Italy has been a frontline state in the migration crisis for years. The situation became more challenging after the times of the Arab spring and the fall of Ghaddafi’s power in Lybia. According to government data, the number of migrants arriving on its shores from North Africa was the highest in 2014, when the government of Matteo Renzi decided to launch the operation Mare Nostrum to rescue thousands of migrants arriving via sea on overcrowded and weak boats, and avoid the repetition of horrible shipwrecks causing the death of hundreds. In 2015, the Mediterranean route remained active, but a dramatically high number of people started to pass through the Balkans to find protection in Europe, especially Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis. In 2016, the Mediterranean is again the preferred entry point for migrants and refugees, statistics show.
Italian goverments which have been in charge in the last years have often being accused not to operate an efficient border control, not to register properly arrivals and also to operate a weak control over secondary movements, causing many migrants to succeed in reaching destinations outside Italy. From its side, Italy criticised the lack of solidarity and support from other Member States, recalling the unfaireness of the Dublin system, the importance to respect international law, which prohibits to push back asylum seekers without carrying an individual assessment and to detain them on the basis of their request for protection.
Indeed the political instability in Italy did not help the development of a credible system to manage migration flows, in addition to widespread suspicion on the misuse of EU emergency funds given to Italy during these years. Many politicians, administrators and entrepreneurs, linked to the party of Matteo Renzi and others as well, are in fact under investigation for corruption and improper use of these funds.
Nevertheless, Matteo Renzi has often openly and strongly criticised EU institutions for lack of support to his govermentin managing the migratory situation and coordinating the application of the principle of solidarity in the EU. The creation of a relocation system was indeed a victory for his and the Greek goverment, as the first instrument looking specifically into sharing responsibilities towards refugees, regardless of where they first enter. However, relocation has been very slow also because of the long and complicated procedures to obtain all papers necessary for relocation outside the hotspots, especially for children (so far, no unaccompanied child has been relocated from Italy).
Regarding general migration management, Renzi launched the idea of EU countries issuing euro bonds to finance a strategy for tackling the migration crisis at source. The so called “Migration Compact,” would have served to enhance cooperation with countries in Africa to stem the flow of migrants and strengthen their border controls. The idea found immediate rejection from Germany, which has repeatedly rejected the idea of mutualizing debt. However, this idea lead to the development of a Partnership Framework on migration with Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia, with the aim to reduce flows of illegal migration by disrupting the business model of smugglers and opening legal channels of migration, increase return rates, and address root causes of irregular migration. These efforts are ongoing.
Resignation of Prime Minister Renzi leaves high insecurity on the role Italy will play in the next months in relation to migratory issues. While indeed Renzi has often been strongly critical of EU and other countries’ policies in managing migration, he was with Merkel the stronger voice waiving the need to offer better solutions and protection for people in need, against far right goverments and raising political parties in the EU (including Italy). This is why it will be important to know who is going to be his successor and what will be his position regarding these issues.