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

PianoterraIn Italian, “pianoterra” translates to “ground floor.” Pianoterra is also an organization based in Italy that is working to keep refugee mothers and children safe.

The Mission of Pianoterra

Pianoterra was founded by Alessia Bulgari, Flaminia Trapani and Ciro Nesci. According to the group’s website, “[the founders’] stories are intertwined by personal ties: Alessia and Flaminia are cousins, Flaminia and Ciro are husband and wife.”

The organization was founded in 2008 with the main goal of helping immigrant women get the necessary things to be able to prosper in Italy. When the organization began, 58 percent of the women seeking help from the organization was Italian while the other 50 percent was foreign. Today, 98 percent are foreign women.

Pianoterra’s Past Initiatives

Pianoterra has led several initiatives to improve the lives of refugee women and children. Two of these important projects include “Right to Feed – Support of Breastfeeding” and “From Mom to Mom.”

The project “Right to Feed – Support of Breastfeeding” began in January 2009. The project was aimed at mothers who were unable to breastfeed and did not have a sufficient amount of money to be able to feed their children. Pianoterra worked to “distribute free formula milk, according to pediatric prescriptions, and other basic necessities.”

With the “From Mom to Mom” initiative, Pianoterra helped mothers by collecting and distributing second-hand items for children. By collecting second-hand articles and connecting the women who donate with the women in need, mothers are “directly linked to a solidarity network of other women and mothers willing to support,” according to the organization’s website.

The Immigration Situation in Italy

Currently, immigration to Italy is occurring in large numbers. In 2018 alone, approximately 33,000 refugees have fled to Italy. However, the nation’s new interior minister has stated that “the country will no longer be ‘Europe’s refugee camp,’” according to TeleSur.

With the new government leaders in Italy, many refugees cannot count on staying in Italy. TeleSur reports that Italy’s “right-wing League stated that the vast majority of migrants in Italy have no right to refugee status, Italy cannot help them and by accepting low pay they worsen the working conditions of Italians.”

Although the Italian government is changing, there are still organizations working to help women and refugees prosper in the country. Pianoterra will continue to assist mothers in caring for their children and bettering their futures.

– Valeria Flores
Photo: Flickr

The French government has pledged to provide €500,000 ($567,000) to a migrant town near Calais. The make-shift town has been a source of controversy for France and a point of criticism from the United Nations due to poor sanitation standards and treatment of migrants.

This camp, dubbed “New Jungle” by locals, is home to an estimated 4,000 migrant workers who left their home countries to find work and refugee status in Great Britain. When high security prevented them from crossing the English Chanel the migrants were left stranded in France, in a political limbo.

The majority of the migrants are sans papiers (without papers) and have a difficult time finding work or government aid without legal documentation. When opportunities in France dwindle, the migrants (including women and children) are left without a place to go except for the camps.

Last year, the government of France shut down another nearby migrant town nicknamed the “Jungle”. The area had had humanitarian groups concerned for several years.

Since the area was not a legal town, it did not have any government protection nor requirements to meet health standards. Makeshift tents surrounded the area, and the undocumented migrants living there had little to no access to water, electricity or food resources.

The destruction of the camp only resulted in the creation of another migrant camp north of Calais, the current “New Jungle”. Like its predecessor, New Jungle has been condemned by the United Nations.

Philippe Leclerc, a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, described living conditions as “absolutely appalling”.

New Jungle residents are often surrounded by garbage and there is no running water. Although there are surrounding towns, several of the migrant workers fear leaving due to worries about racial discrimination and hate crimes.

As a result, sanitation standards are very low and the migrant workers have very little opportunities to buy food or seek medical attention.

The current aid will lessen some of the migrant workers’ woes. The French government will begin working on plans to provide running water, electricity and better access to medical care for the migrants.

Part of the money will also go into creating sturdier homes in the New Jungle and another 10,500 lodgings throughout France. These lodgings will be available to men, women and children who currently reside in France as migrants.

While the European Union believes it is a step in the right direction, the French government worries for how long this can last. France has experienced large amounts of migrants entering the country for the past 15 years. However, current crises in the Middle East and Africa have caused more people to enter France in the past six months.

Brigitte Lips, a Calais resident, states, “The ones who make it here have already escaped death several times. They’ve crossed war-torn Sudan, then the Libyan desert, and then packed into rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea.”

