Geopolitics

Europe And Immigration, An Honest Proposal From Italy

Italian Red Cross members helping migrants in Lampedusa
Italian Red Cross members helping migrants in Lampedusa
Marta Dassù

​-Analysis-

TURIN — Thousands of people — calling them people, i.e. men, women and children, is the first step — have died in the Strait of Sicily since 2010. Sunday saw the worst tragedy yet, but it was not the first, and unfortunately it won't be the last.

Many of these people are fleeing the civil war in Syria, conflicts in the Horn of Africa, the renewed crisis in Iraq. They are displaced people and refugees who, under international law, can apply for asylum. Others are economic migrants who hope to escape poverty. The difference between these two groups — refugees and migrants — has been lost in the vast numbers of people arriving.

The criminal gangs who run the black hole that is Libya, brutally and viciously trafficking human beings, certainly don't care why these desperate people are coming. It also matters little for the exasperated Italians every time there is news of landings or tragedies at sea, and it doesn't mean much either for those frightened by the potential connection between migration and terrorist infiltration.

So rather than looking at these victims as people, we are too often left dividing ourselves into "hawks" and "doves" on how to face the problem of undocumented immigration into Europe.

Meanwhile, European countries further away from our Mediterranean cemetery pretend not to know that Italy's borders are the EU's borders too.

Our country is accused of being a sieve. We can respond with with this statistic: Of the EU's 28 countries, the vast majority of refugees (about 70%) are concentrated in just five countries — including Italy. Proposals of European quotas (a division of costs) have remained on paper, and the common asylum system has had little practical effect.

Three points

An honest discussion — and not the "what to do" discussion that follows every tragedy in our territorial waters — should meanwhile be based on three points.

First, the issue of migration from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean can no longer be managed as an emergency. It is not an emergency, it's a structural phenomenon, determined by a number of obvious causes: the demographic gap between the sea's shores, the severity of the conflicts, the still-backward socio-economic conditions in several African countries.

If the phenomenon is structural, migratory flow will continue with unprecedented numbers. And I personally do not think that a purely humanitarian response of simply opening Europe to absorb the increased flows will work, if not just for political reasons. Neither will a strictly "security-driven" answer (a closed Europe, able to push migrants back). In fact, both responses should be seen as separate and vital tools in any new policy. A harder attitude is needed towards the traffickers — or perpetrators of a "new slave trade," as Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called it.

New ways are also needed to sort through asylum applications in "areas made safe" on the southern shores of the Mediterranean ("safe havens" and humanitarian corridors in transit countries), as well as rational management of a controlled flow of migrants, both protected and regular.

Secondly, there can be no response to these tragedies at sea without rebuilding stability in key counties, especially Libya. The Italian government rightly considers this an international priority. Libya is not just in our own backyard, it is the underbelly through which a growing instability from the Mediterranean and Africa is seeping into Europe. It is true that achieving peace in Libya will mainly depend on the factions and tribes that are fighting, but it is essential to at least put a regional network of containment in place, based on agreements with local actors, including Egypt.

Finally, we must acknowledge that the question of migration is becoming a more difficult and delicate test than the Greek debt crisis for the EU. In the case of Greece, there is at least a sense that sufficient barriers against financial contagion have been established as a point of common interest. Instead, on the question of migration, Europe is showing neither solidarity, nor the ability to prevent the infection from spreading.

Labor market

Countries like Italy — the first point of entry — have the disproportionate burden of facing the human tragedy and costs of welcoming the first arrivals. Meanwhile, countries like Germany, Britain and Sweden note that most of the refugees arrive in their countries later.

It is an opaque system that doesn't work for Italy, nor for the rest of the continent. Moreover, Operation Triton — the EU naval operation that replaced Mare Nostrum, more focused on surveillance than humanitarian concerns — doesn't work. The underfunded program is not able to deal with emergencies nor quell the landings that critics of Mare Nostrum said it would.

None of this will be enough without the basic pre-condition that the EU finally creates a genuine common policy on immigration, based on a safe and shared vision of the relationship to be established between foreign human resources and the continent's labor market.

This issue isn't only about those southern points of entry — it's about the EU's very future. If convincing answers are not found, the political forces that want to close the borders of both the Mediterranean Sea and European continent are bound to win.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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