Community of Sant’Egidio, Italy
The situation of the phenomenon of immigration in the European context :
I can recall in 2010 in Barcelona, on the occasion of a previous edition of the Meeting among People and Religions organised by the community of Sant’Egidio, I tried to introduce a question, neither rhetorical nor provocative, in the debate about the phenomenon of immigration and the possible future scenarios. I am repeating the question: is migration a phenomenon inevitably written in the future of our European continent?
The data I had available at that time could only intuitively indicate a scenario that many considered fairly imaginative in the European, and Italian in particular, context: a drastic reduction in the presence of foreigners.
After two years the evidence of that seems to be now available, as the European destination is now much less preferable in the migration routes than in the past.
In Italy this reduction is striking. According to the Office of National Statistics, there was a neat reduction among the arrivals of non EU foreign citizens: 361.690 working permits were released during 2011. “Almost 40% less than the previous year . This data is even more significant when we notice the reduction happened during the year of the so-called “Arabic Spring”: 50 thousand refugees from Tunisia and Libia. One should consider that, starting from 1st January to 30th August 2012, not even 6 thousand people landed in Italy.
In Lampedusa, considered the gateway of Europe arrivals were 2,329. That is a trivial number that had no need to any action or agreement of refoulment.
But there is another aspect to consider. A dear friend of Guinea Bissau told me a few days ago that the number of the choir of the cathedral of Bissau, for some time now, increased with the input of some new entry: the Portuguese. Young Portuguese who return to their former colony but as immigrants for work purposes.
But the Portuguese today are looking for employment in other former African colonies too, for example in Angola and Mozambique.
Mozambique – after 20 years from the peace agreements that are celebrated this year- with its 7% of annual economic growth is becoming the desired destination of migratory flows coming from different geographical areas: as well as from the African continent and from the already mentioned Portugal, there are migratory flows from Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.
The Spanish youth, who are also suffering for the crisis, are moving to the countries of Latin America, but also to Morocco. Morocco, by the way, for the first time, in recent months, has started a regularization of foreign citizens who are working in its territory.
The OECD reports record these movements, but they tell us also that these are small numbers, with the exception of Irish outflows which instead are very consistent. It strikes, however, to see this new face of immigration.
In brief. Compared to the past, the situation of migratory flows has undergone two major changes: there are few arrivals and an outflow of settled migrants and young Europeans has started. I would like to invite you to reflect upon the fact that the most vital human resources of the European society, the young migrants and the European youth, start leaving.
For the phenomenon of immigration the nodal point remains the title of this paper: from emergency to integration.
In some European countries there is now not the second, rather the third, fourth generation, yet public and political opinion are still trapped in the logic of the contingency.
An Italian journal, “Libertà civili”, published the results of a poll launched in 2011 by an important English research centre. It reveals 52% among the Europeans in the sample – and 53% among US citizens – are still considering immigration a problem, rather than an opportunity .
In the European house foreign citizens are located in a sort of limbo, they are left on the threshold. The story I briefly want to narrate is not a one off, it is rather the norm in Italy. Moun Moun, originally from Bangladesh arrived in Italy when she was 3. Since then I have shared an intense friendship with her and her family, a friendship born in our welcome centre of the Community of Sant’Egidio.
When she was 14, Moun Moun started harass his father: she wanted to get the Italian citizenship at any cost. She wanted to be equal to the other youth of her age. Moun Moun wanted to be, absurdly enough, Italian. She collected the documents, she helped her father, she filled the forms, she did all that is requested by law (a very complex procedure).
The citizenship eventually arrived. Her father vowed last August 2012 and became Italian, Moun Moun’s younger brothers became Italian; her mother will become Italian in less than a year. Moun Moun could not. She could not vow on the Italian constitution because she became adult at 18 years old, she is no longer part of the family. The procedure on their application lasted 5 years. She has to start again from scratch. Well, even worse than that. Moun Moun is attending a University course and she has not been able to declare she had an independent income for the required three years.
Moreover, her father, who owns a small business in a good financial shape and their family home, cannot guarantee for her financial situation. In fact, as opposite to Italian parents that can guarantee for their children under 26, foreigners can only do so until they are 18. I will stop here. I could keep going and describe the absurdity of a young, beautiful and good student (who is Italian by any means) unable to say she is a citizen because, by facts, she is not.
To leave behind the attitude of the contingency also means to read the data, which are indicating an ongoing positive trend of integration. In Europe there are today 33 millions foreign people, EU and non-EU (6,5%). If we sum up the number of those born abroad and made citizens of one of the European countries we reach 50 millions (9,5%). We are talking about a structural phenomenon from both demographic, and especially financial perspectives.
Several relevant steps forward were made in many European countries on the issue of immigration, I will mention three indicators: acquisition of the citizenship, second generations, mixed marriages.
1. The acquisition of citizenship
In Europe in 2009 (last data available) 776.000 foreign people obtained the citizenship. The top rank countries are the UK (more than 200.000), France, and Germany.
