What is at stake is the life and death of thousands of people

05.11.2013 - Olivier Turquet

This post is also available in: French, Italian

What is at stake is the life and death of thousands of people

FortressEurope” is Gabriele Del Grande’s blog.

Gabriele’s blog subheading writes: “For six years I have been travelling around the Mediterranean sea, along the European borders, in search for the stories that make History. The History that will be studied by the children of ours: they will read in their school books that, during the 21st Century, thousands of people would die in the sea sorrounding Italy and that thousands would be arrested and deported from our cities, as everybody would pretend they hadn’t have seen anything”.

 Gabriele, can you clear up what your job is?

 I’m used to travel, meet people, listen, read, think over, and study. And I’m used to write, as well. Abroad, I’m called a journalist. On the contrary, in Italy – the land of “caste systems” and “professional permits” – I’m not a real journalist: I’m just a worker having a VAT number. Yet, that’s the exact same thing. I’m looking for stories, I put them in a row and try to tell the History. And I’m doing my job with great care, accuracy and passion.
“Fortress Europe” is an inquiry that has been lasting for seven years: on the one hand, it consists of statistics on people who die along the European borders, and, on the other hand, it consists in making reports and telling stories. For several years I’ve been paying attention to the search for brand new languages, new words and feelings, since you don’t only need to stand up for human rights, but you also need to shape a “new aesthetics”. A “new aesthetics” that could urge us to “re-humanize” all people that some kind of journalism – and a great part of politics, too – have led us to consider as the “garbage” of humankind.

How are migration flows changing in recent years? Is it possible to estimate the number of victims? Who are the people paying a higher price?

Worldwide, migration flows simply follow cash flows, investment shifts, and labor market flows. In recent years, due to the crisis, migration flows have mostly become outflows. Since a couple of years, the main migration route here in Italy, but it goes for Spain and Greece too, is the way back home. Hundreds of thousands people left southern Europe, including many Italian people who went search for a job abroad. But the displacement of all of these people is “noiseless”, since they own proper documents.
Another silent desplacement regards all workers who are already European citizens and emigrate to Italy: all people coming here from Albania, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. They are noiseless migrants too, because, for some years now, they can circulate throughout Europe enjoying a total or partial freedom of movement. They arrive to Italy by bus, by plane, by car and no longer need any entry visa.
Yet, media are only turning the spotlight on Lampedusa, as if the reason of any migration were laying in people landing on this little island. This cause-effect relationship is completely wrong. In Italy, immigrants come from Eastern Europe and own a regular passport. All people landing in Lampedusa is rather the consequence of Europe’a border policy. Yes, it is, since the same European Union that had the guts to open up to freedom of movement for Eastern Europe countries, still finds it hard to simplify procedures for issuing tourism, family or work visas for non-EU countries. The immediate consequence of Europe’s border policy is that people who can’t get visas decide to rely on criminal and smuggling networks. Things don’t change whether these immigrants are workers looking for a paid job or whole families running away from Syrian war. Problem remains unsolved: European visas are unapproachable.

Who does make money from illegal immigration?

Firstly, Lybian and Egyptian smugglers make a lot of money. Secondly, officials who work in Italian embassies abroad, make a lot of money too. It is quite hard to get a visa, that’s true, but corruption makes it easier. If we only take Italy into consideration and we add corruption to smuggling (organized crime), I believe that the turnover amounts to a several tens of milion of Euros per year, which are then shared among local criminal groups and several corrupt officials. A single wide organization doesn’t exist. We are not talking about huge amounts of money, yet this money would be of help in reorganizing Alitalia (the Italian Airlines) or some Italian shipping companies. It would be feasible, if only Italy and Europe thought over mobility and stopped criminalizing these kind of travels. About 30,000 people a year land in Lampedusa: it would be much easier to make these people travel by plain on direct flights throughout Europe, than displacing 18 million tourists who visit Rome each year. It would be much more profitable than funding military missions which patrol the Mediterranean sea.
Moreover, if we continue to list who benefits form these travels, we should say “the average Italian man”. I’m not talking about great businessmen, since they must do things according to the rules. I mean the “avarage man”: a small farm in southern Italy, a middle-class famili needing home care, a man owing a secondary residence and renting it without dping any tax return, a small construction company in northern Italy, and a lot of businessmen from abroad who, just like the Italian ones, know very weel how to exploit the labor…
All of these people make money, because they are used to blackmail all immigrants who have a “clandestine” status, according to Italian laws on migration, although they had a job (even though an illegal one) and an accommodation (even though an illegal one)…

Worldwide there are first-class citizens and second- or third-class citizens: yet, are these “classes” changing? And on what factors is this change depending on?

Citizens of the high-income and most powerful countries, both at economic and military levels, have the right to mobility: as tourists (and consumers too), workers or investors (and producers of wealth too). Citizens of low-income and powerless countries are only allowed to travel as cheap labor and only upon request of the employer living in the country of final destination.
Every year, tens of thousands of young people rebel against this “logic” and cross the borders without owing regular documents, claiming their right to mobility. The first consequence is that, almost all over the world, high-income countries carry out a system of repression along the borders with neighboring low-income countries. And along those borders there are thousands of people dying each year: all these poeple are lying dead in the desert between Mexico and the U.S, in the Mediterranean sea, in the Sahara desert, or in the Pacific ocean off Australia.

