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Migration: Challenges and Opportunities

Milan, 08/06/2017, Annual Conference for the Friends of Aspen

A key premise of discussions at this annual conference for the Friends of Aspen group was that the phenomenon of migration, which has emerged in recent years as a major factor of change, not only presents obvious difficulties but also opens up Italian society and the national economy to an injection of new vigor. This is – it was suggested – has been demonstrated by the high level of dynamism of the many firms established, including through years of crisis, by foreign nationals.

It was noted that Italy sits within the European average, with around 5 million foreign nationals permanently residing in the country. Yet the current influx, as compared with that being experienced by other European states, was seen as necessitating an examination of the specific issues impacting on the country’s social and economic fabric, leaving aside all prejudices, with a view to arriving at a true understanding of what is happening not only in Italy, but throughout the Mediterranean basin.

The participants emphasized that various approaches to migration are possible, especially at a time marked by numerous migrant deaths at sea. One approach, characterized as more theoretical and ideal, views the phenomenon of migration from a holistic perspective and offers avenues for overcoming the wall of indifference towards the suffering of those forced to migrate. In contrast, another attitude – conceded to be well in evidence in Italian society – focuses on the difficulties that reception and integration of immigrants can give rise to.

It was highlighted, however, that both positions concur on the fact that the current management of migration policy in Italy suffers from many limitations. In particular, responding to the crisis without proposing legal and viable entry and integration channels is counterproductive. Indeed, it was suggested that a formal closure of the borders, accompanied by subsequent amnesties, sends out a specific message, namely, that the rule of law does not function and that risking one’s life crossing the Mediterranean remains the only option for reaching Europe.

It was suggested that, on the contrary, what would seem to be necessary is striking a balance between universal rights, which call for assistance to and reception of immigrants, and respect for rules that can ease integration. With regards to the body of applicable rules to be formulated, the participants stressed that a debate is yet to be had on the need for selecting – from among the foreign nationals wishing to come to Italy – those who best fit the requirements of the national labor market.

Even in this case, it was felt that the best balance needs to be found between the “natural law” of extending hospitality and the laws of the market, so as to ensure the integration of new citizens and optimize their contribution to Italian society.

It was urged that, conversely, the lack of migration policies – or the haphazard management of migration flows – does nothing but exacerbate prejudices around this issue. A more proactive role by institutions could, instead, also raise awareness among those sections of Italian (and European) society that currently directly oppose the arrival of further foreign nationals with legitimate questions and doubts, to which, all too often, political leaders are giving the wrong responses.