The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC)World Disasters Report 2012 focuses on forced migration and on the people forcibly displaced by conflict, political upheaval, violence, disasters, climate change and development projects.
The enormous human costs of forced migration – destroyed homes and livelihoods, increased vulnerability, disempowered communities, and collapsed social networks and common bonds – demand urgent and decisive action by both humanitarian and development actors.
I was one of over fifty contributors to this year’s report edited by Professor Roger Zetter, former director of the Refugee Studies Centre at University of Oxford. I was charged with a box on the Arab Uprisings and forced displacement – all in 1,000 words. You can read my piece at page 36-37. The full report is available here: http://www.ifrc.org/PageFiles/99703/1216800-WDR%202012-EN-LR.pdf
The video of my brief contribution to yesterday’s launch event at ODI in London is also available: http://t.co/HFxGzWuC I focused on the EU and EUMS’s ambigous responses to displacement caused by the events that have accompanied the Arab Uprisings, especially in Libya and Syria. Two figures are very telling of the lack of generosity displayed by the EU: a) to date only 17,000 Syrians have managed to claim asylum in one of the 27 EUMS while over 340,000 are currently seeking refugee in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon; b) a UNHCR appeal for the resettlement of about 8,000 quota refugees from the region only managed to successfully place less than 1,000 refugees in EU countries.
In 2011, the EU missed a historic opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the foundations it is built on. It is as if we’d said to them “It is wonderful that you make a revolution and want to embrace democracy but, by all means, stay where you are because we have an economic crisis to deal with here” (Cecilia Malmstrom, EU Home Affairs Commissioner)
The quote comes from a lecture EU Commissioner Malstrom gave today at the Center for European Studies on the EU’s and EU member states’ responses to the Arab Spring, addressing in particular the challanges of building a EU migration and asylum policy. To read the full text of the lecture is available here. The words of the Commissioner echoe some of the concerns I had pointed to in a recent blog post. I am currently working with Hein de Haas to a joint commentary piece to be published on the forthcoming issue of Forced Migration Review on North Africa and Displacement 2011-2012 in which we further develop our understanding of the complex relationship between human mobility, forced displacement and political uprisings in the MENA region.
Over the weekend I attended an interesting workshop on immigration and citizenship policies in Italy and Japan at St.Antony’s College in Oxford. Prof Maurizio Ambrosini (Sociology, University of Milan) gave an interesting talk on the ambiguities embedded in Italy’s immigration regime. I noted down a few points which I found particularly interesting as they resonate with some of the work I’m currently doing:
- for many years in Italy immigration has been framed almost exclusively in terms of ‘social problem’, with little if any attention to the relationship between immigration and labour market demand/dynamics – a significant and telling omission in a Catholic country;
- Migrants’ landing from sea (e.g. Lampedusa) are significantly overestimated in the public opinion (a number of surveys confirm this) as a result of a distorted media representation and political rhetoric.
- The approach to irregular immigration is ambigous. While political rhetoric emphasises ‘zero tollerance’ and invokes mass deportation/detention of migrants, basic figures from 2009 show a different story. Of an estimated population of 500,000 undocumented migrants, 14,000 were deported and 300,000 were regularised via an amnesty.
- irregularity of legal status is the normality for most regular immigrants in Italy, who are likely to have experienced at some point in their life in Italy, for shorter or longer time, undocumentedness.
Fulfilling his internal political agenda, once again Berlusconi and his government play the ‘emergency’ card to divert the attention of Italian public opinion away from his legal charges for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abusing his office by seeking her release from custody, and from the dramatic economic crisis to which the country seems unable to respond to. Completely unbothered by the lack of sensitivity of his words for the victims of real tsunamis, Berlusconi stated yesterday that the arrival of migrants and refugees from North Africa is a ‘human tsunami’. To validate statements like this one, the Italian government needs a place like the island of Lampedusa, a place small enough to appear overcrowded even with a few thousand people.
Of course, for Lampedusa’s residents the arrivals of migrants – and it would interesting to see how much the current flows are exceptional or instead fit seasonal patterns – cause real logistical issues and their concerns are legitimate, but in the grand narrative of the emergency and invasion constructed by the Italian government with the support of some European agencies like Frontex (interested to legitimise its expanding budget and mandate) and Gaddafi (interested to stress his role as defender of the EU borders) (cf. Hein de Haas’ blog) they are instrumental to reify the spectacle of the invasion. This narrative suits Berlusconi because it enables him to wear his favorite cloths, that of the savior, the charismatic leader who flies to the island and solves the ‘problem’.
However, Berlusconi is a charismatic leader of his own league, and his ‘solution’ to the invasion – once again real in relation to Lampedusa and its residents, but hardly a significant flow of people in relation to Italy as a whole – bear the marks of his persona: buying all the boats available in Tunisia to stop people, commissioning a tv series set in Lampedusa to boost tourism, and personally purchasing a villa.
Update: Villa Due Palme bought by Berlusconi in March 2011 is to date (August 2012) abandoned and awaiting renovation. Metaphor of his political trajectory?