Chaotic scenes have erupted on the coastal Mediterranean frontier between Italy and France. On August 4, for instance, hundreds of migrants, chiefly from Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan sought to storm the crossing in their attempts to make it to Northern Europe.
“Both the Italian and French forces at the border were taken by surprise,” remarked Giorgio Marenco, a police commander in Ventimiglia, where tear gas was used to disperse the migrants. Others merely braved the choppy waters of the sea to breach the crossing by swimming towards their goal.
The Italian town contains the last train station in Italy near the border. The besieged terminus lies three miles from the French Riviera. It has been a gathering point for the predominantly Muslim migrants since June 2015. A fractious tent city for migrants has sprung up, mirroring others spread across Italy. The capital of the French holiday district is Nice, which experienced a jihadist massacre on July 14.
Although mercifully free from mass terrorist outrages this year, Italy has already endured several alarming scenes of disorder and protest resulting from the pressure of accepting increasing illegal migrants.
On May 7, violent attempts by “open borders” activists took place, aimed at forcing open the frontier between Italy and Austria. On May 21, various groups in Rome organized mass demonstrations against Italy’s “invasion” by migrants. Apparently the prevalence of populist politics in the country has created movements which do not lie within the usual “Left-Right” political spectrum in which analysts usually classify parties.
The chief example is the presence in Italy of the Five Star Movement, founded in 2009 by the comedian Beppo Grillo, and now considered Italy’s second largest political force. Having taken a back seat after frequently being condemned for his “Islamophobic” anti-mass immigration rhetoric, Grillo’s party nevertheless helped to elect Virginia Raggi, in July, as the new mayor of Rome.
Despite the assurances of Angelino Alfano, the Italian Interior Minister, that Ventimiglia would not turn into “our Calais” — a reference to migrants amassed at the French channel port who are seeking illegal entry into the United Kingdom — the challenges faced by Italy lie not merely in numbers.
African migrants camp out on the beach in the northern Italian town of Ventimiglia, along the French border, as they wait for the opportunity to cross into France, in 2015. (Image source: AFP video screenshot)
Italy’s terror alert status remains at “Level Two” — the second highest in its security index. On March 30, the Rome-based journalist, Barbie Latza Nadeu, seriously asked whether the country was “enabling the ISIS invasion of Europe.”
After the collapse of Libya — occasioned in 2011 by military intervention masterminded by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy and then UK Prime Minister David Cameron — the North African nation has become the gathering point for those on the continent farther south, who possess the will or resources to push into Europe.
Two separate governments are currently attempting to wrest control from each other in Libya, a former colony of Italy, while ISIS forces also maintain their foothold. It is through this seemingly unresolvable ongoing chaos that people-smugglers ply their lucrative trade.
Waves of migrants heading into Europe, primarily through a corridor beginning in Turkey and resulting in short crossings to nearby Greek islands, are still stranded in the so-called Western Balkan route into the continent.
After the widely derided imposition by the Prime Minister of Hungary of a razor-wire border fence on his country’s southern frontier, other nations nearby, that were subjected to migrant pressure, soon followed suit.
Remaining conscious of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s analysis, that only half a year’s total migrants come to Europe between January and October, with the other half arriving through the remainder of the year, the steady focus in 2016 is likely to be on Europe’s “soft underbelly” — a term Winston Churchill used during the Second World War to refer to the susceptibility of Italy being invaded by sea — as opposed the susceptibility of the Balkans.
The enthusiasm of the present government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to import Muslims into Germany apparently remains undiminished. As reported by Markus Mahler, a succession of migrant flights into Germany from Turkey are now taking place – in one instance, more than 11 planes landed during the same night at Cologne-Bonn airport – as some analysts predicted last year.
In September 2015, a Canadian lawyer and broadcaster, Ezra Levant, suggested that what Europe was experiencing, was not primarily an influx of “refugees” fleeing conflict, but rather a new Gold Rush, in which young men from the Muslim world were seeking to improve their fortune at Europe’s expense.
Sea crossings from Africa into Italy, which initially targeted the small Italian island of Lampedusa, had begun in 1996. Since then, they have magnified in number year on year, considerably aided between 2013-2014 by the Mare Nostrum program of the Italian navy, which picked up stranded vessels and brought their occupants to Italy, rather than returning migrants to their countries of origin. This program was then superseded by Operation Triton, run by the European Union’s border agency, Frontex.
It is often simpler for migrant ships to send a distress signal while near Italian coastal waters, as happened in January 2015 with the ship Ezadeen, abandoned by its crew of smugglers, after they set the ship on autopilot pointed towards Italy’s southern shore. The ship’s 450 migrant passengers were towed to harbor by a Frontex ship from Iceland.
Successful migrants from Africa usually then traverse Italy, but can remain stranded if their attempts to penetrate further into Europe become frustrated. That situation frequently leads to violence at migrant camps and outrage at local government level as the migrants are then distributed across the country.
Despite the swelling number of illegal sea crossings, there seems little interest in curtailing them by force, given the existence of international refugee conventions and European legislation on human rights, which some migrants appear to be exploiting.
During four days in July alone, 10,000 illegally crossed by sea into Italy. As in 2015, the vast majority looking for “asylum seeker” status in Europe are military-aged Muslim males seeking eventual European citizenship.
Meanwhile, relations between Italians and their existing established Muslim communities seem to be rapidly eroding. The introduction of gay marriage into Italy on June 5, against fierce opposition in the home of the Roman Catholic Church, has had unforeseen consequences.
As a reciprocal gesture in the spirit of “civil rights,” Hamza Piccardo, the founder of the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy, has demanded the legalization of polygamy.
As the pressures grow on the Euro, the currency which binds 19 European nations together both politically and economically, the long-term future of Italy’s banking system has already been called into question.
The picture drawn by the present migration into Europe may fundamentally undermine the “Refugees Welcome” narrative that dominated news reports last year, but the continent-wide economic ramifications of its effects on a country such as Italy, already subject to considerable political tumult, should not be underestimated.
George Igler, between 2010 and 2016, worked helping persons across Europe who were facing death for criticizing Islam.