As long as war and poverty continue to grow in regions such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria the amount of refugees and migrants entering France will continue to increase.

Erendira Jimenez

Sources: UNHCR, Express, NPR
Photo: Express


Since the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took root in 2012, Europe has experienced a strange phenomenon: European-raised citizens leaving to become Jihad fighters in the Middle East. According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), 3,000 European citizens have joined ISIS since 2012, with Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden producing the highest number of citizens per capita to join the Jihadist cause. In response to this, a variety of methods have sprung up in Europe in order to prevent European citizens from leaving to join ISIS, and to deal with fighters once they have returned home.

In many European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Belgium, suspected ISIS recruits and returned Jihad fighters are treated with scorn and sent to court (in February, 46 suspected jihadists went on trial in Belgium). In stark contrast to these approaches, Denmark has pioneered an approach known as the “Aarhus Model,” which works to reintegrate returned fighters into Danish society using a soft-handed approach which treats returned jihadists “more like rebellious teenagers […] than hostile soldiers beyond redemption.”

The Aarhus Model was pioneered in 2007 after the 7/7 London metro bombings produced alarm in Denmark about the threat of the “home-grown terrorist.” The need for a better approach to dealing with poor, immigrant communities also became evident following the backlash produced by the controversial Muhammad cartoons in 2006, which produced unprecedented tension in Danish society between native Danes and Muslims. The Copenhagen shootings this year on February 14 by a 22-year-old Palestinian-born Danish citizen also solidified concerns about the threat of homegrown terrorism in Denmark, and the need for effective methods to counter this threat.

Indeed, Denmark, a country which provides generous welfare entitlements for all of its citizens and residents (including immigrants), has produced the second highest number of Jihadist fighters in Europe, after Belgium. According to ICSR 2015’s Report, 27 per 1 million Danish citizen have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, while 40 per 1 million Belgium citizen have also joined ISIS.

Many Danish citizens, according to Preben Bertelsen, a professor of psychology at the University of Aarhus, have expressed confusion over why Denmark has produced such a high percentage of Jihadist fighters, expressing sentiments like “Why do they hate Denmark so much when we have given them so many opportunities?” But, according to Jacob Bundsgaard, the mayor of Aarhus, “it is obviously in part because we have failed […] in making sure that these people are well integrated into Danish society.”

Recognizing that the need to join ISIS stems from feelings of exclusion in Danish society, the Aarhus model aims first and foremost at helping radicalized youth to feel included. This includes making sure that immigrant youths—many of whom live in the poorest neighborhoods in Denmark and may feel socially excluded from their other Danish peers—have a vast network of help that they can depend upon. Individual counseling is provided for people who intend to travel to Syria or Iraq, with mentors (many of whom are returned, deradicalized fighters themselves) assigned to specific cases. Parents of at-risk children are also required to take part in self-help groups, in order to produce a network of elders that can disillusion radical youth with the ISIS dream. For returned fighters, (so long as they are found innocent of any war crimes) individuals are also offered counseling and the chance to become mentors for radicalized Danish citizens intending to leave the country to fight.

According to one young man’s testimony of his experience with the Aarhus model, after he had become increasingly radicalized following a family vacation to Mecca, the police contacted his family and had him brought into the station. Instead of punishing him, however, he exclaimed that the police “offered him a cup of coffee” and told him they would be assigning him a mentor who better understood his frustrations than they did. The young man, whose name was Ahmed, was successfully dissuaded from joining ISIS, and has since graduated from a Danish University and gotten married.

In addition to Aarhus, Copenhagen, other Scandinavian countries, and the Netherlands have since either adopted the Aarhus Model, or have adopted models that are largely based on the Aarhus example. Just days after the Copenhagen shootings on February 20, President Barack Obama also held a conference entitled “The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism,” in which Bundsgaard, the mayor of Aarhus, was invited to share insight into his city’s innovative approach to fighting terrorism.

While the months since the Copenhagen shootings have produced concern over the supposed success of the model, police commissioner Jørgen Illum, based in Aarhus, has claimed that now, more than ever, it is important to make efforts to include radicalized youths and returned fighters into Danish society. Doing so, according to proponents of the Aarhus Model, is the best way to help prevent immigrant teenagers, who live in the poorest and most marginalized segments of Danish society, from turning to ISIS to give themselves a sense of inclusion, and purpose.