Global balance is yet changing very quickly. The world’s welth is distributing in a new way and so-called emerging countries have now gained an unavoidable importance at global level. Just think of Portuguese people, who are emigrating to former colonies Angola and Brazil to take advantage of their current economic boom. Or think of people from northern Africa emigrating to Arabian high-income countires in the (Persian) Gulf, not to mention all those people migrating within a single country, like China and India.
I mean that the world does not revolve around Europe. The faster Europe gets rid of nightmares of a non-existing invasion, the faster it will become a modern region.

What are the international laws that prevent prople from accessing to the freedom of movement? And what are the laws that promote it? Will the freedom of movement really and fully solve the problem?

On international level, there is no law interdicting freedom of movement. On the contrary, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) sanctions the right to leave their own country. Problems arise at the level of national jurisdiction and of local immigration laws. However, it is important to distinguish between the right to mobility and local immigration laws. It is legitimate that a sovereign State has its migration policies, yet the mobility must be guaranteed or, at least, made easier.
Europe can’t cohabit with mass graves along its borders and bet on the freedom of movement in the Balkans and eastern European countries at the same time. Freedom of movement will immediately and fully solve the problem of people dying along the European borders. Labor market will self-regulate, adjusting in- and outflows of foreign labor according to the labor market needs, as it already does – even though in illegal labor market.
On the contrary, the result on political asylum will be another: it is evident that applications for asylum in Europe will greatly increase. Yet, would Europe really have reasons to complain? I mean, can we close our eyes to misfortunes occurring in the world, in the name of a bourgeois principle of quiet to be applied to our cities? Can we really slam
the door in the face of refugees from war in Syria or Somalia, just because we don’t want their children to go to the same school as the children of ours go? I don’t know what to do with an Europe that wants to live in a beautiful fortified manor, while the neighbor’s house is burning down. Europe has to choose between opening the main door, or lending a hand in order to extinguish the fire.

According to you, what are the Institutions working worse on this issue?

Europe, as well as Italy, is an sntity full of contradictions. Just think that Europe, through its Agency called “Frotex” (“European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union”), in 2009 fostered Italy to reject migrants coming from Lybia, after an Agreement had been undersigned between former Lybian ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, and the Italian Government – this bipartisan Agreement had been signed a first time in 2007 by former Italian Premier Romano Prodi, and a second time in 2009 by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Yet, at the same time, the “European Court of Human Rights”, seated in Strasbourg, sentenced Italy exactly for rejecting migrants coming form Lybia. The European Agency “Frontex” only relates with countries bordering the Mediterranean sea in a military way: warships patrolling the coasts, rejections of migrants, prisons in the Sahara desert, outsourcing. Nevertheless, over the past years the Europen Commission had undersigned Agreements of liberalization of entry visa (and, therefore, of mobility) with several Balkan countries and latter member States in Eastern Europe.
Maybe it’s just up to us to make the hospitable Europe prevail on Europe gripped by nightmares of an invasion and a crash of different civilizations.


Italian CIEs (“Centers of identification and expulsion” for migrants not owing regular documents) are, de facto, places of detention, where “immigration” becomes equal to “crime”, and “immigrant” to “prisoner”. Is is possible to come back to the equivalence “human being = traveller”, and, according to you, what does it take to do it, both in applicable laws and in people’s way of thinking?

In the legal field, it would take very little. There are examples in the recent past. Just think that until 2006 30% of people held in Italian CIEs were from Romania. Romanian people represented the biggest foreign community in Italy at that time, and those data were consistent with the significant presence of Romanians in Italy. From 2007 onwards, that is when Romania had become a member State of European Union, there are no Romanians in CIEs anymore, but some former prisoners convicted of serious crimes and deported after serving a sentence in prison.
It would be enough to write the Italian immigration law again, to write in entry visas for job search, to write in a “guarantor” again, to simplify family reunions and to make an individual and non-stop amnesty, like in Spain, so that people already having both a legal job and accommodation could regularize their status.
Europe must do its part as weel: it should contemplate a progressive simplification of entry visas and special programs for citizens coming from war-torn countries such as Syria, Somalia or Afghanistan, to which Europe should be more supportive. If Europe doesn’t have the guts to do it now, maybe it will never have it, as the migration flows have never been so low because of the economic crisis making Europe somehow “unattractive”. Right now, we should try to find a different policy from using warships, as we have done over the last 20 years, since it made thousands of deaths and didn’t solve the problem.

Is there any story which you think it is worth to be told to our readers?

I would like to tell the stories of some Syrian friends of mine, with whom I am in touch these days. They are in Egypt, Turkey and Libya now, and they are trying to call for entry visas to Italian embassies, unfortunately without success. And I am very worried for them, since I know they will try to get to Italy by sea, because of the ultimate rejections, and I’m afraid I’ll never see them again. It is important to understant this is not a joke, nor an exercise in statistics made by experts: what is at stake is the life and death of thousands of people.

Translated from Italian by Laura Pavesi.

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