Mediterranean Sea, Africa, Europe. Beyond emergency

by Janiki Cingoli

In the Charter of Responsibilities 2017, promoted by a large group of exponents of the institutions and the Milanese and Italian civil society, including the author of this piece, there is a guiding principle: the responsibility of the individuals to stop the conflicts that bathe our time in blood, to find a way to overcome them.

At the foundation of the sheer hatred that has been acted out in the different hotbeds of crisis, starting from Syria to unclude Iraq, Yemen and Lybia to mention also Nigeria, and the massacres in Egypt against the numerous Coptic minority, and some episodes of the very centennial Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there lays a common element: the process of dehumanization of what is identified as the enemy and thus becomes a target in the name of God. This is a process that dehumanizes also those who undertake it, in a deeadful spiral that leads to the very annihilation of our common human identity.

The Charter states: “The most difficult challenge is the acceptance of the other in our society”.

It is pivotal to recall on this subject matter, one key teaching of the Bible, a text, which is shared by the three faiths of Abrahamitic origin and lays at their foundation: the need, when we are faced with the other, to shed our habits and try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people staying in front of us. This is definitely the principle that guided me in these past 35 years that I have devoted to building dialogue bridges and communication channels between the clashing sides, and that has been the constituting and founding element of CIPMO.

Our very Project, which we have carried out over the past few years, is entitled as "The Mediterranean Sea, The Mirror of the Other”. It involves the students and teachers of the High Schools from Lombardy and numerous countries of the Southern shore of the Mediterranean (Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Palestine and Turkey), and creates a network of dialogue and reciprocal understanding - through shared pathways of human interchange and teaching projects that we built together. This is meant to underline that confronting the other and try to understand them also means reflecting and better understanding ourselves, broadening our horizons and opening our minds.

Nonetheless I must confess that I am feeling a growing intolerance toward the way of dealing with the different conflicts and emergencies that are ongoing all over this area, that becomes more and more a kind of conflict and crisis management, rather than the adoption of effective policies to overcome them. What I deem as more and more necessary is long-sightedness, as well as the capability to go beyond the daily needs and urgencies.

But beyond this, there is an apparent inability of the different powers on the field to solve the different crises, and a need also for civil societies, individuals and social bodies composing them to join the field, step in, give their say so, put pressure on the institutions, and create bridges and channels of dialogue between the clashing sides.

This is even more true as far as Syria is concerned, where the defeat of ISIS, that seems to be approaching, is not the end of the problem, but the beginning of its solution. It remains uncertain, and largely unknown, what path should be undertaken to rebuild a renewed Syria, inclusive of all its different ethnic and religious components, to overcome hate and the desire for revenge that the atrocities broken out during civil war have certainly caused, to counter the ambitions that the different players who have come out the conflict as winners surely have, to share out the remnants of the country.

And the reasoning goes even more so about Libya, where of course it is necessary to support and strengthen Prime Minister Sarraj and his government, which are the only ones enjoying international recognition, even if their control of the land is fragile and partial, as limited to only a part of Tripolitania; to promote a process of national rebuilding that shall include the major protagonists on the field, starting from General Haftar, who controls Cyrenaica and is supported by Russia, Egypt, the Emirates and France (who though officially recognize the Sarraj cabinet); carrying on the fight against the smuggling of human beings generated by the flows of illegal immigration; to make sure human rights are respected in the refugees and immigrant camps, both public and private, that are spread all over the country, which are the centers of huge economic and speculative interests; to defend the country's Southern borders; to favour a process of overcoming of the current fragmentation of the military force in thousands armed militias, seeking as much as possible to organize them into an institutional and national framework, that shall enable the creation of an army, police and security forces that be articulations of a renewed and refunded states, at the same time defeating the jihadist and terrorist militias. This is a complex State building process, it will be long and difficult to achieve, we must be aware of this, and it will demand a great effort from the international community, which is not yet here to see.

But this prompts two key questions: what to do with the nearly 300,000 refugees and migrants amassed in those camps in Libya? I mean beyind the necessary and today not ensured respect of the basic human rights. What kind of future are we proposing them? Do we really think the practices of incentivized repatriation, praiseworthily carried out by OIM by a number of early 1000 reparations a year by plane and  by giving every repatriated person a thousand euros, are enough? And then: while fighting inhumane smuggling and trafficking of illegal migrants, what are we proposing to ensure regular flows of legal immigration?

Pay attention: the problem does not only concern the issue of refugees, further spreading the experience, carried out by the Federation of Italian Evangelical Churches and the Community of St. Egidius (thanks to the 8x1000 tax contribution to the Waldensian Church), creating priority humanitarian channels enabling the controls and ask for all necessary clearances locally, organizing the arrivals through official channels, both by plane or by the sea, and preventing asylum seekers from going through the current ordeal.

It is thus urgent, as persistently asked by Italy and Greece, to deeply reform the ruling of Dublin of 2013, which demands only the initial reception countries, the responsibility to control and in case accept the asylum applications. This is a reform need that was advanced by the European Parliament, and has now made its way in the recent European and Euro-African summits. It is now necessary to effectively apply it by making concrete decisions that shall equally distribute the hospitality responsibility between all member States, overcoming the fierce opposition of the Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) that are often joined also by Austria and even France.

And yet the refugees represent only 10% of the overall number of migrants: so what to do with all the others? To defeat illegal immigration it is necessary to create ordinary and regulated channels of legal immigration, consistent with the needs of our economy and adequately prepared by means of courses in their home country with both workplace and language skills, whether Italian or other recipient countries, closely connected with the local governments and on bases of mutual benefit. Once more, if a large scale commitment of the domestic and European public institutions is required, the role of the NGOs and the private organizations, social and entrepreneurial, appears to be pivotal.

