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IMMIGRATION

It’s a ‘spike’, not an invasion

Italy insisted Friday it was not facing an "invasion" after a spike in migrant boat crossings from Libya exacerbated fears the country is on the verge of becoming the main entry point for people trying to reach Europe.

It's a 'spike', not an invasion
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni (R) speaks during a press conference with deputy head of the Presidential Council, Ahmed Maiteeq (L), in Tripoli, Libya, 12 April 2016. Photo: EPA/STRINGER

Nearly 6,000 mostly African migrants have landed at southern Italian sports since Tuesday but Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the overall trend this year was broadly in line with the 2015 pattern.

“We are not facing an invasion,” the premier told a press conference after the figures were released by the International Organisation for Migration in Geneva.

Fears are running high in Italy that it could pay the price of EU moves to close routes through the Greek Islands and the Balkans.

Italian officials are also wary of the possibility of neighbouring EU countries closing their borders, as France did temporarily last year and Austria is threatening to do now.

Austria has begun preparing for a possible reintroduction of border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps, prompting protests from Italy and the European Commission.

Renzi warned Friday of repercussions if Vienna did close the border.

“If the rules are broken we cannot act as if nothing has happened,” he said.

Italy's interior ministry this week asked local authorities to find 15,000 extra beds to house asylum-seekers in anticipation of a possible increase in the numbers of people requiring accommodation.

“There is a problem that concerns our country but there is not an invasion underway,” Renzi said.

“We have taken certain initiatives but we are not facing an invasion. It is a big problem but we have clear ideas about how to deal with it.”

Few Syrians in Libya

Renzi said the EU was working on deals with African countries to stem the flow of migrants leaving for Europe and to prevent those who do from being allowed to pass through transit countries.

The IOM said that of the 6,021 migrants who have reached Europe by sea since Tuesday, only 174 had landed in Greece, with the balance coming ashore in Italy.

Late Friday, Austria's interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Vienna was anticipating a “significantly increased migration flow via Italy”.

Mikl-Leitner sent a letter to EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos stressing that “adequate preparatory measures” were needed, according to the Austria Press Agency.

“It must also be taken into account that migration routes can also be used by members of terrorist groups, as the attacks in Paris and Brussels showed,” the letter added.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman stressed there was no evidence yet to suggest the Italy arrivals were linked to an EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming the influx of people to the Greek islands.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials will visit an area near the Turkish-Syrian border next week to follow up on the EU Turkey migrant deal, officials said Friday.

The European Union sealed the deal with Ankara last month under which Turkey takes back all “irregular migrants” who arrive in the Greek islands in exchange for billions of euros in aid for refugees and political concessions.

'Increase in numbers'

Migrants who spoke to IOM staff in Italy all said they had crossed from Libya, most of them on rubber dinghies loaded with around 130 people.

“Many of them were from sub-Saharan Africa, and we have noticed an increase in numbers from the Horn of Africa, particularly Eritreans,” Federico Soda, head of the IOM's Rome office, said in a statement.

“There have been very few Syrians leaving from Libya in recent months,” Soda said.

Italian officials believe that any Syrians seeking to get into Europe via Libya are more likely to come via Albania, from where it is just a short crossing to the southeastern coast of Italy.

So far this year, more than 23,000 migrants have landed in Italy, compared to nearly 153,500 who have landed in Greece, the IOM said.

Italy's interior ministry put arrivals in Italy at 23,739 since the start of the year as of Thursday morning, compared to 19,589 by April 14 last year.

That represents a rise of 21 percent, but officials urge caution in interpreting figures as the pattern of the last two years has been for migrants to arrive in bursts often dictated by weather and sea conditions.

There are an estimated one million non-Libyan nationals living and working in Libya.

This has led to speculation that a deterioration in the security situation in the country could result in many of them seeking to reach Italy.

IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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