It’s Time to Bring Refugees Out of the Shadows and Into the Light

Amnesty International has scathing criticism for the European Union in general and Italy in particular.  According to a recent report, not only is the European Union not taking even close to their fair share of the world’s refugees , but those countries that do take them, “drop the ball”  on them.    For instance, not much is done for the refugee in Italy , once the refugee has been granted asylum—the point at which their  care ( mentally and physically) is crucial for survival.

Amnesty International

First, it might be a good idea to clarify who is a refugee.  The 1951 Refugee Convention  which the established the United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) calls a refugee someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted  for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to  or owing to such fear , is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of his country.”

Currently, in Italy, refugees are coming from Libya , Eritrea and Sudan where war and extreme poverty have made living dreadful or downright impossible.  Most recently, Italy has seen the first refugees coming from Syria —two boats to the region of Calabria and one to Sicily.  Persecution, imprisonment and torture are what they flee as they are trafficked  under abhorrent conditions only to arrive (if they survive the treacherous journey) to uncertain, to say the least, futures.

Eritrean Refugees

Italy’s track record  with refugees is not a stellar one.  Remember the notorious “push-backs” ?  Italy made a deal with Ghaddafi that Libya’s refugees would be, upon reaching the Italy, sent immediately back to Libya—and a fate all the more worse since the sin of  escape would  be met with worse punishment and torture. What Libya got in return was the promise of   5 billion dollars over 20 years and a motorway on the Libyan coast.  Ghaddafi had a great time in bed with Berlusconi and his government. The awful result was that the  stuffed with the tired and sick bodies of refugees  on small boats were met in the sea and forced to turn around.  The infamous “push back.” There is talk that Italy wants to reinstitute this program.  Border control rather than rescue seems to be the Italian mandate.

On July 11th  a boat carrying 55 refugees  perished when of dehydration when their rubber boat suffered a puncture.  Their boat had originally left Tripoli in June arriving on the Italian coast but was pushed back into the sea by high winds. There was only one survivor,  found floating on a fuel containter, by Tunisian fisherman.  The survivor reported that half of the people on the boat were from Eritrea and they began the journey with no water.

Sea rescue anyone? 

As for Lampedusa, currently , conditions are manageable, though the island  was  inundated with refugees in 2011.  The death toll was high. The conditions deplorable.

A new and fair policy for refugees is overdue.  Hopefully one will emerge that is both sustainable and compassionate. Refugees are often called “shadow people.”

We need to bring refugees out of the shadows and into the light. 


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