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Building a mediterranean and euroafrican community

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The refugee issue has become central for Europe and for all of us for a long time now; firstly for a pre-political matter of elementary, humanity, that relates to our dignity: by denying refugees the dignity that belongs to every human being we deny it also to ourselves, or, as the Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek wrote, "treating refugees as scum we become scum ourselves". But the refugee issue is central also for other reasons:

Firstly: the contrast between those who want to reject them and those who want to welcome them crosses the whole of Europe (and not only Europe: the rise of Trump in the United States is another example) and divides parties and political forces, but above all the social classes, along borders that are not traditional ones. In fact, as the presidential elections in Austria have shown, which increasingly reflect widespread situations also elsewhere, we are in the midst of a radical re-composition of the political and social coalitions that opens immense opportunity for the initiative of those who can grasp the meaning and potential of this split. For now, this has mainly been done so by the extreme right-wings who, relying on the request for an unconditional policy of rejection, are advancing throughout Europe. In some of the EU member countries they are already on the government. In others they could go there soon. Most cases, however, are conditioned by the policies of centrist or centre-left governments, who take measures, even the most extreme, in a vain attempt to prevent loosing a large part of their electorate. The agreement with Turkey, the barriers at the Brennero, Ventimiglia, Idomeni, Calais, are proof of this. But to make Europe a fortress externally, whether the project succeeds or not, will inevitably turn it inside into a barracks and a prison: that is, for us. The recent constitutional changes, but also those related to employment, promoted in France and Italy are functional in this transformation. Faced with this offensive, the alignment of forces favorable for receiving, today is definitely a minority; or at least on the political scene. It has been reduced to promoting a policy of resistance, which still has to find the legs it needs to walk on. But those "legs" alreadyexist: they are the tens of thousands of volunteers and organizations, especially young people - those who now almost always desert political meetings - engaged in activities of assistance to those who are trying to reach european soil, or who have already arrived, without finding anything of what they were looking for. Right now they are the active and numerous vanguard, largely without a voice, of a formation that could be immense, especially if it were possible to make clear publicly what is at stake in this contrast: that is, if it were possible to make everyone understand that to end up defeated by this comparison means also losing in all the others.

Secondly, the issue of refugees is dissolving the European Union. If the austerity policies, even in the extreme forms taken by the financial attack on Greece, had held together and in many cases reinforced, a common front among all the european governments, above all committed to impoverishing their citizens, the attitude towards refugees instead, irreversibly divides them: everyone tries to unload on their neighbours the weight of a flow that they feel unbearable.

Thirdly, we must take note of the fact that those looking for an escape route in Europe are claiming the most basic of human rights: the right to live. While the governments who are trying in every way to repel them are denying them nothing other than this right. Life against death: this is, and will be increasingly more so in coming decades, the main conflict which each one of us and every government will have to face up to. Today governments try to resort to the false distinction between war refugees, to be welcomed because international conventions, increasingly disregarded, require it and economic migrants, to be rejected, because they are not entitled to international protection, they are not supposed to be in danger, they are supposed to come from "safe" States. Nothing could be more false. The human beings who have arrived in Europe in recent years and those who will arrive here in the future, all come from countries experiencing wars and dictatorships, mostly generated by environmental crises, caused in turn by the unbridled exploitation of their resources, mostly in the hands of western or chinese multinationals, and climate changes already under way; or from countries where the environment has been completely
devastated both by war and the exploitation of resources. For this reason the are all environmental refugees: a figure not provided for by international conventions, but destined to dominate our future completely. Europe has the resources to house them all; and to allow these people to build a decent future, both among us, in the countries of arrival, and, in perspective, in their countries of origin, when and if those countries become liveable once again. But this only on the condition of changing policies completely, abandoning forever austerity, subordination to finance, the slavery of the national debt and complicity with the actors of ongoing wars, or in certain cases, even having a commitment in them, in the countries that have direct or indirect boundaries with them. And first and foremost putting an end once and for all to selling them weapons; directly or through some triangulation. For this reason, migration and exodus of refugees forced in large majority by war or hunger are the main issue around which will develop social conflict, political struggle and the very fate of the institutional structure of Italy, Europe and the world in coming years.