Indeed, by many accounts, the Aarhus Model is not only an innovative approach to tackling jihadism, but a successful one that has produced encouraging downward trends in the number of Danish citizens leaving the country to fight.

While thirty Danish citizens traveled to Syria in 2013, only two have traveled to Syria in the past year, while only one traveled in 2015.

– Ana Powell

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Washington Institute
Photo: Newsweek

Ever since the fall of apartheid, South Africa has been a popular destination for immigrants from the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa and, to a lesser extent, South Asia and the Middle East. Immigrants seeking job opportunities have settled in townships and many have opened shops and businesses.

There are an estimated two to five million immigrants and foreign migrant workers living in South Africa. The most common countries of origin are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria. Many also come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt.

But all of this immigration has fueled racial tensions within South Africa. Many South Africans still live in poverty and the official unemployment rate is 25 percent, but many think the real number is higher due to the large informal economy. In poor townships, where the majority of immigrants have settled, unemployment is often near 50 percent.

The high levels of immigration have led to accusations of foreigners taking jobs from locals and of foreign businesses out-competing local ones. Violence against immigrants has become a common occurrence and foreign businesses are often targeted. Most recently, this month has seen a massive wave of anti-immigrant violence in townships in Durban and Johannesburg.

Six people have been killed and thousands of immigrants have been forced from their homes and had their businesses destroyed by mobs. Many are now being housed in refugee camps and several foreign governments have sent buses to evacuate their citizens. The South African government has vowed a swift response and over 300 people have been arrested in connection to the attacks.

Many point to a quote by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini as the instigator of the recent violence. The king was quoted as saying that immigrants taking away jobs from South Africans “should pack their belongings and go home.” The attacks began soon afterwards, starting in the townships of Durban that are part of the Zulu homeland. Some think he may be charged with inciting hatred. The king has claimed his quote was misinterpreted in the media.

This is not the first case of violence against immigrants. Earlier in January several people were killed and hundreds injured in mob violence against foreign owned businesses. Such incidents have become increasingly recurring and smaller scale attacks on specific shops or individuals are very common. In some cases South African police have been implicated or directly involved.

The worst wave of violence was in May 2008 when riots and mob attacks killed 62 people, most of them foreign immigrants. The incident shocked South Africa and drew attention to the issue of xenophobia for the first time. Since then it has become a major issue, but many accuse President Zuma of not doing enough to address it. Many South Africans have mobilized to fight against xenophobia and feel such attacks are undermining the country’s long struggle for racial equality. These attacks serve as an important reminder of the role poverty plays in creating racial tensions.

– Matt Lesso

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, Washington Post
Photo: Flickr

Immigrants come to work in the U.S. from around the world, particularly from Latin America and the Caribbean. A lot of foreign workers send money back to their families in their home countries and these remittances play an important role in alleviating poverty and helping poor communities develop.

The economies of developing countries in the western hemisphere are incredibly dependent on these remittance flows. Remittances to Haiti account for 25 percent of the country’s GDP. Remittances to Honduras account for nearly 20 percent and remittances to El Salvador account for more than 15 percent of GDP. Remittances to Guyana and Nicaragua also account for more than 15 percent of GDP.

These remittance flows serve as the primary source of income for many poor families in the region. They allow them to buy basic necessities such as food and clothing. Many families use the remittances to invest and better their lives. They use them to build a new house or to expand their business or start a new one. In many poor communities in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the entire economy depends on these remittance flows. Remittances are used to finance all local investment and construction in many villages.

Around $60 billion worth of remittances are sent back to Latin America every year. More than one-fifth, around $12 billion, goes to Central America. This is four times more than the amount of development aid provided by the World Bank and foreign donors. It’s also three times more than the total amount of foreign direct investment in the region.

Since the economies of so many countries in the region depend so heavily on remittances, they are very intertwined with the U.S. economy. During the recession, the economic downturn spread through Central America, the Caribbean and parts of Mexico as remittance flows decreased. This had a major impact and resulted in several years of slow growth for many countries in Central America. Since the U.S. economy has recovered, remittance flows have increased and economies in the region have started growing again.

