Roberto Forin, International Centre for Migration Policy Development*
It seems that, against the increase of the anti-immigration populist discourse in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, “how to face the risks” of migration is currently perceived as a “political” priority. The most recent Italian migration related initiatives in the Mediterranean, aiming at stemming new arrivals from Libya through short-term containment policies are a good example of this trend. However, whilst leading to some short-term successes, in the medium/long-term the current approach risks of being ineffective and counterproductive, as I will try to show in this paper.
Migration is not a temporary phenomenon. Rather, it is an integral part of broader processes of social and economic changes, linked to globalization. Migration is already positively contributing to the Italian economy and society, as argued, among others, by many economists and sociologists. Therefore, while discussing migration policies in Italy, it is of the utmost importance to keep a medium/long-term perspective, making sure that such policies will eventually enable us to “seize the opportunities” that migration represent for our society and, more broadly, for our global future.
This said, considering the complexity of the topic and the format of the workshop, this paper does not holistically engage with migration policies as a whole. Instead, it critically engages with some of the most recent initiatives of the Italian government, in Libya and in Italy, attempts to identify some of the associated risks and opportunities and provides some recommendations about short and medium terms ways forward.
Migration Policies in the Mediterranean
The Central Mediterranean route is once again the predominant route for migrants and refugees aiming to reach Europe, as it used to be the case before the surge in arrivals through the Eastern Mediterranean in late 2015 and early 2016. In 2016, over 181,000 irregular migrants were detected on the Central Mediterranean route, the vast majority of whom reached Italy. 2016 was also a record year for the number of lives lost at sea: over 4,500 people drowned in the attempt to cross. In 2017, as of 31 August, 99,119 refugees and migrants reached Italy, 95% of them coming from Libya. The top 6 nationalities were Nigeria (17%), Bangladesh (9%), Guinea (9%), Cote D’Ivoire (8%), Mali and Eritrea (5%).
In Libya, the Italian government’s efforts have been directed towards stemming the flow of departures for Italy. Particularly since August 2017, such an approach has led to a very significant reduction of new arrivals (80% reduction compared to August 2016). With this reduction of new arrivals new challenges have emerged in Libya.
An increased number of migrants are stranded in the country and exposed to systematic human rights violations, particularly in detention centres. Conflict and instability have led to the collapse of the rule of law in many areas of the country. Taking advantage of the resulting impunity, many armed militias, criminal groups and individuals participate in the exploitation and abuse of refugees and migrants, particularly in detention centres.
In the Libyan context, short-term containment approaches risk of being counterproductive in the medium/long term. Several researches have shown that the adverse treatment of migrants in Libya, their progressive disempowerment, instead of keeping them out and keeping them in the region is likely to eventually increase their aspirations to move onward, especially to safer third countries in Europe.
In the long term, short-term containment approaches risks of harming the already fragile Libyan economy, the economy of the Saharan region and, eventually, its stability. Considering all migrants in Libya as just transiting toward Europe overlooks the fact that Libya has historically been, and still remains, a country of destination for many migrants, from neighboring sub-Saharan countries and beyond. Particularly in the south of the country, migrants provide a crucial contribution to the Libyan economy. Furthermore, through remittances and/or circular migration, they positively contribute to the economy of their respective countries of origin.
Migration Policies in Italy
In Italy today there are approximately 2.700.000 foreign national workers. Amongst them approximately 600.000 work as caregivers, baby-sitters or domestic workers, 450.000 in agriculture and 250.000 in construction. Also, over the last four years the businesses managed by foreign nationals have increased of the 20% and represent today the 10% of the total number of Italian small businesses. In 2016 their contribution to the Italian economy was estimated at €123 billion, the 9% of the total wealth.
Whilst it is extremely important to properly manage migration flows through the Mediterranean, it is also crucial to create in Italy the right conditions to allow immigration to further contribute to economic growth and prosperity. Migration policies should be seen as opportunities to boost innovation and rising human-capital levels.
