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  • Open Access

The Arab Spring and the Italian Response to Migration in 2011

Beyond the Emergency
Comparative Migration Studies20152:2020127

  • Published:


This paper seeks to unpack and explain the relationship between the emergency rhetoric used by Italian politicians and the policies implemented in Italy in response to the influx of irregular migrants from North Africa during 2011. It analyses how the language relates to the policies adopted and considers the impact on relations between Italy and the European Union (EU) in the area of migration. Accordingly, I address two main questions. How can we understand the emergency lexicon in relation to the policies adopted by Italy in response to irregular arrivals from North Africa in 2011? Secondly, what are the implications for EU-Italian engagement? In other words, how has the vehement and popularized emergency-centred debate in Italy affected interaction between Italy and the EU?

To tackle these questions, the analysis is divided into five sections. The first section introduces the academic discussion on migration in Italy and focuses on three themes central to this paper: emergency, ambiguities in migration policies, and the EU as vincolo esterno (external constraint). The second section illustrates briefly the methodology employed and explains the selection of the case-study. Thirdly, I outline and examine the policies implemented by Italy between January and December 2011 and investigate the shifting language along the crisis-normality continuum. The fourth section turns to the international level and chronicles the relations between Italy and the European Union concerning irregular arrivals from North Africa. With regard to the latter, attention is given to the implications of the agreement between Tunisia and Italy. The domestic and international strands are brought together in the fifth section, which probes the reliance on discourses of emergency in the way that migration and asylum policies are presented vis-à-vis the European Union. Fear, I argue, remains a key factor in the shaping of ideas and policies across both the domestic and international domains. However, not all the policies adopted can be ascribed to the logic of fear alone, and indeed some actually run counter to the emergency rationale that shapes the wider political debate.


  • Italy
  • European Union
  • Migration
  • Arab Spring
  • emergency