Between October 2013 and September 2014, more than 90,000 migrants arrived on the shores of southern Italy escaping the tragedy of war, persecution and poverty in their countries of origin. It is estimated that more than 2,000 have died in the crossing. Both government and non-government organizations and the local population have assisted the survivors with compassion.
This was not an Italian problem only but a European one, as most of the survivors moved to other European countries after obtaining refugee status. Still, the call from the Italian authorities to address the problem at EU level was neglected – the issue of migrants not being very popular at a time of European elections. Only one month ago, operation Mare Nostrum, which was launched by the Italian government in October 2013 and has saved thousands of lives, was replaced by European operation Triton, which all experts consider largely inadequate to save migrants’ lives as they approach the coasts of Italy and Spain.
Where was philanthropy during this time? Certainly it was on the shores of Sicily doing the ‘dirty’ work of assisting the migrants. Was philanthropy able to make its voice heard at EU and national levels during the long debate that emerged among policymakers? No.
During EuroPhilantopics, held in Brussels on 4 and 5 November to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the EFC, we attended a debate on the need to change the narrative of migration in Europe. Among the speakers there was a representative of the European Commission. But is a debate among philanthropists or the creation of groups of common interest in philanthropic activity enough to have even a minimum impact on policymakers? No.
It is time for European philanthropy to change gear, review its strategy and focus on a precise strategic objective on the topic of migrants: to have one single and powerful voice heard in the decision-making process at both national and EU level. It was also the recommendation (not limited to the topic of migration) of some prominent speakers at other sessions in Brussels. Failing to do so means that philanthropy will be limited to doing the ‘dirty’ work (which of course we will continue to do anyway).
Massimo Lanza is a member of the board of directors at Fondazione di Venezia.