countries such as Syria or Iraq (though it is true that the number of Syrians is now rising).
Last year, most were from sub-Saharan Africa. Top of the league table were the Nigerians, followed by the Malians and the Gambians, the Senegalese and even the Pakistanis — who together made up 70 per cent of the total. No doubt these countries are no picnic to live in, and parts of some of them are war zones, but that should not, and in theory does not, guarantee refugee status. It is also a fact that most boat people are young single men and the price of a ticket on a people-smuggling boat is €2,000 (nearly two years’ pay for the average worker in Mali).