In the past year, there was a tremendous increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the European Union, the European Union’s statistics agency announced last week. The number of applicants for asylum has surged about 44 percent from last year’s total, increasing by over 191,000 applicants. Germany has reported the highest number of asylum requests, followed by Sweden, Italy, France and Hungary. The number of asylum seekers more than doubled in Italy with an increase of 143 percent. This rise in asylum seekers is correlated with the number of immigrants escaping violence and economic instability in their home countries, specifically in North Africa. Italy’s main concern has been the increase in the number of immigrants, mainly from Libya, traveling across the Mediterranean under dangerous conditions. In contrast, countries like Portugal, Slovakia and Romania received the least number of asylum seekers.
Also last week, on March 13, the Turkish coast guard opened fire to stop a Syrian refugee ship. The vessel ignored all calls and warnings to stop. The captains on the ship resisted until they were forced to stop when the coast guard fired at their engine and eventually locked the steering wheel on the vessel. Two Turkish crew members and three traffickers were arrested. The 337 migrants on the ship were taken ashore to the nearby town of Gelibolu for health checks and questioning.
In response to events like these and the overall immigration crisis occurring in Europe, Pope Francis encouraged people not to “close the door on immigrants” during his visit to Naples on March 21. “But, tell me, if we close the door to immigrants, if we take away people’s work and their dignity, what do you call this? It’s called corruption!” he said in his speech. The number of foreign residents in Italy has increased to almost five million people, most of whom come from Romania, Morocco, Albania and China. Tensions have been running high, not only within Italy, but also throughout Europe. The pontiff emphasized that this “shutting out of immigrants” is one of Italy’s major problems.
In an attempt to help alleviate some of these problems, the region of Piedmont in northern Italy has granted free healthcare to all children, even the children of illegal immigrants, making them eligible for national healthcare and the right to a pediatrician. The announcement came from the regional authorities of Piedmont. This is “A choice that goes in the direction of inclusion, but also a conscious decision that will have a positive impact on health care costs,” said Regional Councilor of Immigration Monica Cerutti. This decision was made in an effort to cut costs by decreasing the number of people in emergency rooms.