Immigration and terrorism, a reflection in the light of recent developments

During a security meeting with focus on the Islamic State (ISIS) that was held in London at the end of January, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni said that there was a risk that terrorists could be among the waves of thousands of migrants who arrive in Italy from North Africa every year but at the same time he also underlined that confusing terrorism with migration was an “idiocy”. In fact, “saying that terrorists armed with Kalashnikovs are hidden among the tens of thousands of desperate people who land on our coasts is senseless, especially for democratic countries”, Gentiloni said.

It would be a cultural mistake and a debatable topic, especially from a technical point of view because we have very good security structures but of course these are not sufficient to lower the level of concern at all. In the wake of this month’s attacks at the French satirical weekly magazine, “Charlie Hebdo”, by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda, the Italian government approved new anti-terror measures. They include the withdrawal of the passports of foreign fighters, severe punishments for those who support jihad-related activities and the use stronger powers of vigilance of extremists on the internet by the authorities.

A big number of Islamic extremists have recently been ejected from the country and border checks have been strengthened, although the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry underlined that the battle would falter if it is becomes consumed by sectarian division or “Islamophobia”. In fact, the biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone.

Some questions surface. Could ethnic expulsion call a halt to these events? Could this way of proceeding constitute the real risk of criminalizing a whole category of people in the eyes of the public? One thing is certain, the Mediterranean Sea is becoming more and more a sea full of dead bodies. More and more people are dying. More and more are the news about migrants’ shipwrecks. More and more are the news about people leaving their country to escape from an unjust war and death, the same that some of them will find a bit later during their voyage of hope. More and more are the news about the landing and rescue of migrants along the Sicilian coasts. The islands of Lampedusa and Malta, seen as bridges between Africa and Europe, are increasingly being hit by big immigration waves and flows.

What is there to do? How to do it? It is unfair not to save them, but nowadays it is also dangerous to help them because among this thousands of desperate people may figure some dangerous jihadist infiltrated by the ISIS ready to attack the Europe. It is indeed a big dilemma. Even if it is, it should not be a dilemma that only concerns the areas of arrival. This is the mistake that has always been perpetrated and never properly solved. It is wrong to think that it is a problem linked just to few countries, it is not only a national problem, it is an international problem, thus it should receive the proper addressing by all EU Member States.

The latest news refer of endless landinga. The exodus from Libya has just started. The Italian embassy in Libya has been closed, some Italian people have been repatriated. Sirte has just been conquered and in no time Bengasi and Tripoli will face the same fate. The situation is deteriorating day after day, the dead and wounded are drastically increasing, a regime of terror is in the air, the victims of Islamist terrorist movements are copious. Boko Haram, ISIS, foreign fighters, lone-wolves continue to disseminate terror everywhere. Moreover, according to UNICEF more than 250 thousands children and teenagers are actively involved in hot wars everywhere. The increase in number of migrants’ shipwrecks is really dreaded. Libya must be a top-priority for the whole European community. That the existence of countries free by terrorist attacks is a false statement was well stressed by the Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano.

Italy has already called for help. The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has asked Bruxelles to reinforce Operation Triton because, as stressed Paolo Gentiloni, “it is not admissible spending €3.9 million monthly for humanitarian aids”, however the request seems to remain unheard. The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs also acknowledges that the Operation Triton in the Mediterranean Sea is just a starting point, it is not enough. Others think it is necessary to bring back the previous Operation Mare Nostrum, who saved a lot of human lives.

In the meantime, the war goes on, as the Egyptian raids against Libya immediately after the video about the beheading of 21 Egyptians exemplify. But could war be the right solution to solve this serious plague? What about advising for dialogue? How can the European Union support Member States affected by a major crisis? Crisis-management and the fight against terrorism remain mainly national competences, but it is also true that the European Union has developed some tools to support Member States affected by crises, including major terrorist attacks and established crisis coordination arrangements. However, “response” is one of the 4 pillars of the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The Solidarity Clause covers situations of terrorist attacks as well. The EU institutions and agencies as well as Member States are thus organized to give assistance to the affected Member States, through the mobilization of all available instruments. But where is this solidarity? Is it possibly only reserved to some countries?

Paolo Gentiloni is certain when he affirms that what is necessary is not only power but also mutual cooperation in order to contrast the illegal immigration even if the internal situation in Libya is really complicated. Human dignity and human beings should be always the keywords of every political trend as Pope Francis well said during his past visit to Lampedusa. It is necessary to stress the importance of life as an alternative to nowadays’ “death culture”. Moreover, there is an urgent need to deal with the reasons of migration with an appropriate political cooperation useful to solve the main problems. The aims should be peace and the resolution of the different conflicts. It is obvious that we are currently facing a cultural and structural problem that depend on the big instability and lack of security not only in the Mediterranean, but also in the whole African and Asian continents. Moreover, it seems that a common point of view does not exist, a common way to act, a common perspective on the common good. It must be understood that migration phenomena are not the illness but the symptoms of other disease that we continue to ignore.

What about the right measures to carry on? Doubtless, Italy should try to inspect the Dublin Regulation giving refugees the possibility to live in the EU country chosen and not to be obligated to stay in the one of first arrival. Then, the European Union should promote a political action able to support the practice of free religion, free thought and freedom of expression. Moreover it should promote more impetus to diminish inequalities and divisions so as to isolate and uproot the fundamentalism together with the aids of EU Member States and Muslim countries through a new Euro-Mediterranean initiative. It would be good to increase the Italian and European responsibility in aid of the different populations destabilized by fundamentalism. Then, it would be appropriate to bring back, together with Europe, Operation Mare Nostrum action aiming to save human lives across the sea and to avoid tragedies such as those that provoked thousands of victims within the Mediterranean Sea because Operation Triton is demonstrating not to be a humanitarian mission, but a mere operation enforced to protect borders. Last but not least, the United Nations should open some reception and identification centers for refugees in transitory countries with more resettlement operations so as to give hard bop to the human trafficking that nowadays represents a lucrative business. Briefly, cooperation, solidarity, responsibility and union should be the winning instruments.

Even though the fear will always have more arguments to back itself up, you never forget to choose the hope, Seneca said.


Master’s degree in Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations (University of Catania)

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