Great news: we finally see a “discontinuity,” with the new Italian government authorizing 82 refugees from the humanitarian vessel Ocean Viking to land at Lampedusa. We know this is good news by the fact that Salvini is already trying to stir up street protests, shouting about a supposed “invasion.” All the while, Di Maio, nowadays Foreign Minister and a former vice-premier in the Conte 1 government, is trying to stress that there is actually no discontinuity at all with the practices of the previous government, since “the goal has always been the redistribution” of arrivals.
It should be made clear, however, that this landing would not have been approved if the Minister of Hatred, Mr. “Give Me Full Powers,” had any say—or if Salvini still had the election card to play, after 14 months of his racist election campaign conducted from the Interior Ministry, in open rebellion against what is left of our constitutional democracy. This time, there was no trace of the ideological fury against immigrants and against the humanitarian rebel NGOs—a perfect illustration of the sovereignist ideology of social exclusion.
This time, there was no more refusal to assist in an emergency and no more false imprisonment, crimes for which Salvini—and not just him—should be tried under international law, if such still existed.
Now, 82 people—children, women, men—can finally drink, eat, take care of themselves, hope and apply for asylum. Their safe port is Lampedusa, “the closest” to that of their rescue according to maritime and international law. The current mayor of Lampedusa, however, protested against the migrants being brought to the small island, clearly fearful of the political climate which has also changed in Lampedusa, where the Lega has upended the traditional political spectrum in the last elections.
Certainly, Lampedusa once again seems to have taken up by itself the political and humanitarian functions that should belong to the whole of Italy and of Europe, united around “their own” sea, the Mediterranean. However, there still remains a strong risk that the novelty of the Ocean Viking landing will remain an isolated case.
Everything will depend on the real capacity for “redistribution.” We should not forget that these are human beings fleeing war and misery, for which we often hold a significant share of the blame, but we’d probably be affording them more respect if they were stray containers of goods—and this includes the language we’re using.
Redistribution is the topic on the agenda of the next European summit on migrants, with the newfound availability by both Germany and France to accept a 25% share of migration flows. However, this is still a far cry from a revision of the Dublin Treaty, which says that the reception and management of asylum claims are all burdens to be borne by the country of first entry. Changing this rule seems to be a bridge too far for an EU afflicted by too many internecine crises, which is still without a comprehensive migration policy, and in which sovereignist and “illiberal” countries such as Hungary stand against any such initiative.
First and foremost, the risk that the Ocean Viking will remain an isolated case will become more and more evident if we see no discontinuity after all when it comes to the underlying issue which lies behind the unending drama of offshore tragedies that have transformed the Strait of Sicily into a mass grave: namely, the attempt to escape Libya by a desperate people numbering in the hundreds of thousands, according to UN figures. There, in Libya, they are being captured, searched, detained, tortured and killed.
The core issue is the involvement of the last two Italian governments—in a direct line of continuity from Minniti to Salvini—with the Libyan militias, getting the latter to assume the lofty title of a “Coast Guard,” with the full agreement of the EU for the outsourcing of migration issues.
If this criminal umbilical cord remains attached and isn’t cut once and for all, there will be no change. Things will go on precisely as now, with everyone outdoing each other in singing the praises of the nonexistent Libyan authorities, in a Libya that has been in a state of disintegration since our 2011 war.
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