According to the latest UNHCR report, 2016 has seen the largest number of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean — almost 3,800 so far. Last year, the figure was 3,771 for the whole year.
While the walls and barbed wire fences of Europe and the cynical deal with Turkey to “house” refugees have resulted in a significant fall in the numbers attempting the Mediterranean crossing, the numbers of deaths has risen! It was one death among every 269 people crossing last year. It is now one death for every 88 people. For those heading to Italy, one person dies for every 47 arrivals.
With regard to Italy, underneath the sickeningly hypocritical and pious rhetoric of Matteo Renzi and the Vatican, the situation has effectively returned to that which existed prior to the tragedy of Lampedusa four years ago when 300 perished as the Italian navy effectively stood by. The standard policy then was of forcibly resisting “criminal” attempts to land on Italy’s shores.
It was that disaster that forced Europe to adopt, until the economic and financial crisis deepened, a formally more humanitarian posture. But once more those arriving are considered “clandestini”, i.e. illegal. Under the Dublin accords the country of arrival has to be the agent for processing claims to the right of asylum. In Italy that “agent” is a historically underfunded, ramshackle, sadistic bureaucracy and the process is little more than a exercise in racist cynicism. Of the 20,000 or so of unaccompanied minors who arrived this year, 6,300 have gone missing.
They escaped to the cities where they hope to survive long enough to continue the ordeal of getting out of Italy. Inevitably social tensions have grown as the economy continues to languish. For Italian workers there has been no relief from the debacle of failed governments of Renzi and his predecessors of centre left and centre right. Their material conditions have without cease worsened, dramatically underlined by the massive and continuing migration of the country’s young, with another 150,000 leaving this year.
The south of the country is little more than a desert. Many young women who remain no longer bother seeking work. As elsewhere, it is the racist right who have sought to exploit the refugee issue. The Lega Nord and the fascist CasaPound have won some support, especially in the north east. They have not yet created any permanent and sizeable social base, but this may be changing.
In Gorino, a small town in the Po delta, attempts by the authorities to house a dozen or so refugee women and their children were met by a rebellion of barricaded streets, watched passively by the cops until the Mayor ordered buses ferrying the migrants out of the town. The “victory” was celebrated with a street festival, and presided over by a worthy from the Lega Nord, who called for other such rebellions. Then 200 km south, in Giulano di Puglia, Molise, hundreds barricaded the streets as a demonstration of what they intend to do when 500 expected immigrants arrived. So too in Bitonto, further south.
Many of the participants deny that they are racist. And millions of Italians have helped with aid in a 20 year-long crisis of the refugees. But the presence and growth of the Lega and CasaPound spells out sharply that if all the terrible social, economic and political conditions of oppression and repression are not addressed and fought consciously as part of the class struggle, then those problems will be seen through the lens of racist propaganda; the victim will make an alliance with her oppressor.
The Italian labour movement has so far done precious little to seriously confront racist views within the refugee crisis. It has not fought against the conditions of work and life imposed by the camerati on the plantations and fields offering seasonal jobs to tens of thousands of immigrant workers. That reality remains a shameful blot on the working class movement and the radical left.