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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Island migrants: Has Italy gone too far?
Italian police looks at migrants on Lampedusa
Italy has begun airlifting migrants back to their point of departure after facilities on the Italian island of Lampedusa were swamped by hundreds of new arrivals.

Lampedusa is the nearest geographical arrival point in the central Mediterranean for those seeking to enter the European Union by sea from North Africa and thousands of people flood the island every year.

The decision to send many back marks an abrupt change of policy for the government and has been criticised as too hasty by the country's opposition.

Has Italy been too aggressive in repatriating the migrants? Has it gone too far in its change of policy? Send us your comments using the form on the right.

This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

This topic was suggested by Bruno Condotta, Treviso, Italy:
Is Italy's new policy of sending back illegal immigrants morally justifiable?

Italy has finally taken a step in the right direction. No sympathy can be had for people who choose illegality, especially when there are legal means to obtain entry into Europe.
Susan, Rome, Italy

It's about time a European country took a stand. I guess that at least 95% of these people are economic migrants - 'illegal immigrants', illegal means unlawful, they entered against the laws of the land which means that they are treated accordingly. Fleeing persecution? The small percentage that are fleeing persecution end up being treated the same as the rest and I feel sorry for them. We see plenty of North Africans here, living illegally and earning a living off our taxes and petty crime, this isn't exactly the wealthiest part of Europe. If people think that they should be allowed to enter, open your doors and let them in, ours are closing shut.
Antonio, Cava, Italia

Italy needs to develop a migration policy that takes into account its declining birth rate and its future inability to sustain an aging population
Mark Bakermans, Rome, Italy
Italy needs to develop a migration policy that takes into account its declining birth rate and its future inability to sustain an aging population. Even now some industries in the north of the country are crying out for labour. Unfortunately, Italians in general are not open to migration from outside Europe. There seems to be an ingrained fear of what they do not understand or know, i.e., non-European cultures and peoples. Italy does need to be firm with illegal migrants, but more also more realistic about its immigration policy and the benefits of migration for its society and culture.
Mark Bakermans, Rome, Italy

Are they migrants or asylum seekers? The problem is that Europe leaves no door open for migrants (which they need!) so that the asylum system is overcrowded and misused. Europe should work on a humane asylum system and apart from that a fair migration system (not only for the highly educated). It's not only Italy's responsibility, Europe has to work together on this.
Leen, Ghent, Belgium

No matter whether Italy are right or wrong their actions and this board show that people are willing to accept this kind of reaction to the immigration problem. As always, governments fail to provide an acceptable solution, people get tired of the situation, (either the real situation or the hype whipped up by the press) so they are more willing to accept more extreme solutions. Personally I think Italy should be allowed to find a solution to their problem by themselves. For the rest of the world, we should write off the third world debt but make it clear, that if in the future more loans are wanted, they will not be available. Let Africa deal with its problems, if we don't let them they may never be able to in the future.
David, Berlin, Germany, ex UK

If anything Italy has been far too lenient with illegal entry on its territory. a) the more one accepts illegal behaviour the more illegal behaviour will follow. Short term 'humanitarian' feelings are the precursor to long term 'disaster'.
Antonio, UK

I am an asylum seeker and I have been in the UK for five years. I am Albanian and Albanians have no right to come and claim asylum in UK and no right to get a working visa. The only way is to come to UK illegally. Albanians don't like that and British people don't like that. So the policy against Albanian people should be changed. All Albanians want is just a better life. To work and then go back home.
Gezim Alia, London, UK

The Italian government should think twice before they send migrants back as most African countries are suffering because of them (European countries). They stole all our riches during their colonial ruling and they are still stealing from us by supporting wars in some African countries. They should also know that most of European countries developed through the power of Africans during the time of slavery so they shouldn't treat migrants like animals. They are just looking for the riches which was stolen from Africa.
Lwasamayire Munyivu Nyo, New York

Once refugees reach Italian waters, then the Italians are responsible for the safety of all the refugees. To turn them back under unsafe conditions will amount to murder under international law.
Ralph Kimball, USA

No. They have not been aggressive. Enough is enough. Neither Italy nor Europe needs large numbers of uneducated, unskilled people who once settled, bring in their dependents none of whom work, have nothing to offer and live on the welfare system to the detriment of the indigenous population. Look at East London and many other cities as an example.
John, France

No Italy has not gone too far. England should start doing the same as there are far too many for the country to cope with.
Nigel, Phoenix, USA

Why does any country have an immigration policy? Because it wants to preserve its historical and cultural past. Wholesale immigration from Third world countries is not going to achieve that fundamental objective. Italy's hard-line stance should be the template for all.
Keith, US/UK

