Public Opinion on Immigrants

In document Identity Crisis in Italy (Pldal 177-182)

Italian Immigration Policies – Legal Frameworks between 1980 and 2017

3. Public Opinion on Immigrants

The Italian society was basically receptive and open to outsiders and immigrants. In the years of the 1970s, when the first increasing tendency appeared in the number of the arrivals, the phenomenon was favourable for the Italian society. The sector where first there was a growing number of foreigners was the social sector where there was a dynamically increasing demand for private social workers as we describe it beforehand.

For this reason, several decades passed when the society connected the phenomenon of immigration with crime. The feeling of fear appeared in the society only in some measures and in a marginal way at the beginning of the 1990s and it strengthened temporarily after a violent crime or case.

The connection between the two phenomena became general and significant only from the second half of the 1990s. The pro-immigrant political powers were the left-wing parties and the trade unions while the right wing nationalists, the radicals and those who were worried for local security belonged to the anti-immigration forces.

It is important to note that the significant increase of the foreigners residing in Italy caused by the European Union enlargements both in 2004 and 2007 did not cause further social conflicts.

Table 3.

The evaluation of the numbers of foreign citizens residing in Italy6

2010 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

North Italy 2,610,007 2,530,225 2,711,887 2,955,515 2,977,553 2,947,276 2,917,258 Central Italy 1,070,386 973,035 1,060,899 1,249,830 1,275,845 1,278,594 1,295,431 South Italy 554,666 390,973 439,915 512,173 541,844 569,666 594,824 Italy (total) 4,235,059 4,052,081 4,387,721 4,922,085 5,014,437 5,026,153 5,047,028 Source: Data of the Italian National Institute of Statistics

5 It is important to note that this amount is not the estimated amount by ISMU like for the year of 2016, as that one is not available. It is the number of irregular immigrants tracked down by the police at the coastline or other parts of the country (Polizia Moderna 2018, 25).

6 For the period between 1961 and 2001, detailed data (referring to the three geographical parts of Italy) is not available. Totally in 1961 there were 62,780 residing foreign citizens, in 1981 210,937, in 1992 648,935 and in 2001 1,334,889. So, in almost five decades, their number increased by more than eighty times.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of see arrivals was around 120,000. This period was the serene and untroubled period of the severe Bossi-Fini Law: there were not any remarkable and outstanding violent and aggressive crimes and cases and the most determinant political forces did not pay real attention to immigration, so immigration did not become a prioritised issue on the Italian political agenda.

Nevertheless, the number of see arrivals drastically increased exceeding 624,000 between 2014 and June 2017. In that three-year period of time, more immigrants arrived to Italy than in the previous two decades which caused a significant pressure not only on the reception and integration policies and programmes of the Italian Government but also on the previously very receptive and open Italian society.

In that period, Italy became the principal route in the Mediterranean, as the major part of immigrants who arrived to Europe chose Italy instead of Spain or Greece, as we observed in Figure 2. The significantly increased numbers and the challenges caused by them rendered governmental responses to this problem a primary national strategic goal according to the Italian people. This goal also overtook such vital topics and issues like increasing the export which is a leading economic sector, or ensuring the energy resources.

According to the opinion polls conducted in 2013 by the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Siena, only 30% of the Italians assessed as the most important priority the guaranteeing the borders’ security and the control of immigration. In 2017, 66% of the respondents considered this issue the most vital priority.

Figure 3.

“What is, in your opinion, the most important national interest of Italy?”

Source: Gli italiani e la politica estera 2017

Not only the topic of immigration became a high priority issue for the Italian society but the level of the previous openness and receptiveness of the Italian society was also decreased.

At the end of 2017, 77% of the Italians thought that their country became a non-pleasant

place due to the huge immigration waves (Ipsos 2017) and only 10% of them was satisfied with the Italian governmental responses to the immigration crisis (Ipsos 2017).

From December 2012, the number of those Italians who think that immigration is a security risk and who assess immigration as a danger for the country is also increasing.

Figure 4.

