Italy’s immigration dilemma - GulfToday

Italy’s immigration dilemma


There is the recognition that migrants can be employed in low-income, manual jobs which young Italians refuse to take up.

Right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni has won the election last year because of her nationalist credentials, and the nationalist position includes a strong anti-Immigration strain. But Meloni’s Italy is witnessing a surprising change in attitude towards immigrants.

There is the recognition that migrants can be employed in low-income, manual jobs in agriculture and in the hotel industry, which young Italians refuse to take up. So, in Tuscany, the driver is a migrant from Guinea on a boat; he is picked up as a bus-driver. Says Madou Koulibaly: “I said, a bus? No, I cannot drive a bus. I have never seen an African drive a bus in Italy, especially an African who’s arrived on a boat!”

That is then the dramatic change forced by a shortage of staff in Italy where the population strength is dwindling and there is a shortage of labour. It is reckoned that Italy’s population in 2050 will be five million less, and those aged above 65 will be over a third of the population. So, Italy needs immigrants and it also needs immigrants who are younger. That is why, Prime Minister Meloni is open to the idea of throwing open the doors to legal immigrants. She does not want illegal immigrants, but local officials are forced to pick up people for jobs from camps of asylum-seekers, who are basically people without legal documents. To streamline the flow of immigrants, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani has signed a three-year agreement with Tunisia granting visas for 4,000 workers per year. These Tunisian migrants would be given residential permits. He clarified that Italy is not opposed to immigration. He said, “We want to choose who enters Italy and Europe, and not leave the choice to traffickers.”

At the bottom of the immigration issue there is a labour shortage in Europe. This is more visible in Italy more than in other European countries, and the Italian government is acknowledging it openly than other governments. And Italy is also assessing how many immigrants they need to run the Italian economy. It is estimated that Italian businesses and unions would need 830,000 people in the 2023-25 period. There would not be any shortage of those seeking entry into Italy and into Europe, and therefore there would be need for a system of monitoring and regulating the flow of migrants.

 And given the European Union (EU) framework, an immigrant who enters Italy need not stay in Italy. He or she can move to any of the 38 EU countries. There is an economic necessity for the European countries to welcome immigrants. And it has to be dealt with on the basis of the host country’s need. But the thorny aspect of immigration is of those who are fleeing their countries because of political persecution, and of those who are feeling hunger, unemployment and drought. The EU has set for itself the ideal of humanitarian assistance, and it has resolved that no asylum-seeker should be turned away. And this poses a problem to the governments.

It would be necessary for an inter-governmental set-up to deal with the refugee crisis. Many of the right-wing governments in Europe, like the present one in Italy, are opposed to the entry of asylum-seekers without any restrictions. It is not just the European countries, but also countries outside Europe, who will have to sit up and find feasible solutions.

The problem of refugees is of global concern. It also means that where the internal situation in countries is turbulent, and people are getting killed or marginalised by their own governments, then it becomes the responsibility of international organisations to take up the responsibility of rehabilitating refugees. The UN is nothing without member-states, and it is national governments who will have to accept the responsibility.

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