closed its ports

Recently, Italy‘s newly formed government has closed its ports to migrant ships. The new political atmosphere is run by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League party, known for its strong anti-immigration beliefs.

In particular, a rescue ship named Aquarius, which was carrying 629 rescued migrants on board from 26 countries in Africa, was denied entry into an Italian port on June 10. The ship was forced to stay out at sea until another European country, Spain, gave the ship access to its ports the next day.

The new Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, who is also the League’s leader, made the decision to close Italy’s ports. In the past, Salvini has called Sicily “the refugee camp of Europe,” and his actions reflect Italy’s struggle with the high numbers of refugees arriving each week. The Italian government wants Europe as a whole to play a larger role in accepting refugees.

Why Italy Has Closed its Ports

Since 2013, 690,000 immigrants have arrived in Italy. While some may be legal, many are not and 500,000 of them still reside in Italy. Among them are denied asylum seekers and those who have overstayed their visa.

In 2017 alone, 120,000 migrants arrived and the Italian government has estimated that 4.2 billion is the cost of taking them in, roughly $4.9 billion. That figure is divided between caring for asylum seekers, who are generally not allowed to work, as well as paying for sea rescues and providing medical assistance. This is one of many contributing factors as to why Italy has closed its ports.

Italy’s Changing Relationship to Refugees

In 2017, Italy formed a deal with Libya to enforce Libya’s coastguard in order to keep migrant ships from entering Italy. Since the deal, in the first five months of 2018, the number of migrants reaching Italian ports has dropped to 13,808. This is down 84 percent compared to the same period of time in 2017.

Part of Salvini’s campaign was to repatriate at least 500,000 migrants during his five-year term, as Italians have grown increasingly afraid of migrants and associate higher crime rates to the influx of migrants. Italy has closed its ports as a way to combat this sentiment.

International and National Response

As the nation has closed its ports, mayors across the south of Italy have spoken out against this decision and have pledged to open their ports to these rescue boats. However, without the direct support of the Italian coastguard, it is unlikely that much can be done.

This sentiment, however, gives hope to the changing attitudes toward helping these migrants. It demonstrates that opinions are changing and that people are more interested in saving the lives of refugees, rather than keeping them out.

As a response to Italy having closed its ports, European leaders and humanitarian groups have denounced this decision. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees appealed to Italy and Malta, stating that issues such as these should be addressed after the rescue and that the lives of the migrants should have been put first. Furthermore, Spain and France have offered to help take in the migrants.

As a solution, the European Council President Donald Tusk has proposed regional disembarkment platforms outside of the European Union. This would allow a more manageable way to differentiate between economic migrants and migrants in need of protection. As a result, the strain would be taken off countries such as Italy and allow for a more efficient system, which would benefit E.U. countries, the migrants and public sentiment toward this issue.

– Trelawny Robinson
Photo: Flickr

Media Misrepresents the Refugee Crisis
The European Refugee Crisis has become one of the most discussed and debated conflicts in international discourse and current affairs in the world today. Given its ubiquitous presence, the media also plays a crucial role in transcending awareness to the international community about key underlying global issues.

Power of the Media

However, the media misrepresents the refugee crisis due to (oftentimes) inadequate coverage. There is a strong correlation between media portrayal and the reception that ‘media bias’ can have on various audiences. This occurrence, as well as photographic evidence, can give rise to negative perceptions of the situations and news stories at hand.

A majority of the time, even the visual imagery of photography in the media can contribute to a warped, and sometimes over-exaggerated, view of the situation. On the other hand, some cases — such as the Mediterranean crisis in 2016 — a shocking image can become a very powerful and lasting symbol for the refugee crisis. In 2016, the limp body of Alan Kurdi, a 3 year-old Syrian, washed up onshore and became just that; his dead body caused a huge outcry and a great deal of global outrage.

The reaction to Kurdi is a direct example of the media’s scope, power and influence in global information. Moreover, the rather high incidence of “fake news” stories is also changing the tide of mainstream media coverage and giving rise to more inflammatory rhetoric, racism, controversy and division.

The Misrepresentation of the Refugee Crisis

The media misrepresents the refugee crisis also largely in reference to the growing skepticism associated with new immigrants crossing international borders. A number of media forums are often pervaded by hate speech and campaigns against refugees; such portrayals can give rise to increased hysteria and the spreading of misinformation.

The deficiencies in media coverage of the refugee crisis can often cause overly biased narratives that hinder efforts at raising awareness about key issues and shedding light on the unbiased truth. Given the often divisive nature of geopolitics, news stories are often written with the intention of covering international affairs. As a result, humanitarian concerns and concerns about human rights for refugees can also be quite politicized in nature and impact interpretations.

With the prominence and importance of these topics, though, media coverage should aim to not only cover these topics, but also shed light on positive stories associated with the refugee crisis. Sustainable news sources — objective and advocacy journalism and community media, for instance — can help counteract associations of overly negative images when the media misrepresents the refugee crisis.

Quest to Ensure Journalistic Integrity

Moreover, journalistic integrity must be maintained through free press. With more accurate representation in the media, immigrants and refugees can become more humanized and realistic in media coverage, and thereby demonstrate the more optimistic and “good news” side of reality.

Such accurate depictions will also benefit various key stakeholder groups involved in the refugee crisis — such as governments and international organizations. Positivity in the media could ensure greater ease in the provision of humanitarian and development aid and packages.

So there must be increased levels of inclusion and greater coverage of important stories to counter the media misrepresenting the refugee crisis. This change can help the international community take up a larger role in addressing large and pertinent issues, such as human rights.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr