As thousands of refugees flee Tunisia for Italy, cracks are appearing in the 'Fortress Europe' ideology. Isolationism is unworkable and only harms the continent, says Stefan Troendle of Bavarian public broadcaster BR.
Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni belongs to the Northern League. That's the right-wing populist party whose chairman Umberto Bossi a few years ago called for refugee boats to be shot at. Maroni himself said just two years ago that one had to be - and I quote - "vicious" to refugees.
Italy gave Libya six speedboats in 2009 and reached an agreement with the Gadhafi regime. Since then Libya has been intercepting refugee boats at sea and turning them back - including some who theoretically could have submitted asylum applications. The number of refugees has dropped dramatically.
The few people who do manage to cross the sea and make it to the Italian island of Lampedusa are immediately sent somewhere else. The previous, usually overcrowded reception camp on Lampedusa was shut down by the government and left empty for almost two years under the motto, "See? We've solved the refugee problem!"
But this is far from the truth. Italy made a similar agreement with Tunisia, under which Tunisian asylum applications were routinely rejected and refugees arriving on boats were brought back home en masse.
A persistent problem
The consequences of this kind of agreement are easy to see now. The strain of migration is there, as it always was. One must think of the circumstances: How desperate does someone have to be to leave his country and put his own life in danger without knowing what awaits him? This all because of the hope for a better life - or simply the hope to survive.
Many other societies in North Africa find themselves in upheaval. One can imagine what could now happen in Egypt. The country lives on the Suez Canal and tourism, and very little else. No more tourists will come for the foreseeable future, many hotels will close and employees will lose their jobs. What will they do to survive? And what happens if there's a coup in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi?
Of course border control is necessary, but it does not solve the refugee problem. Nothing can solve the problem on such short notice.
And that's why it is necessary that Europe finally behaves like a union and makes quick and unified decisions. Not just on things like a new Frontex mission on the outer limits of the EU, which - with questionable methods - is supposed to further seal us off from the poor south.
Rather, Europe needs a unified immigration policy with, for example, fixed quotas and green cards like in the United States, or short-term and temporary work permits. Does Germany not have a massive lack of seasonal workers every year? At the same time we have to support troubled countries: build up their economies and help the people help themselves, so their situation changes for the better.
Moreover, refugees who reach southern Europe should be spread out among all EU countries. And this should be done despite the Dublin agreement, which requires that an asylum application be processed in the first country the refugee arrives in.
Then one can justly criticize the Italian refugee policy as xenophobic, because Interior Minister Maroni is unfortunately right about one thing: The EU leaves Italy and other Mediterranean states standing in the rain. Europe has provoked and enabled the xenophobic policies of these countries. The refugee problem is not Italian, it is European.
Author: Stefan Troendle, Rome / acb
Editor: Martin Kuebler