Gabriele Del Grande spent six years travelling around the Mediterranean , along the borders of Europe in order to chronicle the passage of refugees and immigrants crossing borders. He is a writer , blogger and journalist in Italy who is, to say the least, well-informed and passionate. He maintains a blog–Fortress Europe, where he posts on every aspect of immigration and migration , both the human side as well as the political. He is a passionate and tireless champion of human rights and his blog is, incredibly, translated into 21 different langages. I interviewed Gabriele by e-mail who was gracious enough to find time to answer my questions about the human cost immigration and migration in Italy.
Sempre Sicilia: Do you feel that Europe is a fortress—perhaps both literally and figuratively?
Gabriele Del Grande:When you realize that some 18,000 people have died trying to reach Europe, the image of the fortress becomes real. If it is not enough, just think to the around 200 detention camps which exist all around EU with the function to detain, identify and deport tens of thousands of foreign people every year.
SS:Border patrol and border closings , coupled with the failure to rescue those at sea is incredibly worrying . Please speak about this.
GDG:Concerning patrols, the situation is very different from country to country. Italian Coast Guard, for example, has always distinguished for an extraordinary effort in life rescue at sea. At the point that some officials of Frontex criticised Italian authorities telling that they had opened a sea highway in the Mediterranean rescuing people even in the Tunisian and Libyan waters. Off course there are problems in the rescue, especially in Malta and in Greece (for political reason) as well as in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco (for lack of meanings, like boats, radar…). But the main problem is the borders’ closure. I mean we do have to rescue people at sea, but at the same time people has to get the right to travel legally without risking their life. In the eighties there were no sea crossing, and the reason was that people didn’t need visa to reach EU at that time.
SS:Recently Amnesty International blasted the European Union in not so subtle language about their indifference to migrants’ lives, saying ‘Today, Europe is failing to promote and respect he rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. . . Hostility is widespread and mistreatment often goes unreported. ‘ While I believe the reasons for this are not only multifactorial, but complicated, please speak to some of these issues and your personal thoughts on how the EU is failing migrants.
GDG:The issue is very complex and has different sides to examine. I mean we don’t really have a European policy, everything is left to the central government, and so the migration policies can differ a lot from one country to another and from one legislation to another. But generally speaking I think that the main problem with migration is the lack of a European policies on mobility. I don’t believe that a foreign should receive aid from the State because he is a foreigner or because he is a refugee. I do think that people has the right to travel and to cross the borders, following their projects. And here, I insist, EU must decriminalise migration and give to everybody the right to move and to stay. Otherwise we can consider ourselves responsible for the massacres of the Mediterranean, those 18,000 lives lost in the last 20 years at the gates of EU.
SS:Do you think that Amnesty International will be successful at holding the EU accountable for their actions or lack of them?
GDG:I’ve no idea. EU is politics, I mean we vote to be represented in the EU, and the political parties who win the majority decide how to rule the Union. In these years of widespread racism we assist to the institutionalisation of racism and discrimination, even inside the leading party. That’s why we need, first of all, a new culture, a new approach to the issue, which will be caught only in a second moment from the political forces.
SS:Amnesty had also reported a secret deal with Libya a while back–purportedly with the Libyan National Transit Council in order to ‘curtail the flow of migrants”. Thoughts?
GDG:The deal actually was not so secret. It’s an old story, since the times of Gheddafi, EU and Italy are trying to negotiate with Libyan authorities a treaty to push back people intercepted in the sea travelling towards Lampedusa (Italy). The great concern of Amnesty and other human rights organization was that once arrested in Libya, people could face inhuman conditions in the detention camps. That was true at the time of Gheddafi, and unfortunately it is still true nowadays in the after war Libya. Anyway there is a great difference. That since the end of the war, Libya is no more a transit country for Europe. In the first six months of 2012 only one thousand people crossed the Channel of Sicily, leaving from Libya and Tunisia, nothing compared with the 50,000 who did it in 2011. The reasons are mainly two. From one side the big economic crise which hit Europe making it less attractive for the workers of the south. From the other side, with the end of the regime of Gheddafi, the smugglers networks collapsed. And that happened because smugglers very tied with and supported by the regime forces.
SS:Amnesty makes a bold indictment against Italy , asserting: ‘Italy, has , at best, ignored the die plight of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers . At worst , it has shown itself willing to condone human rights abuses in order to meet national political self-interests.” How does this line up with how regular Italian citizens feel about those flocking their shores?
GDG:Italy lived three years of racist policies under the last government of Berlusconi, with an Interior Minister – Roberto Maroni – from the xenophobic party Lega Nord. Now fortunately not everything went wrong. The Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional some decrees, while some European directives corrected in a positive way those same policies. Italian citizens have many different views. The common point is that often they do not have a real experience of the issue, and they just repeat a main discourse produced by the political class and spread by the mass media.
SS:The human cost of migration is high. Do you see things changing?
GDG:Yes things are changing very fast. With the crises Europe is becoming less and less attracting, and people are heading somewhere else. The number of arrival by sea decreases every year. And the social movement for the rights of foreigners become stronger and stronger. So we have to be optimistic and do our best to keep on struggling.