What’s happening in Italy?
There are currently 170,000 displaced people living in Italy, and the country’s recent political shift to the right means life is becoming increasingly difficult for those hoping to claim asylum there. The centre-right Salvini’s League scored its best election result so far in March elections after pledging to deport an estimated half a million unregistered refugees, and in the past month rescue ships carrying people from dangerous seas off the coast of Libya have been denied permission to dock on the grounds of “public security”.
Italy, Greece and Spain feel they are not being given enough assistance from other European governments to help them cope with increasing numbers of people arriving from countries such as Sudan, Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan. Other, richer European governments like Germany and the Netherlands, though, argue that they have already given enough assistance, and are hesitant to arrange any kind of new, hard-line migration deal with politicians such as Salvini.
Just 40% of asylum requests were granted in Italy in 2017, and this percentage is likely to be lower in 2018. At the same time, funding from the government to NGOs offering refugee and asylum-seeker services has been reduced. This has led to asylum seekers being forced to set up their own makeshift accommodation in abandoned buildings and empty car parks. The number of new arrivals from Libya is expected to rise during the summer months but it is unlikely that the government will be willing to offer them much support.
Why are people heading to Italy?
After the EU-Turkey deal in 2016, which led to a 97% drop in new arrivals to the Greek islands from Turkey, people started looking for new routes in to Europe. Libya, with its Mediterranean coastline and proximity to European waters, has become a hotspot for smugglers and people traffickers. Conditions for refugees and asylum seekers here are unbearable: people are often held in arbitrary detention in appalling, inhumane conditions. Videos of human beings being sold in open slave markets have been shared across the world.
In spite of this, Italy and Malta – two of the closest European countries to Libya across the Mediterranean sea – have largely shut their ports to charity rescue boats. Instead, European governments assist the Libyan coastguard and, according to NGOs working in the Mediterranean, “deliberately condemn vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea”. In recent weeks both Italy and Malta have been denying the Aquarius, a rescue ship run by charities SOS Mediterranée and MSF, permission to dock, placing hundreds of lives in danger.
How are we helping?
There are some wonderful organisations working incredibly hard to support refugees and asylum seekers living in Italy. Two such groups are Baobab Experience in Rome and Donne di Benin City in Palermo, with whom Help Refugees is partnered.
Baobab Experience, an informal camp originally set up by ordinary people in 2015 as a temporary solution to the lack of housing available to refugees and asylum seekers, helps both newly arrived people with no legal papers and no access to accommodation and people who have been in the country for years but have been denied residency and work permits. The organisation’s volunteers provide physical and mental healthcare, legal assistance, entertainment, food, clothing and accommodation (in the form of tents).
At Donne di Benin City survivors of female trafficking who are now safe and settled have set up their own organisation, providing assistance to newcomers to Italy who have also been trafficked or forced in to prostitution on their journey. They grow vegetables to sell in markets and to catering businesses, allowing those involved to develop new skills and the confidence required to become independent. As well as this they’ve set up a drop-in centre for women in the community. It offers a safe space for women to come together and access the network of services they need within a supportive environment.
We are so happy to be working with both of these extraordinary organisations. The situation is not getting any better, and they need our support now more than ever to continue running their vital services. Please click here to donate and help us to help them.