Resistance Grows as Italy Struggles to Care for 50,000 Mediterranean Migrants

AP Photo
The Associated Press

The strain of dealing with the massive wave of refugees pouring off the coast of war-torn, ISIS-threatened Libya and flowing across the Mediterranean is proving too much for Italy. A European backlash is growing against the migrant wave, although it is unclear what any faction of the Italian body politic, or the wider European Union, is prepared to do to stop it.

“As another frantic weekend of rescues unfolded, nearly 6,000 people were plucked to safety from packed fishing boats and rubber dinghies off Libya,” reports AFP. “All those rescued will be deposited at Sicilian ports or elsewhere in southern Italy in the coming days, lifting this year’s total of new arrivals on Italian soil to more than 50,000, as complaints mount about the cost and other problems involved in processing the new arrivals.”

Indeed, those complaints have grown so forceful that AFP reports wealthy northern Italy is refusing to accept more migrants. The three big northern regions are “vowing to defy the centre-left government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi by refusing to house any of the new arrivals.”

Judging by the rest of the AFP report, such defiance is no longer a rhetorical “vow,” but a fact on the ground, as the presidents of Lombardy, Liguria, and Veneto are urging local mayors to refuse further refugees. Roberto Maroni, the president of the Lombardi region, actually threatened to cut the funding of municipalities that accept any more of what he called “illegal immigrants.”

Veneto president Luca Zaia said the situation was “like a bomb ready to go off… the social tensions are absolutely crazy.”

An astounding six thousand refugees were plucked from the Mediterranean just this past weekend, some of them reportedly pregnant women. “Italy’s coastguard said 2,371 people had been rescued on Sunday and 3,480 on Saturday,” AFP reports. Some 1,800 migrants are said to have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The usual efforts to blame resistance on the racist indifference of “right-wing” politicians are collapsing in the face of the sheer magnitude of Italy’s plight. Mass migration is, everywhere and always, a challenge to national identity. Citizens directly affected by huge infusions of refugees often voice complaints about the situation, while politicians and ideologues living in distant comfort ignore them.

It is all happening in fast-forward in Italy, and if anything the process is likely to accelerate as even larger African migrant waves set sail from broken Libya.

“The country’s reception facilities are at breaking point with nearly 80,000 asylum seekers or recently arrived migrants currently accommodated across the country,” AFP notes. If the northern regions of Italy refuse to accept more refugees, “the government will have a major problem on its hands.”

The AFP report concludes by noting, almost as an afterthought, that the Italian government “is also grappling with growing evidence that organised crime has been siphoning off public funds allocated for the accommodation of migrants during their processing.”

While there is much talk about addressing the “root cause” of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, there are few concrete suggestions for doing so. Those who complained that aggressive rescue efforts would only encourage more refugees to take a stab at reaching the European coast have been dismissed from the discussion. Enforcement actions against human traffickers have not accomplished much; some suggest escalating this to commando raids that would destroy their ships at harbor in Libya.

If ISIS manages to topple what passes for the Libyan government and turns the country into a caliphate dungeon, there is no telling how bad the refugee crisis will get… or how many terrorists will surf that human tide across European borders that have been effectively erased.