The number of people arriving in Italy by sea this year may already exceed 100,000. By the end of July approximately 93,000 migrants had been rescued. The previous record for an entire year was set in 2011 when around 60,000 people reached Italian shores at the height of the Arab Spring.
The sudden jump in arrivals is related to turmoil in Libya, from where most of the migrant-trafficking vessels depart. Another reason is the Italian government’s maritime search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, launched last October after 368 Eritreans and others drowned off the island of Lampedusa. The prospect of being picked up by the Italian navy has made the journey on an overloaded and often barely seaworthy vessel seem less scary.This latter situation is a classic case of no good deed going unpunished, but the Economist suggests that the Italian public is quiet on this issue.
Grumbling among right-wing lawmakers apart, public and media reaction to the upsurge has been surprisingly muted. Stories of vessels entering Italian waters with four-figure human cargoes, which would have been front-page news a year ago, now barely warrant a mention.
Once in Europe, however, the immigrants tend to head north.
Many head for France. Last year the country ranked third, after Germany and America, among rich countries for the amount of asylum applications it received (this number includes people arriving by plane and train). Immigration has become an increasingly sensitive subject as a result. “There are fears of uncontrolled immigration, of invasion,” says Cris Beauchemin of the Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques, a think-tank.
No one knows how many undocumented migrants live in France. An estimate of 200,000-400,000 bandied about six or seven years ago is not improbable. Last year the authorities had before them almost 66,000 requests for asylum and granted asylum or other protection to fewer than 11,500. Refused asylum-seekers often stay on illegally, or try to make their way to another country.As you can appreciate, the surge in undocumented immigration has the same roots whether they are going to the US or to Europe--violence in their homeland.