They should remember they had the same problem in history and they received help
Dan Enders, Florida

Italy has gone too far... they should remember they had the same problem in history and they received help. Most of them are now living good in US and other parts of the world. Geneva convention aside we should always have it in mind that nobody is the owner of this planet.
Dan Enders, Florida

I don't blame Italy for safeguarding what it has and I don't blame the migrants for seeking a better life. The culprit, I think, is the leadership or lack of it in countries that are the sources of the migrants.
Rachid, Tampa, Florida, USA

Make trade fair, sell no arms, stop bombing people, share the wealth and you shall see no illegals. This is my message to the wealthy North.
Osman, Stockholm, Sweden.

We in Malta know what it is the problem. Up to know this year already 1,050 came ashore. They are kept in detention centres until their position as refugees or humanitarian nature is decided. But they are costing much to us. We tackle the evil at the root. We must help their countries to develop, educate the children so that these people don't leave.
John Inguanez, Fgura, Malta

This is what is required to put some order. Immigration is not bad as such, but it must be regulated, controlled and managed by Italy and not the other way around. It was about time Italy got serious about how many and who comes in and is accepted in this country. I hear that Spain and Greece are not any softer and if we look at the US, the Italian position is not any different. If Italy does not get harder on the immigration front, the rest of Europe will also pay the price. If anything else let's start the EU with some border control.
Enrique Guzzetti, Bergamo, Italy

Isn't the denial of access to proper asylum procedure in contravention of the Geneva Conventions rules on Asylum? Why do so many people automatically assume that they are "illegal immigrants"? How do you know that they aren't genuine asylum seekers? The answer is to lowering the amount of asylum should come from changes to foreign policy, more help for third world countries and more positive intervention from developed countries - not from creating stronger barriers!
Nathan Parton, Swansea, Wales

Europe cannot and should not continue to take large numbers of asylum seekers. Italy is absolutely right to send them back.
Dominic, London

Word will get back that entering Europe illegally is no longer an option
Susan Coleman, Ranco, Italy
I have been on holiday in Lampedusa two years running, and have seen hundreds of immigrants being transported to Sicily by ferry - they occupied the entire upper floor of the ferry, the rest was occupied by tourists like myself. They were well treated and each had been provided with food and drink. Many local people were expressing anger that they had been allowed to remain in Italy. The fact that they are allowed to stay only encourages more to make the perilous journey by sea. I think it has been too easy for too long for immigrants to enter and remain in Europe. More than 1000 immigrants a month is not sustainable. Worse than this, many never make it but drown on route. They have had to pay through the nose to people smugglers who make a fortune out of their plight. I have a lot of sympathy for people trying to flee situations of poverty and persecution, but this cannot be the answer. The Italian government is right to take a firm stance now. Word will get back that entering Europe illegally is no longer an option and there will be less immigration and less deaths at sea.
Susan Coleman, Ranco, Italy

By allowing these kind of migrants to enter Italy for the sake of economic benefits, you discourage people in sub-Saharan Africa to build up their own country. Who do we want to reward: the people who flee their country or the people who build their country up? Europe and US should spend a lot more money on overseas aid!
Christoffer, Sweden

About time! Pity it comes too late in the shameful "summer season" criminals are using to move desperate humans across the Mediterranean. The target here is not human rights, but the despicable mafias and crime gangs making billions by shuttling hopefuls in desperately dangerous boats to overcrowded shores at night. It is that breach of human rights we must stop.
Bruno Condotta, Treviso, Italy

Italy should be able to police its own borders without interference from others. I fully support the sending back of refugees to their own country. If all these refugees would like to emigrate, there are legal channels they should follow. I didn't get to Canada by simply claiming refugee status at every port of call. And if I have had to pay my way so should they.
Meike, Canada

It's hard but fair
Daniela Morena, London, UK
There are proper channels for asylum applications. Italy does well to try and convey the message that those trying to bypass such channels and force the issue can have no positive outcome. It's hard but fair.
Daniela Morena, London, UK

Imagine that you are a disadvantaged Italian who left school with no qualifications. You scrape a living doing menial work and with your pay you rent a single room in a shabby apartment block. You wear clothes bought in charity shops, you haunt the reduced section of the supermarket, you either use public transport, walk, or just don't go places. One day your job dries up as your boss can turn a better profit by hiring a migrant worker who is willing to work for less or for longer hours for the same pay. You couldn't afford to join a union, and your employer would have fired you if you had, so you can't afford to take your employer to a tribunal. You are on the streets. Destitute. Those of us "haves" sitting in our ivory towers can spout about "searching for a better life" but unless you have unfilled jobs then migration deprives indigenous people. Don't they have a right to a better life too?
Mike Allum, Andover, England

