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Brief on the 26th Annual Report on Migrations to Italy and Europe by the ISMU Foundation

On 22 April, the ISMU Foundation presented a webinar on major trends concerning migration to Italy and Europe. 

The presentation of 2020 data illuminated the enduring effects of the pandemic on migration flows to Italy and the EU and the lived experiences of migrants in Italy. The latter portion of the webinar, including legal scholar Alessia Di Pascale and European Commission representative Patrick Doelle, discussed developments in European governance regarding the complex phenomenon of migration, as well as future prospects and challenges for migration management. 

Livia Ortensi outlined key statistical trends regarding migration in Italy both before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, Italy has shown clear sign of a reduction in incoming migration flows, even before the onset of the pandemic. While there has been a further reduction in legal migration, there has also been a substantial decrease in the presence of undocumented. This is interesting, and defies expectations of increased ‘irregular migration’ following the 2018 Security Decree which ended Italy’s humanitarian protection and resulted in increased rejections of asylum requests. The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis are expected to greatly reduce migration beyond what the preliminary statistics show, given the precedent of the 2008 financial crisis’ negative impact on migration. This is expected to exasperate the labour crisis Italy is experiencing, as even the 2020 amendment to the Security Decree providing migration amnesties for certain labour sectors has been minimally successful. 

Far from the public media rhetoric of ‘invasion’, the data show that the real problems Italy is dealing with are demographic decline and labour shortage. In discussion with ISMU Chair Guia Gilardoni, Ortensi emphasized that these changes in migration flows will ultimately affect the future of Italy. With an aging population and migration trends that show Italy is increasingly not considered as attractive for migration and newcomers as it was in the 1990s, Italy is facing the potential reality of “becoming a country of old people”. What Ortensi suggests is Italy promoting migration amnesties and even citizenship for those migrant communities that show a desire to set down roots in it the country, as the real hope for combatting inevitable demographic decline. 

From a statistical perspective, migrants’ experience in Italy, especially since the onset of the pandemic is similarly bleak. The pandemic and resulting economic crisis have made the situation more difficult for both legal and irregular migrants, but especially for irregular migrants who find themselves in an even more unstable economic situation, and struggle to find work. 

Moving to the dialogue on European development on issues of migration, Alessia Di Pascale discusses the reactions and the current state of negotiation of the European Pact on Migration and Asylum with Patrick Doelle. The new Pact, proposed by the European Commission in September 2020 following four years of conflictual consultation and evolution of previously rejected proposals, attempts to balance the divergent opinions of Member States. It calls for more effective mechanism and solidarity among Member States, enhanced enforcement of external EU borders as well as facilitating effective identification measures, and improving cooperation with international partners. 

This new proposal has been met with mixed reactions, especially from civil society and academia. The strengthening of external borders is considered problematic, as is the concept of solidarity which many argue will allow states to avoid relocation of displaced peoples by providing other forms of assistance such as sponsoring returns or contributing to capacity building.

But Doelle and the European Commission defend the Pact as a comprehensive and balanced approach to migration, especially in its attempts to unpack the contentious issue of solidarity. No proposal on migration and asylum will please everyone, and the priority of the Commission was to find a compromise between some of the very contradictory views of many Member States – from ‘front line Member States’ (Spain, Greece, Malta etc.) requesting greater solidarity, to the Visegrád 4 (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) opposing any solidarity that means mandatory relocation, to the European Parliament prioritizing a rights-based and respectful approach to asylum requests. So, the proposal of the new Pact skirts around the controversy of relocating displaced people, instead focusing on the ‘nuance’ of solidarity and more controls on external borders of the EU. 

With regard to the future of European governance on migration, Doelle is cautiously optimistic about Member States’ acceptance of the new Pact on Migration and Asylum. These past few years have seen an endless repetition of the same positions, but status quo is not an option. This is bad for Member States, but most importantly this tenuous status quo is harmful for migrants and asylum seekers. The European Commission emphasizes that the future of migration governance in Europe is rooted in the fragile balance between divergent approaches that policy like the Pact hopes to achieve. 

Part of this slow progress and hope is the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which has a key role to play in the proposed system of the Pact. The increased role of the EASO is intended to ensure a harmonized asylum system within the EU, protecting Member States but also facilitating the creation of a reserve pool of experts to build capacity and promote best practices to above all help and protect people  on the move and especially those seeking asylum. 

Finally, Patrick Doelle sees cooperation with countries of migrant origin and transit, especially African countries, as integral to the future of migration governance in Europe by addressing the root causes of migration. The European commission has prioritized this far less contentious external dimension in the new Pact, including incentives to reduce irregular migration while promoting channels such as visa programs that facilitate legal migration and resettlement. 

Overall, the IMSU Foundation’s webinar provided a comprehensive dialogue on the current realities and future policies of migration and asylum in both Italy and the European Union as a whole. From a policy perspective, there is hope for comprehensive and unified migration governance with the proposed European Pact on Migration and Asylum’s emphasis on solidarity (not resettlement) and external border protection. For Italy, the statistics point to the need to re-assess migration policy to better tackle the needs of the labour market in the traumatic aftermath of the pandemic, and to support the situations migrants experience themselves. 

Watch the webinar and dialogue on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CroOjZJiiOk

Find the Iniziative e Studi Sulla Multiethnicità (ISMU) Foundation’s 26th Annual Report on Migration, including the statistical conclusions discussed, at: https://www.ismu.org/en/the-twenty-sixth-italian-report-on-migrations-2020/ 

Teresa Pian

Research Intern 
Institute of Public Affairs
MA Candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto