It’s a scene straight out of fiction. Refugees from North Africa, packed like sardines in small boats are streaming in droves across the Med to Italy. “According to Italian interior ministry figures given to the Guardian, 59,880 migrants and refugees have landed on the country’s coast this year – almost as many as in the whole of 2011, which holds the record. The situation is unprecedented. Sicily, which has received more than 53,000 of the new arrivals, is bearing the brunt and struggling to cope. And summer – historically the peak time for boat landings – has only just begun.” This flood is only a trickle compared to what’s coming tomorrow.
To those only familiar with the American southern border crisis the story has eerie similarities. Children are showing up at the border, unaccompanied, with NGOs pressing governments for a solution: to speedily resettle or process these most vulnerable of arrivals.
According to Save the Children, around 5,840 unaccompanied minors have arrived on the Italian coast this year. Not all of them decide to stay in the system. At a soup kitchen opposite Catania station run by the Catholic charity Caritas, manager Valentina Calí explains that among the people who have called on its services have been “many minors who don’t want to be identified. They avoid being fingerprinted so they don’t have to request asylum in Sicily. They’re running away.”
The watchword is “compassion” and besides, everyone knows the West is rich and has lots to give away. But the numbers speak for themselves. These are not refugee streams any more, they are whole populations. The number of people on the move is at a post-World War 2 high. “The number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people has surged to more than 50 million people, the first time since the post-World War II period.”