Nope. Send them back. Next time they should try legal channels. I'm sick of the west being constantly vilified and the next minute all and sundry are trying to get here. My wife is from the States, I had to pay for her visa and apply through the proper channels, the same should apply for everyone. Asylum has become synonymous with fast and free immigration.
Carl, Manchester, UK

This shouldn't be an Italian problem. Refugees need to be a concern of the UN and they need to intervene to ensure that Italy is not the only country assisting these migrants.
John Orr, Niagara Falls, Canada

The only solution is to scrap the Geneva Convention
Richard, Kidderminster, England
Milton Friedman once wrote that open borders are incompatible with the welfare state. How right he was! The only solution is to scrap the Geneva Convention and to summarily repatriate all illegal arrivals. The UK is full up! We cannot absorb many more arrivals and I am sure Italy feels the same.
Richard, Kidderminster, England

I know the Italian government has no choice, but those migrants should be given a chance to ask for asylum. A few of them could be eligible considering the crisis many African countries are going through.
Andry Cruz, Santo Domingo, Dom. Rep.

One can only hope that Italy's tough but necessary action prompts other EU states to follow suit and at the same time exercise their right to withdraw from the anachronistic UN Refugee Convention which has become little more than an illegal immigrants' charter.
Michael Smyth, Bucharest, Romania

It is very easy to say 'send them back' when you sit comfortably in your home and type your response not knowing any of the stories of these human beings carry with them. Who's only 'crime' is being born in a different country from you. What are you so afraid of? That poor people may be able to feed themselves? Why do you feel so justified with your wealth? Do you really think these people have not worked hard too?
Jodi, Montreal, Canada

Harsh as it may seem, Italy has done the right thing in repatriating the migrants. If you allow economic migrants to enter the European Union illegally you are actively giving encouragement to people smugglers and other criminal gangs. These individuals are not interested in the welfare of the migrants only in exploiting them. Italy and the rest of the European Union should in turn be doing far more to help the poorer nations of Africa by way of overseas aid.
Jeremy , London, England

I have a lot of sympathy for the Italian authorities as well as the would be migrants. If they did not do anything they would quickly be overrun with the system unable to process valid asylum seekers requests in a reasonable time frame. As many are simply economic migrants. On the other hand they are equally damned for not giving opportunity for many of these people who are probably genuine refugees in need of safe haven.
Steve T, UK

Europe is not a latex glove which you can stretch to accommodate everybody who wants a better life
Andre, London, UK
Italy is right. They have the right to take care of their own country and their own borders. It is true that living standards in Europe are higher then in Africa, which gets these people on the road. But Europe is not a latex glove which you can stretch to accommodate everybody who wants a better life.
Andre, London, UK

Italy probably has been too aggressive in repatriating these migrants, but what choice do they have? There must be more humane ways of dealing with migrants than this but it needs the active participation of all other EU countries. What happened to the suggestion of temporary camps in countries bordering the EU? The countries involved were quite keen as it would generate much needed revenue for them, I seem to recall. Alternatively, there was a plan to temporarily house migrants on remote Pacific islands while there applications were being considered. Did anything ever come of that idea? I have the impression that EU member states are ducking their responsibilities instead of facing up to them.
Graham Rodhouse, Helmond, The Netherlands

Italy probably took one look at the UK and decided they didn't want that particular farce in their country. The unpalatable truth is when a country wants people to do its blue-collar or dirty work, that is when immigrants are welcomed.
Ken, London, England

Have empathy for these people
Beatrice, Johannesburg, S Africa
Yes! Putting the life of innocent people in jeopardy is unethical. A man leaves his home in search for food for his family. Should we treat migrants like prisoners or kill them? Have empathy for these people. I think Italy should embark on friendly way of dealing with migrants some of them might be legal.
Beatrice, Johannesburg, S Africa

We have to draw the line. European countries could eventually be destabilized by a large influx of migrants. Europe would start to look more and more like the countries that these people are fleeing from. Who would benefit from that?
Mike, Bradford

Europe cannot just open its borders to the thousands who desire to come to Europe on economic grounds - the ultimate responsibility for the plight and future of these people rests with their own governments who in most cases are corrupt and only interested in preserving their feudal lands and systems.
John Dublin, Dublin Ireland.

