An exclusive interview with Anna Bono for Gefira
Guest author: Daniel Moscardi
GEFIRA asked in an exclusive interview the opinion of an expert on Africa about the current situation in Italy, about the “asylum seekers” coming mostly from sub-Saharan countries. Professor Anna Bono recently made headlines in Italy with a book that completely debunks the ongoing narrative of “poor Africans” running away from starvation and knocking on wealthy Europe’s doors through Sicily or other ports of southern Italy.
Prof. Anna Bono has been a researcher in African history and institutions at the University of Turin until 2015 after living many years in Africa. She has collaborated as an expert on Africa with a number of Universities and Institutions, including the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and written over 1600 articles, essays and books on topics such as international relations and cooperation with Africa, as well as demographics and migrations.
GEFIRA: Can we identify one of the more specific events as the beginning of the ongoing biblical numbers arriving in Italy?
ANNA BONO: It all started with the removal of Qaddafi. Qaddafi, bound by the 2008 treaty of cooperation with Italy, implemented an effective control of Libyan coasts, thus preventing the departure of migrants from other African countries. The numbers of arrivals of Africans to Italy prior to Qaddafi’s overthrow were manageable; moreover, they were not organized as they are today. It is important to remind Europeans that Libya prior to 2011 was a relatively wealthy and stable country, hosting approximately 1 million foreign workers mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. When the civil war broke out, some of these foreign workers went home, but the majority started to look for ways of crossing over to Italy.
G: Could we define the current demographic growth of Africa as “unsustainable”?
AB: Not necessarily. Africa, remains, after all, the least populated of all continents. The bottom line is all about Africa’s resources. The way these huge natural resources continue to be mismanaged – to say the least – is at the core of every possible discussion about the continent. The economic policies of most African governments fall short of any real accomplishment, with the result that only a fraction of the population receives any benefit, with corruption, deeply ingrained in most African countries, remaining as the chief obstacle to a serious and harmonized growth. Thanks to institutionalized corruption, Africans are literally squandering away their resources. One example: Africa exports oil in huge quantities, but then lacks refineries, and therefore imports refined fuel.
G: Most corrupted countries?
AB: Nigeria certainly stands out. Nigeria is a classic example of corruption as a way of life. Being Africa’s number one country for oil exports and the second African economy (after South Africa), it has huge amounts of wealth that is up for grabs.
G: Can you describe the average African “migrant” arriving in Libya from sub-Saharan countries? We all know all too well the ongoing narrative: if they go through so much effort and dangers to get to Italy, they must be desperate, running away from war and starvation. But sheer data show us quite a different story.
AB: There is no war in these countries. There is no war in almost any of these countries, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leon, Mali, etc. Yet, these are the countries with the highest numbers of arrivals. The real refugees, the ones running away from wars, are not coming to Italy and the numbers are out there to prove it. The other complete fake narrative is that these young males, aged 18 to 35, are, by African standards, anything but poor.
G: How can you say that?
AB: How can you define an African “poor” when he has paid between 5,000 to 8,000 USD or EUR to make it to Italy? What these young males are doing in reality is an investment, usually with money from their families, to start a better life in Western Europe. The whole story is just as simple as that.
The problem is that they chose the wrong country, although the easiest to get to. Italy has a serious youth unemployment problem that is not going away anytime soon. Official numbers estimate that well over 100,000 Italians in the 18-35 age group leave Italy every year because they simply can’t find a decent job, and then you have well over that number of young African males coming to Italy every year to find what kind of employment?
G: Which leads to another, all-too obvious question. What will all these Africans do, from now on?
AB: Considering that the whole process of being granted – or denied – the status of “refugee” in Italy takes years, they will be an onerous burden on Italy, costing Italian taxpayers billions of euros.
G: Why does this process take years? Is Italian bureaucracy this slow?
AB: When you are granting to any self-claiming “asylum seeker” 3 (three) different levels of justice like to any ordinary Italian citizen, (1st degree court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court), is it that difficult to realize that he will spend in Italy, pending these different appeals, a number of years at taxpayers’ expenses?
In the meantime these people have to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and given free medical and legal assistance for years to come. This translates into billions of euros that the Italian welfare system has to spend, taking these resources away from the welfare of Italian citizens and legal residents.
G: What is the percentage of those who eventually get refugee status?
AB: The magnitude is one percentage digit. The numbers just tell us that the overwhelming majority do not qualify for any refugee status. In 2015, out of 153,000 arrivals, only 3,555 were granted the status. In 2016 out of 181,000 arrivals, fewer than 5,000 were recognized as refugees. Numbers are out to tell us there is a complete fake narrative being served on us.
G: And the others? Those who don’t qualify for the refugee status?
AB: They will be served a foglio di via, an official warning that orders the alien, who is at that point illegal, to leave Italy within a certain number of days. To go where? That is quite ineffective, and it does not make any sense, to say the least. It’s like saying to these people: we have come to the conclusion – after years of keeping you here at our own expense – that you should have not been here in the first place, so could you please now go home? Where will these people go? Is it so hard to imagine that they will remain in Italy regardless of this ridiculous warning and they will find ways – legal, or most likely, illegal – to continue living here or to move around Europe trying to survive somehow?
G: But some Italians seem to like or at least tolerate all this scam (because at this point plain evidence shows all this to be nothing but a huge scam). And, as in every scam, there is someone out there reaping a profit.
AB: Of course, the numbers of those involved of what we can now call a well-established industry are not so small. It’s a growing industry which now commands huge numbers, in the billions of euros. And not just in Italy, where the government (read: Italian taxpayers) this year (2017) will spend well over 4.5 billion euros for this industry. I will just give one example outside Italy: Agadez, Niger. This town is practically living off the migrants’ main route to Libya. All these sub-Saharan Africans need all sorts of services en route to Europe, and they are providing this town with a livelihood that otherwise would not come from other sources.
G: Do you see any light at the end of this tunnel? Any hope that a future government of Italy will turn the tide? We all know too well that forced deportation of masses like these would be next to impossible in terms of financial efforts, not to mention that Italy has already a huge debt that shows no signs of improving.
AB: The only way to reduce the arrivals of these masses is for European governments to intervene effectively in Africa, with extensive information that explains in simple terms to young Africans that Europe is not the land of unlimited wealth for all. Until this myth persists in the minds of young Africans, there is simply no hope of preventing them from arriving here only to find themselves without a job, without their families, without knowing anything about our way of life. In short, without a future.
A telephone interview with Anna Bono, September 2017, by Daniel Moscardi for gefira.org.
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Featured image: AP / Sima Diab
Photo of Italian youth protesting unemployment: Getty images