Nick Squires, Telegraph, January 16, 2017
Italy is considering a plan to oblige migrants and refugees to work while their asylum applications are processed, amid alarm over the large number of people arriving by boat from Libya in spite of harsh winter weather.
Italy is hosting around 175,000 migrants and refugees, who languish in reception centres for months or even years while their asylum requests are dealt with by an overwhelmed bureaucracy.
Boredom and lethargy are big problems for the migrants, most of whom are young and keen to do something with their time.
They often end up being exploited – in Sicily, young West African men are paid a pittance to pick fruit and vegetables, while young women are forced to prostitute themselves by the roadside to pay off debts incurred from their journeys through the Sahara and across the Mediterranean.
Marco Minniti, the interior minister, will present a plan in parliament on Wednesday by which migrants and refugees will be required to perform “socially useful” work while their claims are assessed, possibly as a condition to receive a weekly living allowance.
The proposal may meet resistance in a country where youth unemployment is around 40 per cent and economic growth is close to zero.
Some refugees already perform community service, such as sweeping the streets and maintaining parks and gardens, but until now the work has been on a purely volunteer basis.
“In our town they have been cleaning up the parks, helping to bring decorum to neglected areas,” said Luca Menesini, the mayor of Capannori, a town in Tuscany. “They’ve also made crafts, which were sold at the Christmas markets. It has allowed the foreigners to get to know us and for the locals to realise that not all migrants hang out at street corners, begging or talking on mobile phones.”
Matteo Biffoni, the mayor of Prato, also in Tuscany, said: “It would send a good message to Italians, who don’t appreciate seeing migrants doing nothing all day.”
The government is considering trying to link up migrants, particularly those with skills, specialisations and qualifications, with companies in need of employees. Rome is also determined to increase the number of migrants who are returned to their home countries if their asylum applications are rejected.
Italy is working to build repatriation treaties with several African countries, in return for increased aid and development. The Italians are worried about the large number of migrants that have arrived so far in 2017, despite the freezing temperatures and churning seas that winter has brought.
In the first 12 days of this year, 730 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean – nearly three times as many as in the same period last year.
There is also concern about the number of unaccompanied children who are making the journey from the Libyan coast.
The UN’s refugee agency says that nearly 26,000 unaccompanied minors reached Italy last year, more than double the previous year. Most of them were teenage boys from Eritrea, Nigeria, Gambia and Egypt, but there were teenage girls too. They are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse once they land in Europe, humanitarian groups say.
Neighbouring Malta is also trying to come up with a frame-work which would allow migrants to work.
Joseph Muscat, the prime minister, announced last week that a job brokerage office will be set up in order to connect migrants with employers.
“This will do away with the current practice, akin to a Third World country, where migrants loiter at roundabouts in the hope of landing a job. Instead, there will be a job brokerage office, whereby employers can acquire the services of these migrants in a regulated fashion so that they will not be abused,” he said.