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Government which stops illegal border crossings is racist, says high commissioner for refugees

Filippo Grandi, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees said at an event in Italy that restrictive legislation, barbed wire and blockades at sea are considered racist.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi recently addressed a festival in the northern Italian town of Sarzana. He said that he was not surprised by statements that Ukrainian refugees are easier to accept because of their geographical and cultural proximity, but added that he could not accept that those fleeing Ukraine are considered refugees while African and Middle Eastern migrants are not. Countries that are tougher on illegal immigration are motivated by racism, Mr Grandi claimed.

“For the rest, the answer is restrictive legislation, barbed wire, naval blockades and clampdowns. This is racism. We have a legal and moral obligation to welcome refugees,” the high commissioner said.

Mr Grandi couldn’t have found a better place for his campaign speech, which was clearly delivered with the Italian parliamentary elections in mind, which are due at the end of September. Italy is the European country most affected by illegal migration. Mr Grandi complained that “some boats full of immigrants” were being turned away, but that does not describe the actual situation. In reality,

those “few boats” he mentioned are in fact entering Italy’s ports every day carrying hundreds of immigrants, most of them without any documents. As a result, the identity of those entering the European Union on those boats often remains unknown.

In 2019, a total of 11,471 migrants arrived in Italy in the whole of year, while 13,197 migrants landed on Italian soil only in July this year, in the course of one month, a UN statistics report reveals. This is the highest monthly figure since June 2017. The busiest area in terms of migration is currently the island of Lampedusa, but the ports of Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia are also under constant pressure from mass immigration. More than a thousand migrants are staying on Lampedusa at any one time, even though the island can only accommodate a quarter of that number. Occasionally, most of them are taken elsewhere, or smugglers take them on to another EU country, and soon afterwards new boats arrive and the island fills up again.

Earlier, Matteo Salvini had voiced strong criticism on his social media page, writing “we need a minister who is prepared to defend our borders, we owe it to the Italians in difficulty.” The former interior minister added that “we are looking forward to returning to government to take care of jobs, security and the protection of Italy.”

Salvini served as Italy’s interior minister for most of 2019, but was forced to resign when his Lega party split with the Five Star Movement (M5S). However, during his time as interior minister, Salvini was credited with greatly reducing the number of illegal migrants arriving at Italian shores. In fact, one of Salvini’s policies was to close Italian ports to NGOs that taxied migrants, but they resumed their activities immediately after Salvini’s departure.

The Lega’s election campaign also focuses on the island of Lampedusa, which has been besieged by thousands of illegal migrants for years. This is where most of the boats put illegal immigrants on shore from Africa. The video below is just one of thousands of images showing the conditions on the island. The videos show that most people arriving are young men who do not come with their family members.

Despite this, Italy is often attacked by the EU institutions for its renewed efforts to crack down on illegal migration. The European Court of Justice has ruled that Italy must provide food, accommodation, support for daily living costs and clothing – even for migrants who are proven criminals. According to the European Court of Justice, an immigrant cannot be deprived of care and support, even in the case of a criminal offence, because it is a fundamental violation of human dignity. The Court also overturned a 2015 law that had previously allowed the sanctioning of migrant crime.


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