Immigration and public security7

Source: Demos 2017

The reinforcement of negative opinions regarding immigration has several reasons. The basic reason was first the pressure on the country by huge immigration flows in the crisis period and afterwards, the challenges created by the increasing demand of care and treatment systems of the immigrants who remained in the country after the crisis.

Nonetheless the success of the Minniti reform package, the number of the arrivals to Italy decreased significantly from the summer of 2017, the negative public opinion on immigration was not changed. It can be explained by the increasing number of legal immigrants residing in the country (as we see in Table 3) and the growing number of new Italian citizens.

7 The cause of the outstanding negative opinion is that between July 2006 and July 2007, the number of foreigners residing in Italy increased by more than 21% due to the Romanian arriving en masse. In addition to the dramatically grown presence of Romanian citizens, the situation worsened by the fact that their presence also increased significantly in the criminal statistics.



residency Marriage Adoption/choice 100,000

90,000 80,000 70,000 60,000 50,000 40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

Figure 5.

Non EU-citizens who obtained Italian citizenship

Source: Balduzzi 2017

Although both the number of legal immigrants and the see arrivals increased, the opinion polls show that the Italians’ perception on the number of foreigners is higher than the real numbers. The legally residing foreigners are only 8.3% of the Italian society, if we add to this number the illegal foreigners whose number is estimated between 500,000 and 800,000, the proportion of foreigners in Italy is around 10% (Eurispes 2018).

The major part of Italians overestimates the proportion of foreigners: 35% of them claims that foreigners represent 16% of the society and 25.4% of them thinks that they represent 24%

of the society. The incorrect perception is also showed by the fact that 27.4% of the Italians thinks that the majority of foreigners arrived from North Africa, while only 12.9% of them is coming from that continent and 51.7% of them is a European citizen (Eurispes 2018).

The prolonged economic and structural crisis also contributes to the decrease of the openness of the Italian society despite the fact that the majority of the Italians (53%) does not think that foreigners would take away the job opportunities from Italians (Ipsos 2017).

Their negative opinion is caused by their conviction that the immigration crisis generated a huge state expenditure, and those financial resources should be spent on helping the always poorer and poorer Italian middle class.

The growing number of terrorist attacks in Europe and the growing number of violent crimes committed by foreigners in Italy also contributed to the increasing level of fear in the Italian society. Between August 2016 and July 2017, 28.8% of the prosecuted and arrested persons (in total 839,496) were foreigners (Ludovico 2017), only 1.07% of the Italians belonged to this group, while 4.78% of the foreigners was involved in crimes. The proportion of foreign perpetrators was very high in cases of theft (55%), prostitution (51.7%), minor pornography (45.7%) and sexual violence (37.5%).

Due to all the events and tendencies described above, from 2014 and onwards, the Italian society assessed not only the illegal immigration as a threat to public order and security but also the legal immigration.

In January 2018, the hostile sentiments of the Italian society towards immigrants also appeared in the manifested assault at the revenge of Macerata. All political forces condemned the case.

4. Conclusions

The political crisis in North Africa, the closure of the Balkan route and the closure of Spain and Malta particularly increased the amount of landings in Italy between 2015 and 2017. The inadequate immigration legislation, together with growing immigration numbers and an expanding informal economy, stirred the increase in illegal immigration. From the chronological analysis we can observe that right wing governments always approved more restrictive measures and provisions than the left wing coalitions. The most serene period was the period after the severe Bossi-Fini Law entered into force. There were not any remarkable and outstanding violent and aggressive crimes and cases and the most determinant political forces did not pay real attention to immigration, immigration therefore did not become a prioritised issue on the Italian political agenda and it did not cause any relevant social conflict.

Unfortunately, during the 2015 crisis, when the pressure was the highest ever on Italy, the Italian society thought that the Renzi Government was not able to approve appropriate rules to handle the challenges and problems generated by the enormous immigration flows.

This lack of proper political and governmental responses, the growing number of arrivals and the huge number of foreigners present in Italy caused and contributed to the very negative development of the Italian public opinion on (both legal and illegal) immigration and the increase of fear and worry about public order and security. Furthermore, it did not decrease the false perception of the Italian society on the numbers of foreigners present in the country.


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In document Identity Crisis in Italy (Pldal 177-182)