Chaos in Como after Swiss send back refugees

Around 100 refugees are reported to be camping out around Como’s San Giovanni station after being turned back by Swiss border guards.

Chaos in Como after Swiss send back refugees
More than 100 migrants are camping out at Como station after being pushed back from the Swiss border. Photo: Muszka/GoogleMaps

Makeshift camps are springing up around the station in the northern Italian city to house hundreds of migrants who were sent back from Switzerland after attempting to enter the country illegally at the border crossing at Chiasso, in the canton of Ticino.

The backlog is turning Como into “an open-air refugee centre”, local politician Nicola Molteni told Milan newspaper Il Giorno.

And the blame is being placed squarely on Switzerland.

“Until last week an agreement with Switzerland allowed 100 migrants to cross into Chiasso every 15 days,” Alberto Sinigallia, president of Arca, a group which manages local refugee centres, told La Repubblica.

“That has been suspended for the time being, but it was an important release valve that helped us manage migrant flows,” he added.

Contacted by The Local, Walter Pavel of the Swiss border agency (EZV), could not confirm that any such agreement existed and said Switzerland was simply following the rules.

A migrant who wishes to seek asylum in Switzerland must present themselves at the border and request asylum.

If they do not – because they want to pass through Switzerland and request asylum in another country – they are not considered to have refugee status and are sent back to Italy.

“The number of migrants who submit an application for asylum at the border in Ticino with the Border Guard has decreased in the past few weeks,” Pavel told The Local.

“Migrants who wish to merely pass through (transit) Switzerland will be sent back by the Swiss Border Guard according to the readmission agreement with Italy.”

The number of illegal immigrants coming through the Ticino border crossing has increased with the recent warmer weather.

At the beginning of July Switzerland caught  a record 1,300 migrants attempting to cross from Italy into Switzerland in one week alone. One Eritrean hopeful even made headlines after being filmed attempting to make it over the border crammed inside a suitcase.

And on Tuesday border guards caught 60 migrants without papers on a train in the Swiss city of Bellinzona. They were subsequently sent back to the border.

Of the 1,300 that arrived in the first week of July, 996 were sent back.

Switzerland’s rigidity in sticking to the rules is creating “A real emergency situation which risks paralyzing Como’s security system,” Como police chief Ernesto Molteni is quoted as saying by Swiss paper 24 Heures.

The camping migrants are being provided with meals and aid from the Catholic aid agency, Caritas. But with aid agencies already stretched to the limit experts say they will struggle to manage if the camp continues to grow.

“We’re providing food, clothes and trying to set up some showers for them,” said Caritas director Roberto Bernasconi, “But it’s very difficult, we’re already working to help the 2,000 migrants who are housed in Como’s refugee centers,” he added.

“The situation around the station is disgraceful,” said Lombardy governor, Roberto Calderoli, from Italy’s right-wing Northern League Party.

“Como is becoming the new Calais.” 

But Ticino’s police chief hit back at the criticism.

“We register a big proportion of migrants who arrive in our centres, though they should have already been registered in Italy,” he told 24 Heures. “We are doing our bit.”

Under the Dublin rules of the Schengen agreement, immigrants must be registered in the country they first arrive in within the Schengen zone.


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.