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June 21 2014

Asylum and immigration: the proposals of the Community of Sant'Egidio for Italy and Europe

On the occasion of the semester of the Italian Presidency of the European Union

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Italy is moving towards the semester of the Presidency of the European Union at a particular time for our country and for Europe, with the possibility and capacity to promote a more effective policy on asylum and immigration, even in reason of its status as the border of the Continent, of which it is the main port on the Mediterranean.
•    It is estimated that over the last 15 years, 25,000 people - among them many women and children - have died due to the shipwreck or starvation during the journey. Those that face the dangers of the difficult journey are mostly refugees that are or would be entitled to apply for the measures of protection under international law and are governed by the legal system of the European asylum.
•    The influx of refugees reflects the geography of wars and widespread violence. In fact, of the 42,215 refugees landed alive in Italy in 2013 and of the more than 40,000 refugees arrived from 1 January to May 2014, 14,020 are Syrians, 13,500 Eritreans, 4,200 Somalis. There are also many Afghans, Malians, Sudanese and Nigerians.


After the tragic and emblematic episode of 3 October 2013 in the waters of Lampedusa, where due to the fire and sinking of an overloaded ship, 366 refugees, mostly Eritrean, died, including many women and children, and the subsequent sinking of 11 October with dozens of victims and missing people of Syrian origin, Italy has put in place an effective action patrolling the sea called Mare Nostrum, rescuing many boats in distress.
•    We therefore ask that the operation Mare Nostrum is maintained for as long as necessary, calling the European Union to support and strengthen it in the context of European action.


Asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Europe have a right to a dignified reception and care as is necessary. As their numbers have seen a relative increase - especially because of the tragic conflict in Syria and the continuing situation of grave human rights violations and widespread insecurity in other countries (including Eritrea, Somalia, Mali) - it is still definitely manageable streams from a country that, in the past, has been the destination of larger refugee flows (all humanitarian crises concentrated in the early 90s: Albanian, Yugoslavian, Somali, Kurdish, and - soon after - that of Iraq).
•    It is necessary to have, however, an authoritative body that governs the paths of the reception, which could be made up of a central authority with adequate powers provided for the distribution of refugees throughout the country; the first reception, strictly limited in time, might also be ensured enhancing the organisational capacities of the army.


•    It is necessary to establish European offices for immigration in some countries of the southern Mediterranean, through which to open a European humanitarian channel that frees refugees from the need to risk their lives on ships of traffickers, allowing them to seek protection in European embassies and in some of the countries of transit. Europe could start for example from Morocco, Ethiopia and Sudan, which are among the countries with the highest transit of refugees
•    It is necessary to enable and facilitate the request for entry visas accepting sponsorships and guarantees by family members or charities. 


Articles 67 and 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the Union provide that immigration and asylum policies of the Union are "governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility between Member States"
•    We call on European policymakers to fully realize this principle of solidarity that currently does not find an adequate realization in the "Dublin System".
Currently the applicant for humanitarian protection is obliged to submit the request and to settle in the first European country of entry; but among the refugees landed in Italy in 2013 and from areas of severe humanitarian crisis, 66.5% applied for asylum in our country, 33.5% instead chose to continue their journey to other European countries, trying to rejoin with family members, relatives and fellow residents there. To do so, they found in most cases a condition of irregularity that could be avoided only by changing the current system.
Today, the flow of refugees fleeing war and persecution actually originate predominantly from Africa and the Middle East and then arrive in southern European countries where they get most of the recognition and protection.
IA large number of asylum seekers coming from non-EU European countries concentrates in some countries of Central Europe, but they are rarely entitled to receive the status of international protection (Russia and Serbia are at the second and fourth place among the countries of origin of asylum seekers).1
The current asylum system is therefore likely to leave in the south of Europe the persons entitled to international protection affecting the overall effectiveness of humanitarian policies of reception.
It is therefore necessary that the European Union should promote effective actions of redistribution of refugees from North Africa and landed in the southern European countries over all the territories of the Union.


Economic growth in Africa is fast but chaotic. It requires the involvement of the European countries and on the other hand it is an essential chance to get out of the ongoing crisis that they still suffer. Cooperation with Africa, especially with some of the countries of origin of refugees, is the most far-sighted response to the current humanitarian emergencies and the flow of desperate refugees today, preparing for a future of greater economic, political and cultural cooperation between the two continents.
•    We ask, therefore, that the great issues of international cooperation should be given more space in both national policies and in the European ones.
1 Eurostat Communique de presse 24-03-2014n.46/2014 Demandes d'asile dans l'UE28

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