The term “illegal immigrant”, which is so often used by talk show audiences and constituencies demand a serious ethical reflection from us. Who are these illegal and reprehensible immigrants, frequently mentioned by certain politicians who use colorful language and even resentment? “Illegality” seems to be the most widely used criterion to divide those who entirely “deserve” respect when they reach the Italian shores, and those to whom this dignity is due with suspicion, with barely concealed annoyance and limited tolerance. Well, let us look into this economic migration. Among the nationalities that territorial commissions reject more often there are Gambians, Malians, Ghanaians, citizens of Guinea and the Ivory Coast, but also Nigerians, Pakistanis, Afghans, and Bengalis.
If we were to give a quick glance to these countries, we would see that Gambia is a small strip of land ruled by Yahya Jammeh, a dictator who does not allow dissent, in power since 1994 stifles all personal freedom; death squads in his service, repressive waves of arrests and torture follow each over; recently crimes punishable by the death penalty were extended, more or less veiled retaliation occur against those who emigrate.
Ivory Coast, a country which is now pseudo-pacified and whose former head of state is on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The country is also prey to ostracism and retaliation. In Guinea and Guinea Bissau, even if we cannot speak of true dictatorships, these States result from coups and are non-democratic. Ghana, a country where torture at the hand of the police and intelligence service officials have been internationally denounced for years, along with the spreading structural violence against women, girls, homosexuals, and prisoners.
Moving on to Mali, we find Ansar Eddine who haunts the north of the country and the armed groups claiming independence, the war has never ended and there is still chaos, despite the UN peacekeeping mission’s efforts to contain it. The situation concerning Boko Haram and rarefied law in Nigeria are more widely known; in Pakistan, low-intensity guerrilla war made of kidnappings, bombings, massacres and corruption in Punjab (Fata region) and along all the borders with Afghanistan and Kashemir, not to mention the frequent disastrous floods, which caused thousands of poor displaced people who fell victims to labor and sexual exploitation.
As to Afghanistan, we know too much to pretend we do not know anything about it, and finally, Bangladesh where “labor exploitation”, pandemic usury, and child prostitution, which is legalized in the villages of little slaves, are horrors that are still hidden behind a veil of secrecy.
In the tangle of reasons why a person flees from one of these countries, it is difficult to separate political, economic, and social elements, and label people as refugees or economic migrants.
The lives of migrants who land on the Italian shores are much more complex and multifaceted than the extremely arbitrary discrimination based on entire nations, between good and bad refugee nationalities, the distinction between economic and non-economic migrants is historically streamlining, the result of uneven decisions among the European states. Often, granting the refugee status to people from certain areas of the world means also recognizing that in some States there are ethnic, social, political, or state groups of persecutory nature. Issues that are rather thorny and difficult in terms of international relations.
It will be good to remember, in any case, that in the past, Western states have used political asylum as a way of managing migratory flows rather than as a tool of humanitarian protection and protection of rights: we have always called it asylum, but after all, data show that individual countries decided whether to grant it or not in the end, and with very deep numerical discrepancies between single States on the same situations. Humanly, socially, politically, and above all legally, it is necessary to make a further ethical effort to look beyond labels, generalizations, rejection and/or summary collective repatriation, and the easy rejection of Territorial Commissions to meet the people.