Although widely admired and supported for their liberationist and pro-democratic nature, the Arab Spring uprisings came with much blood, persecution, and panic, and disturbed many people’s long-established ways of life. As a result, great numbers of people had to flee their homelands and seek refuge along the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Among some of the most common push factors that made the Arab Spring refugees seek shelter in Europe were the disturbances in the economic patterns that political instability brought to the Middle East and North Africa, fear of violent riots, lack of trust towards the new and constantly changing forms of government, and a desire to avoid political persecution.

European countries, especially Italy and France, have always been the most common destinations for North African and Middle Eastern immigrants. However, after the revolutions in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, the exodus of immigrants took a mass character and has become a serious issue for the crisis-struck Europe. Moreover, many people from Syria attempted to escape the bloody civil war by fleeing to Europe through Libya. In 2011, Italy granted all refugees a right of residence for half a year, a right that enabled the immigrants not only to stay in Italy but also to travel all over the European Union. Excited about welcoming their South Mediterranean neighbors, many Italian citizens marched on the streets of their cities with banners saying “Welcome to Italy,” and every immigrant who entered the country was provided with Schengen visa, one day’s worth of food, a backpack with clothes, and a map of Italy. According to an interview given to British National Party TV by Nick Griffin, the chairman of the British National Party, who is known for his xenophobic views and ardent opposition to post-Arab Spring migrations to Europe, Tunisia alone exported 1000 people a day to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Today, two years after Italy has opened its borders to the fresh wave of refugees from the countries that were affected by the Arab Spring, migrants from that region still continue to enter Italy in large numbers. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 32,000 people have fled to southern Italy and Malta this year alone. Eager to leave revolution-struck North Africa at any stake, the desperate refugees overcrowd flimsy boats that take them to Lampedusa. They put their lives under extreme risk with the possibility shipwrecks. On Friday, October 11, 2013, a migrant boat capsized between Tunisia and Sicily, and at least 369 people are known to have drowned. Among them were Syrians, Palestinians, Libyans, and Tunisians. This is the second migrant tragedy in the past two weeks; eight days before that, more than 300 immigrants died when their boat suffered a shipwreck within sight of Lampedusa. So far, the EU has not provided any assistance to Italy with handling this particular tragedy or the huge refugee exodus in general. “Lampedusa can’t deal with it. Europe needs to be aware of this. Lampedusa is too small to constitute a border and also support the weight of all this dreadful tragedy,” complained Lampedusa’s Mayor Giusi Nicolini in his interview with the Euronews.

Already struggling with unemployment and barely managing to sustain their population without falling into devastating debts, the Western European countries have not been ready for massive waves of North African and Middle Eastern refugees crossing their borders without any documents and means of sustaining themselves. When Italians allowed the refugees to cross their border, they assumed that these refugees would spread out to France and other European countries in the span of the half-year during which the Italian residence document was in effect. However, other European countries did not share Italy’s compassion for the refugees and were way less optimistic about the mass movement of Arabs to their nations. France expressed opposition to such an unexpected economic burden by denying visa to all Middle Eastern immigrants, suspending railroad communication with Italy, and sending the military to the Italian border in order to prevent the helpless refugees from entering. Similarly, the Netherlands and Belgium increased customs control in their airports in order to stop from entering any North African refugees with Italian residence permits who did not have enough money to provide for themselves. Thus, the decision of other European countries to prevent the Middle Eastern refugees from crossing their borders has left the Italians under a heavy burden: they now have to accept and host all the refugees themselves and do it not temporarily, as they thought they would, but forever, or until the refugees decide to return home, which is rather unlikely.

Italy and Malta, which is the only country that has sent people to help the Italian navy save the victims of the shipwreck, have asked the European Union for more funds in order to handle the amount of immigrants reaching their shores. So far, the EU seems to be blind to this state of events, and enormous numbers of victims of the Arab Spring keep risking their lives to reach Italy, the only safe shelter that welcomes them despite all the expenses.