North African Political Instability Impacts Italian Island

Posted on February 12, 2011

The migration of people from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa has been ongoing for over a year. Reports about conditions at retention centers and the fact that such detention centers are illegal have been circulating since March, 2009.  At the time, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was “concerned.”  [ al jazeera]

With the 2011 nascent signs of revolution in the North African state of Tunisia, thousands have fled in all manner of craft to the little island. Now there is a looming humanitarian crisis.  People have drowned trying to make the trip.

“Like I feared, the huge political and social crisis in countries in the Maghreb is triggering a mass escape towards Italy, especially from Tunisia,” Roberto Maroni, the interior minister, told reporters.”There is the risk of a real humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of people are arriving on the Italian coast after escaping from those countries.”

He blamed the new exodus on Tunisian authorities being unable to enforce bilateral accords on curbing illegal immigration after weeks of protests forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month.

Officials are also worried that the crisis in Egypt, where protesters have forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, will provoke another wave of migrant arrivals.

Italy has asked the European Commission for help and the situation will be discussed with Tunisia’s foreign minister when he visits Rome next week, Maroni said.

Maroni, a member of the fiercely anti-immigrant Northern League, said earlier this week that there could be “terrorist infiltrations” among the migrants and criminals could take refuge in Europe under the guise of seeking political asylum.

But the mayor of Lampedusa, Bernardino De Rubeis, said he would be surprised if that were the case.

“What we’re seeing is Tunisian youth escaping from the country after Ben Ali’s fall,” he told Italian television.

“Many people say the migrants are criminals, given the mass escapes from North African jails in recent days, but looking at those faces I don’t think that’s what they are.” [al jazeera]

Sooner than we could wish, migration globally will be the order of the day. Tunisians face a political crisis that has, in large part, grown out of a food shortage crisis and many other nations will suffer the same circumstance as availability and/or price puts even sustainable food and water out of reach for millions.  There are  just so many resources and so many more people each  year.  The migration spreads the Tunisian instability to other countries. Planning beyond the scope of the EU needs to be implemented.  No corner of the globe can sustain living from crisis to crisis without a plan in place.  Our officials – UN and otherwise – need to be more than “concerned.”