Migrants as a development factor: interview with Stefania Dall’Oglio

Stefania Dall’Oglio, expert in international human rights law and immigration and asylum law.

The conference “Training and social inclusion of migrants in Italy and Europe“, which was held on 27 September in Roma Tre to conclude the EMISEI project.

The meeting was an important opportunity for reflection and debate on the theme of migration and best practices in the field of integration of migrants in different European countries.

During the conference, particular attention was paid to the way in which immigration is perceived in public opinion and to the factors that, in Italy, contribute to spreading a distorted and often instrumental view of the phenomenon.

In order to contribute actively to the debate and to counteract the emergence of prejudices and stereotypes in the field of migration, also fed by the media, we are today opening the “Migration” column in which we want to highlight the voices of experts, researchers, representatives of associations and businesses operating in this field.

To get a more precise idea of the link between migration and development, two phenomena apparently unrelated, but actually interconnected, we interviewed Stefania Dall’Oglio, an expert in international human rights law and immigration and asylum law.

As underlined in her speech during the final conference of the EMISEI Project in Rome, there is a close link between migration and development. The phenomenon of migration, in fact, generates development not only in the countries of origin of migrants, but also in the countries of destination. How can immigration in Italy be a factor of development?

Immigration has already been a development factor for Italy for many years, as demonstrated by the data published annually by the Statistical Dossier on Immigration of the Idos Study and Research Centre in collaboration with the Leone Moressa Foundation. Just think that in 2016, according to the Annual Report on the Economics of Migration by the Leone Moressa Foundation, the added value produced by immigrant workers was 130 billion (8.9% of the national added value), while 11.5 billion were the social security contributions paid.

The president of the INPS, Tito Boeri, himself, declared that without migrants the country could have a net loss of 38 billion euros in the next 22 years, equal to the difference between the 73 billion of foreigners’ contribution revenues and the 35 billion euros spent on services for them.

According to a study by the Centre for Global Development published last February, in poor countries development encourages migration. Countries with a higher GDP per capita have a higher rate of emigration. How do you explain this phenomenon?

The study by the Centre for Global Development shows that countries with a per capita gross domestic product between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars on average have an emigration rate three times higher than countries with a per capita GDP below 2,000 dollars. While the rate of emigration then begins to decrease after the threshold of 10,000 dollars. The tendency of emigration to increase with the increase in development in the poorest countries and then to decrease when the gross domestic product per capita exceeds a certain threshold is a phenomenon known and studied as “mobility transition” from the scientific literature, since the ’70s. In fact, at the beginning, development produces an increase in people’s skills and aspirations, an increase in birth rates, an increase in the level of education, and an increase in international connections. Moreover, a greater economic availability of families means a greater ability to invest in emigration and in tools that encourage emigration, such as internet access, knowledge of languages, tourism.

The majority of Italians think that resident migrants make up 30% of the population, while ISTAT data reveal that foreigners resident in Italy are about 8.3%. According to recent studies, Italy is the country with the highest rate of ignorance of immigration in the world. What are the main factors influencing this distorted perception of the phenomenon?

There is no doubt that the impact of the media on public opinion is enormous and essential. In Italy a fundamental role is played by the narration made by the media, as highlighted in the latest (5th) report of the Rome Charter Association – which includes the Council of the Order of Journalists and the National Federation of the Italian Press, which continues to find violations by the media of the Deontological Protocol (called the Rome Charter) on asylum seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking and migrants.

Obviously, the media are the sounding board for political discourse, the other fundamental factor that conditions the distorted perception of the phenomenon.

For about ten years now, politics has been dealing with the phenomenon of migration in terms of emergency and public discourse is focused solely on the number of landings and the alleged invasion taking place.

Furthermore, the Islamic terrorist attacks of the last 17 years and the birth of the Isis have naturally contributed to the onset and spread of Islamophobia and all sorts of prejudice and stereotypes in the collective imagination.

The combination of these factors can only produce a distorted perception of the phenomenon.

In conclusion of his speech, he expressed the need to focus on small reception centers would reduce the impact on the territory while avoiding, at the same time, the negative image in the media. How could this proposal be implemented in practice?

This proposal is already a reality with regard to the reception put in place in the municipalities that adhere to the Sprar, the protection system for asylum seekers and refugees, which is an optimal model of reception and integration. Continuing to invest in the expansion of the Sprar network until the extraordinary reception centres (CAS) set up by the prefectures are left only in a residual way, would be the best solution. However, since recent political choices do not seem to go in this direction, we should at least aim for quality Extraordinary Reception Centres (SACs), modifying the parameters underlying the calls for tenders issued by the prefectures, standardising and raising the standards for the provision of services to the person and setting limits on the number of people who can be hosted in these centres, in order to avoid such large centres, which have a negative impact on the territories and are detrimental in terms of an effective integration process.

Interview by Francesca Garreffa

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