Saturday, June 16, 2018

Italy Turns Away Migrant Ship

One of the hot button topics across what is referred to as the "West" is immigration, particularly illegal immigration and refugees. This issue was part of why Trump was elected. It was also behind the electoral success of some right-wing politicians across Europe, including, Italy. The new government in Italy made news recently when it refused to accept a French NGO ship crammed with apparent African and Arab refugees. France ostentatiously criticized Italy's decision but also refused to take in the migrants, something that caused the Italians to go off on the French hypocrisy and arrogance. The Spanish stepped up to take in the ship. Nationalists across Europe cheered Italy's decision.

PARIS — A boat crowded with hundreds of Africans sailing across the Mediterranean after being turned away by Italy this week has exposed anew the shaky fault lines in Europe’s approach to the migrant crisis. On Sunday, Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered the Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by humanitarian groups, to stop 35 nautical miles off the coast of Italy, refusing to let it dock.

The ship is now on its way to Spain, which showed up its neighbors by solemnly announcing that it would “respect its international engagements” and accept the boat after Malta, too, refused it, and France stood idly by. Brussels, the seat of the European Union, looked on in relative silence. There was no common policy to receive the Aquarius and no authority to impose one if there were.

The Italian refusal to offer safe harbor to a ship loaded with what aid groups described as 629 migrants — including 123 minors, 11 small children and seven pregnant women — was intended to underscore a long-simmering grievance.

The Italians have bridled for years that they have been left alone by their European Union partners on the front line on the Mediterranean with an unmanageable burden of migration that Mr. Salvini pledged to reverse in his recent election campaign. But his refusal to accept the boat did more than pit humanitarian necessity against political expediency. It roiled tensions with European allies in ways that made President Trump’s performance at the G-7 summit last weekend look almost diplomatic by comparison.

By Tuesday, the Aquarius affair had erupted into full-blown sniping among allies, as four European governments traded mutual recriminations, reproaches and comeuppances. President Emmanuel Macron of France accused Italy of “cynicism” and “irresponsibility” for refusing to receive the boat.

Coming from the French, the remarks amounted to a white-glove slap in the face. The Italians were having none of it.The office of the Italian prime minister pushed back against “hypocritical lessons” from France, which has taken in a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of Africans arriving in Italy — some 120,000 arrived by sea in 2017 — and did not offer to take any of the latest.

France regularly forces migrants back across the Italian border, deports dozens of others and gives only grudging aid to the relative handful who make it through the first filter. This time, again, the French stood by, refusing to take in the Aquarius.


Of course some of this (much of this?) is European racism. No doubt about it. That said though can we get upset with France for wanting to remain French or at Italy for wanting to remain Italian? Those countries aren't settler nations or traditional destinations for massive immigration of disparate cultures. Most European nations are ethnic homelands to one extent or another. On some level their reluctance to give entry to migrant populations is the same reluctance that a homeowner might have to open his home to the homeless. Doing so might be the moral thing to do. It would also guarantee that the homeowner wouldn't have a home any more.  French President Macron criticized Italy but he's also on record telling Africans and Arabs that they have too many children and can't all move to France. And Macron was the liberal alternative to Marine LePen!

Lifeboat ethics can be ugly stuff. A few hundred people won't make a difference in a nation of millions. But that few hundred can also turn into thousands and millions, which will made a difference. So what is the answer? I don't know. All I do know is that it's not possible for people to move en masse across borders without permission and stay. And the more some people insist on doing that, the more we'll see certain nations shift to the right, at least as far as immigration policy is concerned. Ultimately all of us need to work to create better lives and opportunities for those in the so-called Third World. That's going to take decades. In the meantime look for more stories like this.

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