The policies of rejection, both those made in a brutal manner, with physical barriers, or by financing "outsourced" concentration camps (that is managed by third States reduced to the rank of askari), or leaving to drown or die of hunger and thirst in the desert a growing number of people, both those assigned to the so-called "repatriation" of people who do not have a country anymore, are all policies without a future. Not because they are not supported by a ''public opinion" highly manipulated by xenophobic forces and cultures, and even by populations annoyed or turned nasty by a mismanaged presence of new arrivals. But for a very concrete reason: because, even apart from its ethical implications, or the cynicism that always accompanies it, rejection is not a viable solution. Where do we reject them to? Throw them into the arms of Isis, or its many imitators and affiliates, now present in almost all countries from which these flows originate, increasing likewise their strength both there and out of solidarity, among the most radicalized immigrants of the European countries? It would only multiply both the fronts of the war outside and within Europe's borders and new and even more massive departures. Enter into agreements with the governments of
the countries of origin so that they can gather them together or detain them at home? Many of those countries have already been invited and encouraged to do so, but they are not willing or able to accommodate this request even at a high price. This solution is basically the heart of the central proposal of the so-called Migration compact proposed by Renzi's Government; but the price of agreements of this kind is anyhow destined to grow, far more, while the european countries less exposed to those flows do not seem totally willing to share the burden. The summit of La Valletta has already demonstrated this; but it is also demonstrated in the fragility of the cynical pact between the European Commission and Erdogan's Turkey under the supervision of Angela Merkel. Cynicism, but also the difficulties that its implementation is highlighting do not let us expect a positive outcome not even for a proposal that would extend it to all the african countries from which originates a large part of the most recent flow of refugees. The price to pay should be allocated to finance measures of "development" whose terms are not known, but that seem to deviate very little from the neocolonial policies that precipitated those States into the comatose condition in which they find themselves today. Build and operate more or less directly (even if under the pretense of the involvement of local governments) concentration camps - to be used, to a large extent, for extermination - where to confine all the fleeing or disoriented people trying to carry out or undertaking a journey towards Europe? Those camps would soon reach an inordinate size, and be increasingly difficult to manage.

As already mentioned, the first consequence of measures such as these would anyhow be an authoritarian and racist harshening of the policies of all EU governments, given that it survives such choices. The second consequence would be the establishment in practice of a paramilitary control of the Union, or some of its member States, over all or most of the countries of origin or transit of these flows, at least in Africa; which for Europe, would mean to bring the war back home. But the most likely outcome of a rejection policy is to download the burden on the countries of first access, closing the internal borders of the rest of Europe against them. What the european finalities are of this game of passing the buck is now clear: Greece, Italy and,
perhaps, Spain; the only member countries who with their 25,000 kilometres of coastline have no possibility of raising walls and physical (and administrative) barriers against those seeking refuge in Europe. Those who see the recovery of sovereignty at a national level as the way of emancipation from the constraints imposed by the fierce european governance on social and economic policies do not take account of this: with the arrival of more and more refugees, that national sovereignty would turn into a trap for the countries that lie on the landing line. The fight for reception is a conflict of a european level, for a different Europe, to be designed and built, together with the millions of refugees who are seeking and who will seek a path to salvation in Europe, with the millions of immigrants who have already been here for some time, and all those communities of Africa and the Middle East that the refugees had to leave, from where they were very often encouraged and helped to undertake their extremely dangerous journey, and to which many of them would like to return as soon as possible. It is a fight that is won or lost together. Conducted at a national level it is lost from the start.

Needless to say that the choice of rejection would quickly lead to the saturation of the capacity of assimilation (however brief and poorly managed) of those three countries. Repatriation would soon become "their business" (ie ours), while the other member countries would end up "washing their hands of the matter", as they are already doing with reduced shares of relocations established by the European Commission.
But this is in fact what is already happening today with the so-called decrees of "deferred expulsion" which the Italian authorities increasingly use: people who have been ordered to leave the country within a week, and at their expense, because their right to international protection is not recognized are abandoned on the streets with no money, no papers, no references and without the knowledge of the language. It is like delivering them directly to clandestinity, crime, prostitution, rape, despair; at best, to slave labor run by the mafia. But if it has been possible up to now to resort to this expedient with some thousands of refugees, it is evident that it will not be possible any more with the tens or the hundreds of thousands in arrival.

The Italian Government, however, has never raised the issue in the seat of the European Parliament in its authentic dimension and with all the drama it deserves. The Government and the different political forces, but also the Catholic Church, including many associations who have sided in favour of reception, or who claim anyway to be contrary to indiscriminate rejections, continue to underestimate the size of the problem, limiting themselves to a summary comparison between the figures of the arrivals of the past years with those of today. But it is the overall picture that has completely changed; to have moved nearer by many lengths to a dissolution of the European Union, for all practical purposes, that risks dragging with it all its institutions.

