Pope Francis wants us to welcome migrants. But we cannot ignore the shocking statistics

Refugees and migrants are seen waiting to disembark the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vessel after arriving in port in Reggio Calabria, Italy (Getty Images)

While media reports have focused on Pope Francis’s welcoming attitude towards migrants and refugees, they have devoted much less attention to his warnings of what can happen when a country takes in more migrants than it can handle, notably the danger of “ghettoisation”.

“What is the danger when a refugee or migrant is not integrated?” Francis asked during a papal press conference on the return flight from Sweden to Rome in November 2016. “He is ghettoised, that is, he enters a ghetto. And a culture that does not develop in relation with another culture, that is dangerous,” he said.

A case in point is Italy, the nation on the front lines of Europe’s migrant crisis.

An entire “archipelago” of immigrant ghettos has sprung up along the length of the Italian peninsula, home to a significant portion of the hundreds of thousands of mostly African migrants that have streamed into Italy over the last three years.

During 2017, immigration into Italy made up 64 per cent of total immigration into Europe, and nearly all of those migrants ended up staying in Italy rather than moving north, in large part because of tightened northern Italian border controls with France, Switzerland and Austria. But rather than integrating into Italian society, these hundreds of thousands of migrants have congregated in “camps” and neighbourhoods that bear a striking resemblance to the ghettoes that Pope Francis has warned against.

And the dangers of ghettoes are not limited to the very real threat of crime or violence that some migrants pose for citizens. They are also a serious danger for the migrants themselves, who often become victims of exploitation, violence and even slavery.

In their 2016 bookGhetto Italia, Yvan Sagnet and Leonardo Palmisano documented in horrifying detail the situation in which thousands of ghettoised migrants currently live in Italy, where their most basic human rights are routinely trampled upon and where integration into the native population is not really an option.

Consider the countries they are coming from. Nigeria plays a key role in supplying prostitutes to Italy, often through deceit and threats of violence. Currently, half of the prostitutes working in Italy are Nigerians and roughly 80 per cent of Nigerian women who migrate to Italy wind up in prostitution. From 2014 to 2016, more than 12,000 Nigerian girls and women arrived in Italy; of these, four out of five wound up in prostitution.

In an increasingly polarised world, there is a tendency to jump to accusations of xenophobia and racism as soon as objections to mass migration are put forward. But, as in so many other areas of human life, we over-simplify things. The adjectives “pro-immigration” and “anti-immigration” do not do justice to the complexity of the situation.

The Pope has offered valuable points of reference for a rational discussion on immigration. It is up to people of good will to move beyond name-calling and finger-pointing to work toward sustainable solutions that promote the common good.

It is not easy to know where to start, but one thing is for sure: we cannot afford to ignore the grim statistics.