“Our protection and assistance effort cannot be allowed to weaken—on the contrary, it must be strengthened by the development of a new direction for the European Union in the field of migration and asylum, a sign of a more decisive and shared common commitment,” said the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, on Saturday, in his speech on the occasion of World Refugee Day. His words sounded like a wake-up call to a government that has been very timid in the matter of reversing the course taken by the Conte 1 government, when the Lega was running the Interior Ministry.
The monuments that best represent five Italian cities (the Monumental Fountain in Piazza Moro in Bari, the Palazzo Re Enzo in Bologna, Porta San Niccolò in Florence, the Palazzo Marino in Milan and the Maschio Angioino in Naples) were lit with blue light on Saturday night, in a plea to the citizens not to turn their eyes away from those in need of help. “The impact of the pandemic is worsening the already-critical situation of those who, because of conflicts or the violation of their fundamental rights, are forced to flee their country,” Mattarella stressed.
Reaffirming Italy’s support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the President concluded: “The phenomenon of migration needs Italy to take an approach based on important instruments such as the national resettlement program and humanitarian corridors for particularly vulnerable refugees, who are considerably affected by the restrictions caused by the current health emergency.” However, the numbers show that the efforts being made on this front are still too small compared to the magnitude of the phenomenon.
The UNHCR has published the data from its annual Global Trends report: in 2019, those forced to emigrate numbered more than one percent of the world’s population (one person out of 97), while the number of those who have managed to return home continues to decrease. At the end of last year, “a staggering 79.5 million people” were displaced, which is a new record.
On Saturday, the statistics for Italy were published by the Interior Ministry: almost 11,000 (10,972) asylum applications have been filed from January 1 to June 12, 2020. The main geographical areas of origin of the applicants are Asia (40%), Africa (37%) and the Americas (17%). The largest number of applications came from citizens of Pakistan (18%), followed by Nigeria (10%). 76% of applicants are men. The majority of them (62%) are between 18 and 34 years old, while 13% are children from 0 to 13 years old and 3% are teenagers from 14 to 17. Since January 1, 2020, the National Asylum Commission has made 21,144 decisions on asylum applications.
Since 2015, only 2,510 refugees have been resettled in Italy through international relocation programs. For the years 2020-2021, an additional 700 people are expected to be resettled. The gap between the number of people who need access to this measure and the number of places made available by governments remains enormous.
Right-wing rhetoric describes migrants as a cost to the community. But even such an institution as the International Monetary Fund dismantles this toxic narrative in its World Economic Outlook report, where it calls this a “misconception”: “Immigrants in advanced economies increase output and productivity both in the short and medium term.”
According to the studies cited by the IMF, an increase of 1 percentage point in the influx of immigrants, as a proportion of total employment, increases a country’s GDP by almost 1% within 5 years of their entry. This is because native and immigrant workers bring a diverse range of skills to the labor market, leading to increased productivity: “Average per capita incomes of natives increase as their skills are complemented with those of migrants.”
The total number of migrants was 120 million in 1990, which rose to 270 million in 2019, but their overall share has remained stable, at around 3% of the world’s population. Their presence in advanced economies has risen from 7% to 12%. Migration pressures towards Europe will be stronger in the coming years due to the demographic boom in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is expected to increase by 1 billion people between 2020 and 2050, generating an extra-regional migratory pressure of 31 million individuals. Furthermore, one must also add the effects of climate change.
In its report, the IMF admits that the phenomenon of migrations is causing tensions: “Concerns include higher competition for jobs in segments of the local labor market.” However, policies to ensure income support and upgrade native workers’ skills can be implemented to overcome the problem. As regards the immigrants themselves, integration-oriented policies such as “language training, physical and mental health support, shorter refugee recognition processes, and shorter stays in asylum accommodations are all associated with improved labor market outcomes.”