This highlights the importance that immigration plays in poverty reduction. These remittance flows create new jobs, infrastructure projects and opportunities for business expansion that are helping poor communities pull themselves out of poverty. This shows that a more open and structured immigration policy in the U.S. could potentially have a huge impact in the fight against global poverty.

– Matt Lesso 

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The World Bank, Americas Quarterly, Lonely Planet Guatemala
Photo: Flickr

The recent Chinese measles outbreak in Vietnam and the Philippines has hindered the tourism industry and caused concern in neighboring countries. Though measles is a preventable disease, the access to vaccines is limited in certain areas.

China alone accounts for more than one third of all globally reported measles cases. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for nearly two-thirds of all cases. While rare in developed countries, many of those now reported are imported.

Though China has seen an overall decrease in the number of annual cases in the past decade, there has been a recent spike. Partially to blame are the recent waves of immigration and the increasing numbers of migrant workers. Though China has strengthened efforts to get younger generations immunized, many of the older generations have not received the measles vaccination. The migrant workers act as vectors to move the virus from one town to another. Particularly in rural areas, which are less likely to have access to vaccinations, the introduction of an infected migrant worker can help spread the disease.

The children of migrant workers are among the most vulnerable. The healthcare of migrants is often sub-par and many doctors who practice on them are unlicensed physicians who don’t practice immunization.

Further, the cities packed from recent waves of immigration have fostered the spread of the virus. Because measles is easily communicable among non-immunized people, the introduction of the disease in a city with a few million can be disastrous.

Although China has increased efforts for widespread vaccinations, there are still populations who remain at risk. The healthcare of the elderly who weren’t originally vaccinated, as well as that for migrant workers, are being reexamined. The United Nations has encouraged vaccination promotion through specialized clinics, but one thing is for sure: with the migrant population skyrocketing, something must be done.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Quartz, Focus Taiwan
Photo: Fine Art America

A court case ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic regarding a Dominican woman, Ms. Juliana Dequis Pierre, 29, and her four children is causing great concern and eagerness to act by UNHCR.

Ms. Juliana Dequis Pierre’s parents were migrants from Haiti, and moved to the Dominican Republic several decades ago. Although she was considered a Dominican citizen when born, she does not meet qualifications based on the ruling. If implementation of the case ruling progresses, hundreds of thousands of persons of Haitian descent would be forced out of the state, and rendered stateless. According to the Tribunal’s criteria, descendents of Haitians registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 would be considered, and instructed to leave the country they have called home for decades.

Several UNCHR officials voiced worry for the fate of almost 300,000 people born in Dominican Republic since 1929. Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Santo Domingo explained, “it is difficult to image the devastation of being told you are no longer a citizen of the country where you were born and lived your entire life.” Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR’s Regiona; Representative for the U.S. and Caribbean furthered these concerns by discussing a potential risk of these people being stripped of a recognized nationality, and how it is a “basic principle of international law that no one be deprived of a nationality if that action leads to statelessness.”

According to the ruling, the people should not have nationality because their parents were considered “in transit” and were never truly citizens of the Dominican Republic. Defending the ruling against a backlash of humanitarian supporters, Roberto Rosario, President of the Central Electoral Board, states, “The ruling unifies the country,” and “clarifies and defines a legal way and provides a framework to seek a humanitarian way of for those people.”

However, within the harsh criticism of so many humanitarians, information has leaked about the working conditions for Haitian descendents in the nation’s profitable sugar cane trade. The U.S. was able to conduct reports, and found Haitian sugar cane workers were underpaid, and worked in unsanitary conditions.

Additionally, children of Haitian descent have lived the effects of the hardship caused by a ruling in 2008, because parents were undocumented. School-aged children were stripped of the opportunity to take required standardized tests because they lacked their birth certificate.

Ms. Deguis’s lawyer states, “It’s essentially a life suspended.” U.S. involvement is at a consequential place in this case, as the U.S. imports more sugar from the Dominican Republic than any other nation. The U.S. Department of Labor announced it will revisit the situation involving labor laws in six months and a year.

As for the court ruling, Roman Catholic priest Father Christopher Hartley described the situation saying, “The truth is finally coming out.” Haitian officials will consult with UN members on how to further respond to the ruling.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: UNHCR, UN Radio, Haiti Innovation
Photo: Castlebar News