The current draft law under discussion in the Italian parliament for the partial application of Ius Solis and of the Ius Culturae has the potential to positively contribute to the integration of a significant number of migrant families. However, such an approach should be complemented with measures aiming at creating transparent access opportunities for labor migrants. This would simultaneously reduce the number of irregular migrants currently working in Italy, further contribute to the integration of regular migrants workers and strengthen their contribution to the Italian economy.
In the short term
Libya currently lacks a strong central government. The control of internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) over the Libyan territory is patchy at best, and this is likely to continue for some time. While remaining realistic about the immediate progress Libya can make in migration management, Italy should set some clear short and medium term migration policies objectives to be an integral part of its overall negotiations with Libyan authorities
Strengthen the protection of migrants in detention centres, and their access to basic services
In line with art. 5 of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Italian Government and the GNA in Rome on 02 February 2017 and with the principles of previous agreements (2012 and 2008) any kind of support provided to Libyan authorities should be contingent on the respect of human rights of all migrants. This includes the capacity buildings and technical support to detention centres foreseen in art. 2 of the above mentioned agreement as well as the project on sea and land border management in Libya, prepared by Italy jointly with the EU Commission and financed through the EU Trust Fund for Africa (€46 million)
Short-term measures to be immediately adopted by Libyan authorities should include:
- Closing of the centres outside the jurisdiction of the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM).
- Ending of the arbitrary detention of all migrants;
- Investigating reported cases of HR violations by government officials
- Establishment of open reception centres, with priority for the most vulnerable migrants
- Improvement of the conditions of detention in the centres managed by the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM).
To support and monitor the implementation of such measures, the access to the detention centres by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as well as Libyan civil society organisations that conduct monitoring and inspections of detention centres should be facilitated by the GNA
To pursue the above-mentioned objectives, the Italian government could refer to the art. 3 of the 2017 MoU, foreseeing the creation of a steering committee to oversee the implementation of the terms of the agreement.
In the medium-term
The pre-condition for the implementation of a medium-term migration strategy in Libya is the progressive consolidation of a stable and legitimate central government, the adoption of the draft constitution approved on July 29 by the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) and the progressive reestablishment of the rule of law in the country. Within this framework, medium/long-term policies should support the recognition of protection needs of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, the promotion of their integration into the Libyan society as well as more suitable working conditions.
Migration policies aiming at “sealing” the southern Libyan border with Chad, Niger and Sudan should not be promoted. They risk of disrupting existing patterns of human mobility in the Saharan region, negatively impacting the economy and therefore ultimately creating a fertile ground for an increase of smuggling and trafficking businesses.
The needs of the local population and of ethnic minorities living in Libya should be considered as well, so as to avoid opposing hosting communities against migrants. As much as possible, bilateral and multilateral assistance should be channeled directly to local Libyan communities where migrants are hosted or where they transit, as well to national institutions. Incidentally, along with the stabilization of the country, this would encourage a larger proportion of migrants to remain in the country, in order to profit from existing work opportunities, or to move there on a seasonal basis and regularly return back to their home countries.
In line with such a medium-term strategy, the following actions should be undertaken:
1. Promote the adoption of a Libyan Asylum Law and the decriminalization of irregular migration in the country
Italy should support the Libyan ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as the adoption of a national asylum law It is important to note that the recognition of the institution of the asylum is already included in the final draft of a new constitution approved on July 29 by the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) Draft Interim Constitution (“Art 14: Political Asylum The State shall guarantee political asylum. It shall be prohibited to handover political refugees except to international judiciary. Its conditions and circumstances shall be regulated by law”)
Also the revision of the current Law No. (19) o 2010 on “combatting illegal immigration” should be considered. The current law criminalizes irregular migration, leaving no legal ground for alternatives to detention programmes, which could be implemented trough the support of the international community.
To achieve the above-mentioned medium-term objectives Italy should simultaneously support Libyan authorities and take the leadership at European level.
