The Centro Astalli – the Italian Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) – has accused the EU of a “shameful tug of war” over migrants.

Last year could be remembered as the year of ignored migrant deaths: the largely undocumented fate that occurred to 1 out of every 33 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean.

But in its annual report published May 20, the Centro Astalli denounced that 2019 will be remembered as the year of migrants “lives in limbo”.

Those are the lives of the thousands of migrants “forgotten in Libyan prisons, in camps on the Greek islands or even on the ships that rescued them, left at the mercy of the waves for days while Italy and the other states of the European Union engaged in a shameful tug-of-war over who should take in a few dozen people”, the JRS Italy deplored.

In 2019, 11,471 migrants arrived in Italy, according to Centro Astalli numbers: a decrease of 90% compared to 2017 and of 50% compared to 2018.

That decrease had the JRS alerting that today in Italy the real refugee emergency is not related to boat arrivals but is rather that of the precariousness, insecurity and lack of integration facing migrants due to the security decrees signed into law by the Parliament in 2018.

Precariousness is the new migrant emergency

In all the services of the Astalli Centre, the effects of the implementation of those 2018 security decrees were felt last year.

The abolition of humanitarian protection, the complication of procedures for obtaining residence and the rights deriving from it and, in general, the multiplication of bureaucratic burdens at all levels exclude an increasing number of migrants from the country’s reception and territorial services, the JRS Italy denounced.

One of the most demanding activities of the Astalli Centre is the orientation of migrants immediately after their official registration.

The bureaucracy and the uneven interpretation of the rules by the local authorities represent one of the main obstacles to migrants’ rapid integration in the social fabric of the country, the migrant service said.

In 2019, the number of people seeking assistance in Centro Astalli listening centres increased (+29%), especially among those who, with the abolition of humanitarian protection, suddenly found themselves at risk of losing their residence permit.

Compared to 2018, the number of migrants without valid papers who contacted the JRS in Italy increased significantly.

Impact on health

The effects of the Italian security decrees have also had a deep impact on the health of refugees, according to the Centro Astalli.

The presence of migrant women, especially Somali and Nigerian women who have recently arrived in Italy, has increased in the JRS clinics in Rome.

Many of those women, although suffering significant vulnerabilities, are excluded from public clinics and live in conditions of severe marginalisation.

The difficulty of access for migrants to the health system is of particular concern in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, many immigrants who were prevented from registering with or struck off from the National Health Service were forced to attend JRS outpatient clinics due to the tightening of current regulations that have generated bureaucratic obstacles that are sometimes insurmountable.

Victims of torture, the homeless and women are particularly at risk.

Compared to 2018, the JRS Italy saw an increase last year in female patients, often victims of sexual violence or genital mutilation.

2019, a record year for refugees

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, in 2019 alone some 71 million people in the world found themselves in the position of having to flee their homes to escape war, persecution and natural disasters.

There are more than 25 million refugees in Europe, more than half of them children, many without families.

They have fled Afghanistan, despite the fact that the international community continues to talk about that nation being a peaceful country, and 3.6 million have left their homes in Yemen.

In Africa, from Southern Sudan alone, more than 2 million people have been forced to leave.

The biggest migration crisis, however, remains that of Syria, which, as it enters its tenth year of war, has seen 5.5 million people forced to flee, while more than 6 million internally displaced persons in the country are living in extreme poverty.

(With reporting by Vatican News)

More on Novena on the Church’s care for migrants:

COVID-19: Pope invites world “to open eyes, ears and hands ever wider to those who suffer from hunger, injustice and violence”

Jesuit Service to Migrants urges Spanish government not to resume immigration detention after COVID-19

Pope, in message for Day of Migrants: “God did not want the resources of our planet to benefit only a few. This was not the Lord’s will!”

“Incompatible with human dignity”: German Churches criticise EU migration, refugee policy

From Pope down, Church in Italy pushes hard for mass regularisation of migrant workers “deprived of all rights”

Church, civil society actors denounce EU states using COVID-19 as “pretext” to suspend human rights of displaced people


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.