When politicians turn immigration into a ‘crisis,’ they hurt their own people

A massive influx of immigrants on the southern border led to record numbers of people entering the country without legal permission, record numbers of migrant deaths and the criminalization of humanitarian workers and activists who assist migrants. Residents have also experienced chronic stress and uncertainty, eroding their sense of security and well-being.

This isn’t the United States. It’s Italy – specifically the island of Sicily, where political restrictions on immigration are also controversial, and are taking their toll on local residents as well as immigrants.

In recent years, many people have left the Middle East and parts of Africa, seeking refuge from political and social instability and the possibility of more prosperous lives in Europe. Sicily is a common point of arrival, as it is a relatively short boat trip from North Africa. However, it is also a highly dangerous crossing, with more than 15,000 migrant deaths recorded since 2013.

Immigration restrictions harm residents

In response to the influx, politicians in Italy and across Europe have expressed concern about the number of migrants and refugees. In 2018, they voted in favor of then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s “security decree,” a restrictive policy that seeks to deter more immigrants from coming and limit the freedom to stay of those who have already arrived. The security decree significantly decreased funding to hundreds of migrant reception centers, forcing most to implement widespread layoffs or close entirely, and eliminated most forms of humanitarian protection for asylum-seekers.

My research, which has examined community responses to immigration in Sicily, has found that these policies don’t do much to affect the flow of immigrants, but they do hurt the Sicilians living in the communities where migrants first arrive. A common refrain among island residents is that “Italy and the EU have abandoned Sicily,” especially by withholding financial resources in responding to migration.

By Megan A. Carney for THE CONVERSATION
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