A burning sun is shining on the desert city. The usual hustle is silent and the only noise you hear is that of the air conditioning systems of the few cars approaching the centre of Naples. As your car reaches the train station, you start hearing something different. It’s muffled and tired voices coming from the nearby street, where around sixty men and women of colour are trying to sell bags and clothes. Some are riding on old Vespas and waiting at traffic lights for cars to stop so they can wash their windows in change of a few coins. They are migrants and you’ve seen them many times in Naples before, but this is the first time they seem at ease, free to move in a city emptied by the heat of August.
The arrival of migrants and refugees to Italy is a constant topic on Italian news. The precise number of migrants to Italy is difficult to state, especially as many of them are on the territory illegally. Nevertheless, at the end of 2016, BBC reported that 171,000 people “crossed the Mediterranean” into Italy, while UNHCR measures 147,370 refugees and 99,921 asylum seekers in Italy, for a total of 247,291 people.
Italian people have vastly differing feelings regarding the issue of migration and this new wave of immigrants. Sadly, many see it negatively and people are often heard arguing that the State is giving money to migrants instead of helping Italian people, or that migrants are stealing jobs from Italian people. While these expressions arise from the frustration of a country that was severely hit by the 2008 economic crisis and is still facing its consequences, they are unacceptable simply because they are not true.
Firstly, the State does not hand money to migrants.
Instead, it gives funds to the associations that provide humanitarian aid to people who arrive to Italy, so that the organizations can provide the migrants with food, shelter and clothing. According to the Italian newspaper Internazionale, this aid is equal to 35 to 40€ per migrant, and only 2,5€ a day is given to the migrants themselves.
Secondly, migrants do not steal jobs from Italian people. In fact, they usually do the work that many Italians are less willing to take up in the first place. They pick fruits and vegetables in the countryside, being paid only a few euros per day. They work in factories in the cities, oftentimes in terrible conditions of exploitation. They do not usually have regular contracts, leave days for sickness, or any other kind of insurance or work benefits.
From an economic point of view, when they do have legitimate jobs, migrants pay taxes to the State. According to the Italian newspaper Repubblica, their taxes allow the State to pay 620,000 pensions to the Italian people. This demonstrates that immigration is in fact helping Italy, a country that sees its young people leaving to study and work abroad, and which has a higher percentage of elderly compared to youth.
Nevertheless, we should not reduce this to a matter of economics; it is firstly a matter of compassion. When I hear people say, “I don’t understand them. Why are they coming here?” I tell them to ask the same question to their fathers and uncles, who migrated to the Americas 150 years ago. They were migrants who tried to find a better place for their children, a job that could give them the possibility to live in dignity, and the chance to be happy.
These opportunities are what the people are searching for when they cross the Mediterranean in order to reach Italy, Spain or Greece.
Whether they are refugees trying to save their lives or economic migrants looking for brighter days, there is a simple reason for them to be welcomed: they are all human beings who are often born in difficult situations.
by Domitilla De Luca Bossa
First published in the Voices of Youth blog