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A report entitled ‘Mapping Refugee Reception in the Mediterranean’ released on Friday 7 July 2017 challenges the misconception that the majority of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean into Europe labelled as economic migrants. The report reveals more than 84% of the estimated 1,008,616 arrivals in Greece, Italy and Malta in 2015 are refugees fleeing war, violence and persecution in their countries of origin.
Professor Brad Blitz, the leader of the report’s research team, said “governments and certain media organisations perpetuate the myth that the ‘pull’ factors are stronger than the ‘push’ factors with economic reasons being the key catalyst, but we found the opposite. The overwhelming majority of people we spoke to were coming from desperately poor countries but also places where they were subject to targeted violence or other concerns around family security. They had no other option.”
The report, based on 750 questionnaires and over 100 interviews conducted in reception centres in Greece, Italy and Malta, also found clear variation between migrant flows in terms of “national and demographic composition of groups, gender, age and many social characteristics,” such as educational levels and occupational status. Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch confirmed large sociodemographic differences between groups of migrants arriving in each country, with the majority of those arriving in Greece presenting a more obvious ‘refugee profile.’
Furthermore, the report found significant variation in approaches to migrant reception across the three states. According to the report’s findings, ‘hotspots’ in Greece act as closed detention centres, while migrants spend comparatively little time in the equivalent Sicilian ‘hotspots.’ Even within Italy, which has for many years received migrants and has legislation in place, there is no standard management of the reception system and migrants can be placed in a variety of institutions.
The report also notes that in Greece in particular, the migrant reception has been complicated by the higher number of actors involved and the challenge of responding to external pressures, such as the closure of borders and relocation initiatives. Living conditions for migrants in Greece are notably inferior; the accommodation offered ranged from insecure camp-like structures to shared housing. In Italy, on the other hand, a lenient attitude towards refused asylum-seekers has encouraged their informal integration through exploitative labour practices.
Based on these findings, the report’s authors recommend that migrant reception and integration should be standardized and improved across the European Union; there should be greater coordination between the Greek, Italian governments and EU institutions; conditions in Greek reception centres, in particular, should be improved, with adequate EU support to the Greek government. Meanwhile, the Italian government should make it a concern to correct the exploitation of migrants by regularizing their status, even if only temporarily.