- In Libya, Italy should support the establishment and the functioning of the National Council for Human Rights, one of the Independent Constitutional Bodies created by the above-mentioned Draft Interim Constitution (art. 159), with the responsibility of, amongst others, “recommend ratification of, or accession to, international covenants of human rights in a way that is not incompatible with the provisions of the Constitution”
- At European level, Italy should include the above-mentioned legislative reforms as leverage into a wider strategy aiming at reopening the discussion for the inclusion of Libya into the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
2. Boost socio-economic development and the inclusion of migrants in the local economy
Beyond the immediate objective of the stabilization of the country, a recovery of the Libyan economy is a clear precondition for the implementation of any meaningful migration policy in the country. Reviving the local economy means creating opportunities that will attract many smugglers back into the licit economy while absorbing migrant labour from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, as was the case before 2011. Therefore, boosting the Libyan economy, particularly at local level, must be one of the priorities of the Italian government in the medium-term.
The Economic Forum organized in Agrigento on July 2017 is a first step in the right direction. However such initiatives should be complemented with other actions aiming at strengthening the cooperation between Italy and Libya in other important sectors, such as culture and education. Some of the provisions included in the Italy-Libya Friendship Treaty of 2008 (art.15 and art.16) provided a good framework for cooperation in such sectors and should be re-evaluated with Libyan counterparts.
- Socio-economic development, cultural exchanges and cooperation in the field of higher education in Libya should be included in the priorities of the “Fondo Africa” 2017-2020
Boosting socio-economic development and the inclusion of migrants in the local economy is also fully in line with the spirit of the Valletta Action Plan of 2015. However, only €42 of the €136 million earmarked by the EU Trust Fund for the implementation of the EU-Libya deal will go to Libyan municipalities. It is important to note that the Draft Constitution of 29 July encourages “… local government units to establish, under the supervision of the central government, foreign relationships for partnerships and cooperation to serve equal and balanced development” (art. 159)
- Italy should advocate at EU level for the increase of the budget allocated to socio- economic development at municipal level and local governance, whilst providing technical support to local and national Libyan institution for the effective use of such funding – i.e. project management, monitoring &
It is important not to give the impression, now quite widespread in several North African and Sub-Saharan countries, that EU and Italy wants to transform Libya into the gatekeeper of Europe. It is therefore important to strengthen bilateral initiatives and multilateral dialogue with African Countries on legal migration channels, such as work and study visas, resettlement programmes and humanitarian corridors. Furthermore, besides the moral imperative and the foreign policy objectives of such endeavor, opening legal migration channels has the potential to reduce the number of irregular migrants in Italy and allow immigration to further contribute to economic growth and prosperity.
Once again, Italy should combine direct, bilateral engagement with African Countries (in line with the newly established “Fondo Africa”) with a more deliberate and dynamic leadership role at EU level, where it should “lead by example” and through the existing dialogues
- On the basis on bilateral agreement with respective countries of origin Italy should increase the current yearly quota or work visa (30.000 in 2017), study visa and scholarship (link with the EU initiatives “Erasmus+” and “Blue Card”)
- Italy should contribute to the UNHCR’s resettlement programme and promote humanitarian corridors and sponsorships – e.g. the Sant’Egidio initiative – enabling organisations, or local communities to take responsibility for accepting and managing the resettlement of refugees
- At EU level, in line with the work initiated through the Italian migration compact, Italy should take the lead in the implementation of the second priority of the Valletta Action Plan, “Legal migration and mobility”, through the existing Rabat and Khartoum processes and the Migration and Mobility
* This proposal is based on research on experiences of migrants stranded in Libya during the 2011 Libyan conflict conducted at Oxford University and for the Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute (ODI). See https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/10527.pdf. It is also partly based on research on migrant labour exploitation in Italy with the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute of Florence (publication forthcoming).
Il presente paper rappresenta il contributo dell’autore per la conferenza “La politica estera ed europea dell’Italia: le proposte del PD”. Esso non impegna in alcun modo il Partito e il suo programma.