Italian Prime Minister Prodi announced that in 1997, Italy wanted to become a full Schengen participant. Italy has been a member of the Schengen group of nations that eliminated border controls between them since 1990, but most northern European nations do not believe that Italy has sufficient control over illegal immigration to permit persons arriving from Italy to enter Germany or Belgium without immigration checks.
Italy apprehended about 60,000 illegal immigrants in 1996, but some estimates are that up to 700,000 illegal aliens eluded apprehension and entered Italy. North of Naples, thousands of illegal African immigrants live in beachfront shacks.
Northern European nations express frustration over Italian policies. For example, illegal immigrants caught near the island of Lampedusa, just 75 miles or 14 hours by boat from Tunisia, are supposed to be escorted by Tunisian authorities back to Tunisia. However, the foreigners often say that they need food and water, so that, after landing in Italy, they are given orders to leave within 10 days. Most instead head to France or Germany.
Italy issued 56,015-10-day expulsion orders to undocumented workers in 1995, but only 7,417 foreigners left Italy as ordered.
Italy's Finance Guard (Coast Guard) demanded a toughening of the country's immigration laws in January 1997 after several more North Africans bluffed their way onto the southern island of Lampedusa. Under Italian law, it is not a crime to try to enter the country without permission.
Italy has 4,000 km (2,500 miles) of coastline. Some 150 North Africans were apprehended attempting to enter Italy during the first week in January. Nearly 3,000 would-be immigrants were apprehended in 1996 in Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island, including a record 1,500 in October 1996.
The Italian government in November 1996 approved legislation that allowed 250,000 illegal immigrants to legalize their status, but the center-left government is said to be reluctant to propose tougher immigration laws for fears of being labeled racist.
Over the past five years, an estimated 300,000 Albanians illegally entered Italy. There were protests in Albania in January 1997 when the government froze about $300 million that had been deposited in pyramid investment schemes, in which the first investors are paid from deposits made by later investors. In many cases, remittances from Albanians abroad were invested in these schemes.
Albania has Europe's lowest wages and some European companies are establishing maquiladora-type assembly lines in this country of 3.3 million sandwiched between Greece and Yugoslavia on the Mediterranean. There are numerous sewing operations, which pay hourly wages of $0.37, or about $3 per day, which puts Albanian wages on a par with Chinese wages. By comparison, manufacturing wages in Italy average $16 hourly; in the US, $17; and, in Germany, $27.
Most European manufacturers invest very little in Albania. For example, an Italian shoe concern there has 550 Albanian employees, but an investment of only $1 million.
Albanian police report that hundreds of Albanians have been deported from Greece in a crackdown on illegal immigration. The deportations began on January 8 after a series of arrests of immigrants in connection with a series of burglaries in an Athens suburb. The burglaries were believed to be the work of an Albanian crime ring.
The Greek government announced plans to legalize the status of the estimated 350,000 illegal Albanians in Greece, but the law necessary has yet to be passed.
In December, a ship carrying migrants from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka collided with another ship 15 miles east of Malta, leading to the drowning of about 283 persons who had paid up to $7,000 each to be smuggled into Greece after flying to Cairo and then going by ship across the Mediterranean. Some 107 migrants were detained when they were brought into port.
"Indian, Pakistanis suspected in mystery Mediterranean sinking," Agence France Presse, January 17, 1997. "Italy: Magnetic South," The Economist, January 4, 1997. John Phillips, "Italy told to tighten migrant entry law," The Times, January 3, 1997. Jude Webber, "Tunisian immigrant drowns trying to reach Italy," Reuters, January 3, 1997. Neil King, "Albania attracts foreign business with cheap labor," Wall Street Journal, August 5, 1996.