Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 456, 18 November 2021

Europe's other migrant crises: The United Kingdom and Italy
Vaishnavi Iyer

In the news
On 8 November, following days of waiting in the central Mediterranean, a boat carrying more than 800 migrants, including 200 minors and five pregnant women, was allowed to dock at Trapani, off the Sicilian coast. The ship was allowed to dock after rejections from Lampedusa and Malta. The Sea-Eye charity complained about the "appalling" state of the country's inability to assist.
 
On 14 November, around 1,185 migrants arrived in the UK, crossing the English Channel in boats and kayaks. The arrival marked the highest single-day crossing record. The Home Office termed the new number crossings "unacceptable." Whitehall sources accused France of "losing control of the situation". On the same day, Italy rescued more than 550 migrants in Calabria.
 
On 15 November, France retaliated against British comments on migration, stating: "we don't have any lessons to take from the British." He stated that, despite the British government's desire to blame the French, the French government is effectively managing the migrant issue in Calais and Dunkirk.
 
On 16 November, France cleared the Dunkirk camps, clearing 1500 migrants and 35 people smugglers. The French police said that: "663 people had already been transported on 23 buses to a shelter." The actions have been described by French officials as an attempt to "shelter" refugees over the winter months.
 
Issues at large 
First the number and nature of daily crossings. Over this year, nearly 23,000 people have reached the UK via France. While for Italy, around 53,000 migrants arrived between January and October. Around 98 percent of migrants reaching the UK apply for asylum, while most migrants reaching Italy are pushed back to Slovenian borders.
 
Second, the state response. Italy has sent out 1300 migrants informally. A bilateral deal with Slovenia permits it to return unlawful migrants who cross their shared border. The UK government has introduced a plan for immigration to dissolve criminal gangs that enable cross-channel migration. The UK government has firmly maintained that migration journeys would soon be made unviable.
 
Third, a humanitarian perspective. As the countries push back against the migrants, they remain stranded between borders facing European winters, sexual abuse, and health hazards. Rejections from both Italy and Slovenia force migrants to move to Croatia scrutinized for their migrant abuse. During the pandemic, the Italian quarantine system included halting refugees in the open sea. The head of the Immigration Service Union in the UK mentioned that migrants slept on concrete floors, and more than 490 migrants shared two portable toilets for 24 hours. Most practices followed to restrict migrations are harsh and discriminatory.
 
In perspective 
First, a European pattern. The EU has clarified for years that it will not allow migrants or refugees to cross its borders. This allows countries on the perimeter the ability to utilize refugees as "pawns". The EU has made concessions to Libya, Sudan, and Turkey to prevent refugees from entering Europe. This often entails grave human rights violations against refugees in order to deter them. The system broke this year.
 
Second, prevention of border entry. International law recognizes the right to seek asylum and the provision of an asylum option. The EU has made the journey more inaccessible, curtailing rescue and search operations and humanitarian aid.
 
Third, the difference with Belarus. Refugee numbers have lowered by two-thirds since 2015. However, the Global crisis still remains. The EU has merely succeeded in transferring the crisis to poorer and more autocratic countries on its perimeter, thereby absolving itself of legal responsibility and the burden of having to confront the significant human cost of its policies. The crisis has been exploited by dictators and right-wing parties that have made use of the situation to promote their anti-establishment and anti-immigration ideologies.

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