It is the responsibility of the Italian government to look after its own citizens, and not to compromise these interests for the welfare of foreign nationals.
David, South Africa

As an Italian expat living in Singapore I am in complete agreement with the policies of Rome. Living in Singapore proves that one can shield ones country from the adverse effects of immigration while only choosing the migrants that would, in all intents and purposes, bring huge advantages to the country, building its knowledge economy and contributing to the overall health and well-being of the nation. Unfortunately you cannot let everyone in, the numbers just don't add up, civil services are stretched and governments end up 'punishing' their own people. Britain is a good example of this. But I fear it is too late now for the UK and other 'European' nations who have not employed 'selective' immigration. Hence the rise of the political right in places such as France and Germany. I believe it is a social time-bomb waiting to explode! That is why I left Europe altogether.
Marc, Singapore

Italy had no other choice. Our resources are not without limit and the numbers seeking asylum are way beyond control. This action sends out the right message to those who are trafficking migrants that Italy is no 'soft touch'. A message which will soon get back to those unfortunate people who are paying huge amounts of money and risking their lives.
Carlo Santone, Rome, Italy

In an environment of increased terrorist risk, Italy is perfectly entitled to protect their borders. The huge number of illegal immigrants risking the additional overseas journey to the UK over mainland Europe perfectly highlights how the majority are in fact economic refugees.
Kristian, London

No country, or group of nations like the EU, can absorb the tide of desperate people looking to change their lot in life. By returning the human tide to the north African coastline they have probably avoided overtaxing the established port of entry. Not that I am against these poor souls looking for a better chance in life, but the world leaders need to provide for them in their respective homelands. We are not discussing a dozen or so, in fact, it is growing and will only become worse with famine and pandemic illness looming.
Paul, Gainesville, Florida, USA

The question of illegal African immigrants go beyond sending them back in planes and building a fortress round Europe. The world, especially Europe, must realise that Africans are suffering under debts incurred under dubious condition given by dubious Western governments.
Tom Ayeni, Hanover Germany

For decades, millions of Italians emigrated to the United States and France to seek a better life. They should know better and be more understanding. Many immigrants do not even want to settle in Italy, it is simply their first port of call. The Italian government can afford to help them and should not send them back.
Frederic, London, UK

Frederic in London, most of my great-grandparents were Italian immigrants to the USA. America accepted them for the same reason it has always accepted immigrants: it was in the national interest to do so. Italy, on the other hand, is an overcrowded nation with less to gain from immigration than the USA had a century ago. If immigration is not mutually beneficial to the migrant and the host country, there's no justifying it.
Nate, Florida, USA

Italy is doing the right thing in sending the migrants away. Italy does not have the riches other Western countries have so they can cope. Unemployment is extremely high in Italy for Italians, let alone non-Italians. Unlike France or the UK or Germany, Italy does not have the welfare system - so these migrants roam the streets doing nothing. This in the end makes the Italian hostile to these foreigners.
Anon, London

This is not a problem to go away, one way to solve it is the make their own home workable, but I understand wanting better. My grandfather came from Poland years ago and if he didn't we would have been burned alongside Jewish people. My heart goes out to them, human cries are not easy to hear or shake off.
Catherine, Winter haven Florida

No, I think Italy is doing the right thing even though it is very sad to reject these people who escape their country to find a better life. I would also like to point out that even here in Malta we have had hundreds of illegal immigrants landing here, thinking they have landed in Italy or Sicily. This year we had a record number of them landing on our shores.
Christopher Camilleri, Malta

Something had to be done. The situation is getting out of control.
Andrew, Ireland

I think it's terrible to punish people simply because they were desperate enough to take matters into their own hands in search of a better life.
Lisa, Oxford, UK

Lisa from Oxford: Wake up. These migrants are coming over and creating a nightmare for the Italian authorities. They put a strain on the social services for which the Italian taxpayer has to foot the bill. I wish that a similar policy was adopted here in the US . I can see that this is a mounting problem worldwide and that Italian Government has taken a head on approach to deal with the rising tide of these illegal migrants.
Adam , New York, USA

If taking on a wave of immigrants is going to put strain on Italian resources, then they should send people back
Dain, Washington DC, USA
No they have not gone to far, Italy must think of its people first. If taking on a wave of immigrants is going to put strain on Italian resources, then they should send people back.
Dain, Washington DC, USA

Economic migrants are not asylum seekers, they are people looking for a better life. The notion of granting political and religious asylum has roots that go back centuries but some countries can be overwhelmed if there are too many. As for economic migrants, the target country has every right to be selective about whom they wish to let in, whom they wish to exclude, and their reasons for their decisions.
Mark, USA

What choice does Italy have? Once a country opens its doors to Third World immigrants, there comes a flood of immigrants as news spreads back to their homelands that the country is accepting immigrants.
Patrick, Luxembourg

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