Commentary. An Italian member of European Parliament attempted to visit and observe the borders of Bosnia and Croatia where refugees cross the snow, sometimes in bare feet. He was turned away.

On immigration, we must change everything

There’s nothing else to say other than that we have to change everything on immigration. What we have seen in recent months and days along the more or less European stretches of the Balkan route is something that demands a collective admission of responsibility.

We have to change everything so that the order of priorities is reversed.

This might even paradoxically appear to be a self-consoling formula, a sort of macabre “evil as a half-good,” but it is fair to say that very few can claim they have a clear conscience when it comes to dealing with the issue of choices concerning the “governance of migratory flows.”

The small and grim police cordon that stopped me, Pietro Bartolo, Brando Benifei and Alessandra Moretti, so that we wouldn’t reach the border between Croatia and Bosnia, where the delegations of the institutions usually don’t go but where the ground shakes from the trampling of the refugees’ bare feet, tells the story of the weakness of the policies enacted in these years.

The Croatian government (these days engaged in an absurd campaign of disinformation against us and our intentions) is explicitly practicing the policy of rejections. In the forest of Bojna, there are aggressions and interventions by the authorities that many voices from the world of free information and from that of rights activists have duly documented, while the police claims there’s nothing there at all.

I don’t know where the truth lies; I only know that four members of the European Parliament were not even given the chance to see, in broad daylight, the places where the border can be crossed, and I know that many young people with whom we came into contact recounted simple episodes that recurred again and again (“they steal everything, even our shoes, they beat us and throw us back”).

But there is more to Croatia than this, and we would be wrong to imagine that the issue is attributable to the individual behaviors of a few, or even, as we read from time to time, to the “harsh tradition” of an entire people (which, it is worth emphasizing a thousand times, is made up of so many decent people).

On the other hand, from the point of view of national politics, others are doing even worse (it is enough to look at Hungary), and beyond that, many remain culpably impassive in the face of a very clear need to make different choices.

The lines at the Lipa camp, made up of young men from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, waiting under the falling snow for some food from the aid system (implemented without a real Bosnian national strategy), those lines which seem to be turning back the clock to a certain distant past in the most sinister manner, were not born in the Balkans.

Or, rather, not only in Bihac and in the lands whitened by winter.

They are the result of a powerful concatenation of events that is putting forward the topic of the desire and the need to “migrate” in an unavoidable manner.

It is a context that marks this historical phase and will continue to do so in the years to come, regardless of national regulations, the hardline front put up by some politicians or the hostility of parts of society.

This dimension, given the imbalances in development, geopolitical tensions, the effects of the climate crisis and the irreducible desire of many to seek their share of the future “elsewhere,” is not accompanied by appropriate choices on the part of states (including EU member states, of course) and the international community.

A word of warning: woe to us if we simplify and reduce the enormous amount of problems and conflicts that the entire migration affair brings with it.

To be honest, I have never been convinced by a mode of thought that displays generic confidence about the “beauty” of a society marked by cultural and ethnic pluralism.

It is not (only) that “beauty” that will allow us to transform policies today.

In fact, an enormous amount of work is needed, especially in some geographical areas that are more exposed than others, involving the culture of “standing on the middle ground,” and therefore, contrary to the logic of the continuous abdication of responsibility by everyone, this comes with a need to manage, make choices, and take up the honorable duty of supporting local communities, of welcoming migrants and of the (often difficult) integration processes.

I think this is all the more true when I look at Bosnia Herzegovina, where communities, including small ones—with people who in recent years have shown themselves to be hospitable and welcoming—are telling stories today of the fatigue caused, first and foremost, by the feeling of being all alone that those who deal with immigration are often fated to experience.

For this reason, the point is to decide on a different “agenda,” consisting of immediate actions, such as those concerning the opening of humanitarian corridors (in Bosnia, but also on the Greek border or in Libya), but, above all, of structural interventions based on the idea that Europe cannot continue to see itself as a “besieged fortress” in which more or less clear-cut measures of closure and containment can be experimented with according to the choices of individual states.

This is why Bosnia is a “European issue.” As is Libya, or as was Lampedusa.

And this means that we need to throw away the Dublin regulation, which has formally sanctioned—as the MEP Massimiliano Smeriglio (who was there on the Italian side of the Balkan route) reminded us these days—the logic of the absence of a common responsibility.

And for the same reason, if we don’t want to keep being moved to tears by the sight of naked bodies in the snow, only to forget them afterwards in the vacuum of politics, we need a new European plan, a very different one from the one recently thought up by the Commission.

Many are taking notice of Bosnia these days, also in Italy.

Let’s take care of this, more and more, alongside those who have been there in the field for years (from Caritas to ACLI and the Red Cross).

But let’s also take care of this by deciding to end the financing of the mission in Libya, to expose the shameful management of Frontex, to realize, for instance, a great project of “Civil and Humanitarian Protection” at the truly European level, able to take a decisive stand on the middle ground.

Pierfrancesco Majorino is a Socialist and Democrat MEP, part of the delegation of MEPs in Croatia and Bosnia.

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