Moreover, it does not certainly suffice to block access from Libya's Southern borders, an emergency measure that cannot stay in place in the long run.

It is necessary to start at the same time co-development projects with the countries of origin of the migration flows, that may overcome any residual element of assistentialism or mere exchange of favours, which currently are prevailing (funding to local governments in change for stopping the flows). The approach must instead be based on parity and reciprocity, involving as far as Italy is concerned (like at the European level) the whole of the "Sistema Italia", the already active NGOs on the field, and the whole of the entrepreneurial associations or single enterprises potentially interested, which shall nonetheless be guided and assisted.

The relationship with Africa must not be conceived as residual, but as a primary opportunity, as by the way has been understood by many of the main international players, from China to India, to include Turkey, and Israel itself, more and more present in the Continent. Italy's and Europe's delay already appears as abysmal, and difficult to overcome, but it is nonetheless urgent to move ahead immediately, with a consistent strategic, long term vision, identifying the countries of North Africa, starting from Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, as the indispensable hubs connecting us to Africa.

We need to be able to understand that, beyond these hotbeds of crisis, there are in the whole of this area huge energetic, environmental resources, and new opportunities offered by technological innovation, from the very Blue Economy (the economy of the sea) on to other resources, that necessarily cross the national boundaries, which need to be managed at the level of the single area, overcoming barriers, hatred and wars. These resources and opportunities see new protagonists come center stage, like entrepreneurial forces, scientists, prominent figures of a new culture of the humanity, pressing for an interregional and Euro-Mediterranean-African cooperation, breaking the thick skin sedimented hatred and endemic conflict.

The first priority, in this process, appears to be the prompt emptying of the refugee camps scattered in Libya, official and private, activating an extraordinary plan to be carried out at the European and international level, through the practice of assisted repatriation, but at the same time allowing in to Italy and Europe (which cannot go on washing its hands about it) the refugees who have right to it, and the migrants who have the potential to integrate in the European reality, also through proper educational processes to be carry out preliminary on the place, in adequate and protected facilities. It is a huge operation, which will be confronted with huge speculative interests at the local level, and will concern nearly 300,000 people amassed in these refugee camps in tragic conditions. It is a purulent sore, which need not be let rot: once more, volunteer services and NGOs play a key role - they must accept to confront this challenge by overcoming residual resistances and sometimes even long-established practices based on the maintenance of this unacceptable situation - and also the one of the Enterprise system that can absorb the flows.

In the end, as far as the mass of refugees and migrants that have been rescued at sea by Italy over the past years is concerned, the attention until now has been focused on the just rescue issue, even though now the journeys on the gunboats have dramatically decreased. But what happens the day after these people are welcome? This, so shall be a matter of concern beyond emergency, and we should putting into practice consistent policies to favour an effective inclusion of refugees and migrants, countering the radicalization processes and fighting the possible jihadist degenerations that may surface.

To this purpose, it is of course necessaty to ensure the necessary surveillance and prevention services, that by the way have already proven all their effectiveness in our tormented time. But this appears as insufficient in itself.

It appears in the first place as essential to leverage the diaspora communities and the religious communities to which the newly arrived belong, jointly with the fabric of civil and religious volunteer work and in close cooperation with the local and national institutions, and when necessary with the very security services and judicial services, in order to prevent from the creation of new ghettoes, which in Belgium have shown all their potential risk.

These communities can play a pivotal role for the inclusion of the newly arrived, and also as a precious bridge with the countries of origin, but their structures, their organizations and associations are often inadequate and fragile, and shall be supported to be able to perform this primary role. The same goes for the religious commmunities, which must have the strength to confront the monster of terrorism, looking at it in its face. They also must seek their roots within themselves and mobilize to counter the radicalization processes and explel the jihadist trend from within, fight it and uproot it.

This necessary role of the diasporas of Mediterranean-African (or Middle-Eastern and African diasporas), for the welcoming and inclusion of migrants and refugees, has been now the object for the past two years of a specific national project by CIPMO, supported by our Foreign Ministry and by its International Cooperation Department.

More generally, there is an issue of reflection on the role and condition of the ethnic, language and national minorities on both sides of the Euro-Mediterranean Area, a reality which is often regarded by the national States or the ethnic and religious majorities of the different countries as a danger to control and contain, if not as potential fifth columns. To this respect, the Italian experience, that whereby article 6 of the Constitution grants the protection of language minorities, also through positive measures for their safeguard, represents a pivotal experience, which can be regarded as extremely positive (with particular reference to the experience of Alto Adige/South Tirol, albeit with all its limits and contradictions), and shall be put at the disposal of the current oppositional and often tragic European-Mediterranean context.

As concerns these figures, CIPMO, in cooperation with the Autonomous Province of Bozen, has favoured the birth of a specific CIPMO antenna, juridically independent, whose initiative is specifically focuses on this issue of Euro-Mediterranean minorities.

I believe it is right to conclude these considerations of mine with an excerpt of our charter of responsibilities: "

"There is only a way to win over the fear that generates monsters and causes a climate of suspicion and insecurity, where everybody become enemies: the perseverance at searching together for our common humanity and our capability to think and judge, always putting ourselves in the others’ shoes.

As it always happened over history, a pathway of symbiosis and mimesis among different civilizations occurs, albeit not linearly, within a common experience where people discover with curiosity the possible similarities between cultures and the same responsibilities before the world".

Janiki Cingoli

Analysis by Janiki Cingoli, former President of CIPMO - Italian Centre for the Peace in Middle East

29 September 2017

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