Italy’s immigration problem: UK, Europe take note
Italy is not the kind of country to get all politically correct. But the enormous migration issue from Africa, which the moronic PC political classes refuse to talk about (and the Roma PC-denial matter), is changing Europe, and there are vastly important matters at stake
Say what you like about the economy (still nowhere near where it was in 2007), the Ukraine or the Middle East, there is one overriding topic of conversation in the bars and dinner parties of Italy: immigration.
It is not such a difficult subject to broach as it is in Britain, there not being the vocal politically correct class here. You can introduce the topic without looking over your shoulder or the police investigating you for thought crime.
Once engaged in conversation, however, it becomes clear there is a growing consensus which Guardian readers would find alarming. Pretty well everyone you meet thinks something serious has to be done.
And to make it more politically incorrect, Italians do not in principle have a problem with immigration numbers per se, they have a problem with who is coming. Top of the hate list are the Roma -- Romany people. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center said fully 90 percent of Italians detested them.
Photos in the national press of a Roma man defecating in broad daylight outside Rome’s Termini station do not help. If you make it inside the station the ticket machines are surrounded by Roma, mainly women and children, who pick pockets and steal your change. The police claim to be helpless. Italy’s Northern League politicians threaten to bulldoze Romany camps.
But the odd thing is that there are around 130,000 Roma in Italy, one third of the number in Spain. Equally, the 50,000 immigrants who have crossed the Mediterranean in the first five months of this year amount to around five weeks’ immigration into Britain.
Incidentally, why do the British government give net immigration figures? If a million immigrants arrive and a million British leave, net immigration is zero, but the character of the country will have changed irrevocably. The proper figure for UK immigration last year was more than half a million.
Anyway, Italy at first sight does not seem too badly placed. Around 8 percent of residents are foreign born, compared with around 12 percent in Britain and the same in Germany and France.
The problem for Italians is the shock. Until recently the problem here was emigration, not immigration, as Italians fled to new lives in America and elsewhere. Among them were the Pope’s family seeking their future in Argentina.
As communications improved, in terms of information as well as travel, economic migration became viable for millions. Italy was caught on the hop. In Britain and France, which had their empires, and Germany, which had its gastarbeiter, immigration started earlier and we learned to cope.
When I came to Italy, at the turn of the century, there were next to no border controls, and no one had given any thought to persuading the new arrivals to integrate. Many lived, and still live, in the shanty towns the Northern League want to bulldoze.
Now the Northern League have upped the ante. Roberto Maroni, president of the Lombardy region which contains Milan, has forbidden city mayors in the region from taking in migrants, threatening to cut off funding. This has been taken remarkably seriously by the press, reflecting the Northern League’s status as an increasingly popular opposition party.
Italy’s immigration problems stem not just from its proximity to Africa but from the failure of successive governments to deal with the issue. Prime Minister Renzi is engaged in trying to persuade his EU counterparts to accept quotas of boat people. This is less urgent: the immigrants don’t want to stay here; they want to go to Northern Europe where there are jobs.
What Italy needs is an integration programme for immigrants. This is the land of the bella figura, where people try to appear at their best and even dress up to go to the supermarket. They are horrified at the shanty towns, at the "failure" of immigrants to be like them.
And the Government must reassure the people that the integration will work and that the Mediterranean crossings are not an open-ended free for all. They might give France a taste of its own medicine and build holding camps with unlocked doors on the French border.
Otherwise there will be trouble.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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