While the asylum seeker debate continues here, it is worth looking at approaches taken to refugees in other ‘developed’ countries. Italy continues to set the pace when it comes to rich continues blatantly breaching human rights laws and putting refugees lives at risk. They have reached an agreement with Libya – a nation with an abysmal human rights record – to stop boats and to take asylum seekers which Italy intercepts and returns. Human Rights Watch has recently released a 92 page report on Libya’s mistreatment of asylum seekers and migrants.
Italy also recently adopted a law making it a crime to enter Italy without authorisation, punishable by a fine of up to 10 000 Euro. They have also introduced other punitive measures for those refugees and migrants who do manage to be able to stay in the country.
These two articles from the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper provide reports on what life is like for some of the African refugees living in poverty in Italy. The reporters spent some of their time in the coastal town of Agrigento in Sicily. They note the irony that
in the central part of the city stands a Catholic church with the figure of a Black priest carved in stone perched high above in the church tower. It is a statue of Saint Calogero, an African priest who came to Sicily around the 14th century and is revered as the town’s patron saint.
A well-known Italian Bishop is said to have remarked that if the saint-priest were to arrive in Agrigento today, he would find himself in similar circumstances as the refugees who are detained and disdained.
All of this isn’t just a reason to beat up on the Italian government, but as a reminder of where policies can end up if an obsession with ‘tough’ treatment of asylum seekers gets out of control. It mightn’t seem like we need a reminder of that in Australia, but Italy has now gone well past where Australia let itself go in 2001. They don’t even worry about using the pretext of pretending they are targeting people smugglers rather than refugees.