I’ve spoken to many Italians who’ve told me they want their kids to go abroad to work when they’re older, because there are few job opportunities in Italy.
There doesn’t seem to be any question in their minds about whether their children will be accepted in the country they go to, whether their rights will be respected, whether they’ll be exploited or whether their migration will be a dangerous affair. In fact, none of these questions ever crossed my mind when I came to live in Italy from the UK.
Caritas Italy presented its 2013 migration report on 30 January, produced in collaboration with the Migrants office of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (Download full report in pdf). The report says immigrants to Italy face discrimination in many areas.
Speaking at the presentation of Caritas Italy’s immigration report, their president Bishop Giuseppe Merisi said, “Millions of people migrate, fleeing from persecution and misery towards better prospects or simply to survive. They have expectations but are often hit by misfortunes which harm their human dignity.”
Oliviero Forti, head of Caritas Italy’s immigration office, gave concrete examples: immigrants paid 3.5 euro to collect 300kgs of tomatoes under the boiling Italian sun; those who are undocumented get 2.5 euro.
The report says that immigrant families on average earn 56 percent less than Italian families. Not only, they suffer much greater job insecurity and unemployment.
Globally, the UN says that 232 million people migrated to another country in 2012 compared with 175 million in 2000. Almost 4.5 million foreigners were living in Italy in 2013 – an 8 percent jump from the previous year. In descending order, immigrants come to Italy from Romania, Albania, Morocco, China and the Ukraine.
The difficulties that immigrants face in creating a permanent life are emphasised by existing laws. For example, children of immigrants who are born in Italy aren’t given Italian citizenship.
Italy started to tighten up on immigrants over ten years ago when it introduced the ‘Bossi-Fini law’, which is currently under review. Among other things it made illegal immigration a crime and introduced ‘Centres of Identification and Expulsion’ in which to detain illegal migrants. Speaking of the law, Forti said, “We’ve seen a systematic violation of the rights of immigrants.”
The report says that poverty, unemployment and homeless are the top reasons why immigrants go to Caritas. The help Caritas gives responds to these needs: it helps immigrants find jobs, gives them access to ‘solidarity supermarkets’, gives legal advice, offers educational opportunities to improve employment prospects and offers financial advice among other things.
Caritas works to ensure that migrants make an informed choice about leaving their country. Once they’ve left, Caritas provides help along their journey and once they’ve arrived in their country of origin.
At the presentation, Senator Luigi Manconi, president of the Italian parliamentary commission for human rights said the Caritas report “dismantles the four big prejudices that dominates the perception of the migratory phenomenon: that there are too many immigrants, that they steal people’s jobs, that they increase insecurity and that they represent a Muslim invasion.”
In fact, the increase in the number of migrants in Italy over the past few years is actually due to children born to foreign mothers in the country.
There was a heavy police presence at the report presentation. I only understood why when I saw that one of the speakers was Cécile Kyenge, Italian minister for integration.
Born in the Congo, she’s lived in Italy for around 30 years. The fact she’s attained high office is an illustration that integration in Italy is moving forward. However, since she’s been minister, she’s received frequent abuse, including death threats, because of her race.
Two days after the immigration report launch, Caritas opened a centre for immigrants in Lampedusa, an island off its coast. The island has become a transit point for immigrants fleeing poverty, war and persecution in North Africa and the Middle East and hoping to find a life in Europe.
These immigrants risk death to cross the Mediterranean and their prospects in Europe are bleak. And yet, every summer the tide of desperate people seeking a better life swells.
In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year, Pope Francis said, “Working together for a better world requires that countries help one another, in a spirit of willingness and trust, without raising insurmountable barriers.”
One thing’s for sure, while there are wars, hunger, unemployment and injustice in the world, people will keep migrating to guarantee a better future for themselves and their children.