We can and must, however, look at the same things from another perspective, far more positive. Firstly demographic: by 2050 Europe, without new immigration, will have lost 100 million inhabitants: a fifth of its present population. But the remaining 400 million will be getting increasingly older, which will lead to an intolerable burden on those who still work and a dramatic economic stagnation, which has nothing to do with the so-called happy decrease. It should be remembered that the greater dynamism of the US economy is largely due, even more than to the adopted economic policies, to the continuous flow of immigrants from Central and South America: in principle, all of them or almost, illegal, and therefore more easily exploitable; but for this reason in fact, tolerated, at least up to now, both by the right and left-wings. To fill this demographic vacuum Europe should accept, from now to 2050, three million immigrants per year: three times the number of refugees that arrived in 2015. As a matter of fact it could also absorb twice the amount without suffering any meltdown; but obviously changing in a radical way both its economic and social policies. Moreover, until 2008, year of the beginning of the current crisis, one million new "economic migrants" arrived in Europe each year, that is, as many as the refugees in 2015, which today are considered "unsustainable." It was the austerity measures which, in addition to creating millions of new unemployed in Europe, transformed the assimilation of new labor forces from other countries into an "unresolvable" problem. Moreover, between 1945 and the mid-60's four central European countries, plus the United Kingdom, even though in a phase of strong indigenous population growth, had absorbed 20 million refugees and immigrants: 10 million from the East and 10 million from the mediterranean countries of Europe, Africa and the Maghreb or the indian subcontinent, realizing with their contribution postwar reconstruction and the so-called "economic miracle" of those years. The threat of overcrowding is therefore solely the result of restrictive economic policies and, in the long run, suicidal.

Of course, to accommodate such a large mass of refugees and migrants european countries should equip themselves with social and economic policies that are radically different from the present ones; moreover, necessary for absorbing endogenous unemployment and social hardship, ie poverty, created by austerity policies. However, this would result in a radical transformation both of social order and that of everyday life for all european citizens: a transformation that also requires a change in the way of thinking about the "different from us" that the dominant culture is by no means capable of producing, but that is up to each of us to contribute to its development, to test and promote; especially if we do not want to accept without opposing the authoritarian, racist, warmongering, and, ultimately, dedicated to destruction sideways shift implicit in the rejection policies adopted by all european authorities, albeit under varied as much as hypocritical, humanitarian coverage. This is also why Europe needs these newcomers, because it urgently needs to abandon the culture of universal competitiveness that makes each of us the enemy of all others and that is the origin of the moral and political sclerosis that blocks its evolution. Only a real encounter with cultures, with biographies and the sufferings of those who seek their own salvation among us can help us to begin this change.

It is clear, however, that neither the market nor the measures that Member States can take will alone be able to absorb and to include such a high number of new arrivals. For this we must use other tools: not only is there to find homes and jobs for millions of people; above all there is to promote their integration into the social fabric with personalized projects, so they will not be a burden to the economy as a whole, but rather to be valued as an
additional resource (and indispensable) and not arouse feelings of revulsion that their presence today, but above all their inactivity and their isolation, provoke among the population. Personalized projects of this type are the privileged setting of third sector activities (that which in Europe is called social and solidarity economy). In Italy we have excellent examples of this work, but also resounding proof of much of its degeneration in parasitic or criminal organizations (often mere tools or operational arms of corruption and crime that thrive in the upper echelons of politics and public administration). The role that the social and solidarity economy can and should adopt towards the refugee problem by launching the proposal of a great european plan to create millions of new jobs, must therefore be put on the agenda. And this is precisely what is being asked for now by the sectors who have to play a central role in the processes of ecological conversion indispensable to counter the ongoing climate change: agriculture, construction, renewable energies, mobility, regional planning, assistance to people. It's a role to be given to enterprises - existing or to be established - of the social and supportive economy, so that work placement is accompanied by social inclusion programmes for everybody. Unfortunately, at least in the context of the so- called left-wing, the centrality of the refugee problem is still not felt with the urgency it deserves, while of course, all kinds of right wing reject the propositions of a generalized reception policy also. But a plan of this type could have an implication of great interest even in the context of the so- called policies of re-entry.