2. The second generations
In absolute terms, in Europe there are 10 millions young adults between 25 and 54 with at least one parent born abroad. It is not possible to fully cover this very delicate and crucial aspect, I would like to indicate the size of a group of young adults, born in Europe, having at least one parent originally from a country that is different to the one they live in.
3. Mixed marriages
This is a very useful indicator to measure the social level of integration. Between 2008 and 2010 in Europe, one marriage over 12 was a mixed union. I just want to clarify that by mixed marriage one means the union between one citizen of the European Union and one citizen originally from elsewhere. The marriage between two citizens from non-EU countries and foreigners born in Italy are not included.
In synthesis, these data, although not comprehensive, show how the presence of foreigners in Europe is needed and structural.
The crisis: an opportunity to reflect
We might have wasted some occasions. When I think about the great opportunity that arises from the presence of immigrant citizens in our rich (we can state so even in a time of crisis: rich) Europe, I think we wasted a heritage (even economic) because of fear, fear to change, preferring a comfortable, although very laboured refuge of closeness and self sufficiency.
Where is our European treasure of history, wealth, values? Of pleasantness, as well? I was struck by some news on an English newspaper telling Italians off to have turned into “sad people”.
The economic crisis carries many challenging aspects that cannot be underestimated. As the dramatic difficulties, many people are facing in the uncertainty, cannot be minimised. Nevertheless, and this is a positive point, the crisis obliges everyone to a higher sobriety and seriousness.
Integration is not only about issues of migration flows and policies for security. It is a matter of civilization and foresight.
The presence of foreigners is tied hand in glove to the dynamism of societies and economies otherwise blocked.
It seems to me meaningful the example of the policies being implemented in Morocco offering scholarships to sub-Saharan Africans. It is a way to invest in trained youth: some of them will return to their country and some others will stay in Morocco.
There are several examples we can give in this sense. I have chosen one that seems, according to me, revealing of this mutual recognition, which means integration.
Andrea Riccardi, in his role of Minister for Integration and Cooperation met many foreign communities. His meeting with the Sikh Community was significant.
Minister Riccardi in his address traced the historical links which bind us remembering the contributions that Sikh soldiers in the British army, gave during the Second World War to liberate Italy and Europe from Nazism and war.
After a few weeks I was contacted by the Sikh leaders: they were organizing a sort of pilgrimage to the city of Cassino to the cemetery of World War II.
They wanted to see the tracks of a common history that they did not know, and that we Italians have forgotten.
Integration means also this: to rebuild tracks and wires of a common history and solidarity that unites us.
The first choice to make by decision is the one of awareness.
There is a gap to fill: the political debate is still discussing whether or not to let in foreign citizens when the problem is rather how to incentivize and retain foreign citizens and young people themselves to not let them leave Europe - as it has been recently detected by an OECD report and by a communication from the European Commission.
Welcoming is not a failure to the barbarians, it is rather the way required not to barbarize in closure and fear as a lucid and effective analysis of Todorov proposes: “to recognize the plurality of groups, societies and human cultures, placing ourselves at the same level with the others, this is civilization".
This words came back in my mind when last December (2011) in Florence, after a tragic massacre of Senegalese people by an Italian, journalistic chronicles reported some delirious comments written on the web by fanaticals applauding the author as a "white hero died in a multiethnic war".
If this is war, it is not between Italians and Foreigners, but among civilization and barbarism: fear is what is likely to make us barbarians.
The book of Genesis tells how a young Jew, Joseph, a foreigner and a slave in Egypt, knew how to interpret the distressing dreams of the Pharaoh. It is a well-known biblical passage.
On the banks of the Nile, in a dream, the Pharaoh sees initially seven fat cows grazing and then he sees rise seven thin and very ugly shaped cows devouring the fat cows. In his next dream seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted by the wind swallowing seven full and good ears.
How Joseph interpreted the dream is well known: in his dream the Pharaoh had predicted a great famine "consuming the earth." An economic crisis, so can we define it: hard, long, which would have eaten, swallowed and made us forget the time of abundance.
The wise advice of Joseph was to think about the famine in times of abundance, about poverty in times of wealth. It is significant that the powerful and far-sighted pharaoh of Egypt accept the words of a young stranger and slave man.
And even more significant is the fact that he entrusts to him, to his intelligence, to his initiative and to his responsibilities the challenging task to come out of a period promising to be so hard and painful.
Even if with another language, some documents of the European Commission recall the same concern when they say that we must not forget "the positive contributions of migration so that the EU can grow and maintain its prosperity”.
This seems to me a concrete indication. It seems to me this was the choice that the Community of Sant'Egidio made in the years of abundance collecting a heritage of humanity and friendship that, now in a time of crisis, unloaded of values and hope, allows us to look at the future with the strength of a vision.
I would like to end by quoting Carlo Maria Martini, a man of the Church and of the Gospel, who taught to many men and women of our time not to be afraid of difficult questions.
I remember his contribution on the issues of immigration by the end of the eighties: "The issue of immigrants - said-acquires a different quality and not only as an urgency which questions Christian charity: it rises to the value of a real sign of the times ".
The immigration issue is a real sign of the times: after more than 30 years this expression has never been more true.