In fact this does not mean accepting as irreversible the processes of migration to Europe, although in the short term there is no alternative to reception apart from the multiplication of the massacres entrusted to the sea, hunger, bad weather, disease. The prospect of creating the conditions to reduce the pressure to emigrate from countries affected by poverty and war must not be abandoned. This means first of all to fight for and to mobilize for the prevention of the proliferation of wars, "humanitarian" or not, in the countries that today are involved and those who are likely to be tomorrow. But the central problem is to create the circuits according to which arrivals could correspond to, even if to a lesser but not
irrelevant extent, voluntary returns and strong reasons for doing so.
For this reason it is necessary to consider Europe and the african and middle eastern countries from which the refugees come from and today's immigrants as one large area that can be crossed by exchanges not only economic (necessarily unbalanced for a long time yet), but also cultural, social and civic (ie between "twin" cities). Europe's borders, that the Union is trying to expand by reducing the countries of origin of migration flows into outposts of its transformation into a fortress, instead it is necessary to make them perceive and experience, primarily in the consciousness of European citizens, refugees and migrants of first, second and third generation, as the perimeter of a new euro-mediterranean and euro-african community. But how?

To say that you must first clean up Africa to stop the flow is wrong. For this reason we can interpret the slogan "Let's help them at home" in three different ways. The first is that of the cooperation policies for current development, which are increasingly less financed (not only by Italy) and destined in large part (not only on behalf of Italy) to fatten up european companies with predatory aims, to corrupt the dominant, local classes (or even create them and make them exist as "comprador" classes, as it was once said) and to disperse the rest in a thousand scarcely effective rivulets. Even when they are well made and well- conducted (it is not the majority of cases, but there are some; and sometimes the reasons for their failure must be sought in the choices of those who finance them, opening and closing the taps of financial resources without any logic apart from personal interest), cooperation projects are always niche initiatives, which do not affect the actual size of the problems that lie at the root of the exodus and, above all, they do not face up to the dimension of the ecological disaster that climate change is already causing in many countries of Africa and the Middle East. The second way to interpret this saying is the one adopted by many of the right-wing (but in fact, even by many rulers, first of all, Angela Merkel) for which also much more consistent funds, given that they are found, are intended primarily to retain (and intern) refugees and migrants in specifically established structures in the countries of origin or transit of the flows. That this means nothing less but to declare war on migrants has already been mentioned. The third way is to be completely constructed because it aims to make the communities expatriated in Europe, namely refugees and migrants (first, but also second and third generation) protagonists of a policy for reconstruction of a social and economic fabric capable of offering perspectives even to the inhabitants of the countries of origin. Largely, it is generally the more educated, younger, more enterprising component (those who have had the strength and initiative to take on such a dangerous journey) of the population from which they come: a contribution that the economy, culture and society of Europe could valorize a great deal, but which today is depreciated, despised and degraded. But above all it is a strategic resource for the construction of a large euro-mediterranean and euro-african community. They are all people who still have strong ties to their communities of origin, or that they can easily reactivate; and who in Europe can establish themselves or improve skills, knowledge, professionalism, experiences to be made available in their countries of origin with great benefit for all, if the conditions are created. Not only to intergrate and occupy existing positions, but also to create completely new opportunities and modes for generating income and wealth.

A necessary condition for this to happen is that national expatriate communities in Europe are allowed to organize themselves, even politically, are free to move, are helped to gain experience not only of work, but also of new social relations in the countries and territories that house them. Because only then you can trigger a circuit that makes the return home desirable and feasible even if new recruits are abandoning it to also try the test of emigration themselves. Before even thinking of finance, or even of development cooperation projects - now largely conceived and directed externally - we need to work with refugee and migrant communities from the perspective of making them the actors of a new process of integration of the economies and societies of the countries of origin and those of destination. I do not believe that there are alternatives to such a perspective other than those indicated in the first part of this paper, that is a catastrophe for everyone; even if such a strategy is put into practice, especially in a climate
of growing hostility towards immigrants, it will be increasingly difficult. However, the call to "welcome all" is based entirely on this perspective.


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The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

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The Urban Suffering Studies Center - SOUQ - arises from Milan, a place of complexity and economic and social contradictions belonged to global world.Tightly linked to Casa della Carità Foundation, which provides assistance and care to unserved populations in Milan (such as immigrants legal and illegal, homeless, vulnerable minorities), the Urban Suffering Studies Center puts attention on ...


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