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On Their Travels Again

In the years after World War II, Italians started to leave again with the help of international agreements- labour and know-how in return for raw materials – for European countries, Argentina and Australia.

Once again, they had to pay a heavy toll: in Marcinelle, Belgium, for example, 237 men died in a mining accident in August 1956. Of the victims, 139 were Italian.

The flow stopped in the seventies.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs estimated that in 1994, there were over 58 million people of Italian origin living in various parts of the world – the equivalent of the population of Italy.

Today: “the Others”

Studies of emigration estimate that 26 million Italians left the country between 1871 and 1971. Then the migration flow changed direction, opening a new chapter in Italy’s history: from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. This exodus has raised concerns for the future, exacerbated by the financial crisis, and given birth to attitudes of rejection and intolerance. Fears not shared, but understandable.

It is, therefore, important to look back to historical analogies with what is happening today.

The situations of the past are repeated in reverse: the boats in the Mediterranean today, were the crowded third class decks on the ships of yesterday; the boat owners, the evil recruiters who a hundred years ago packed emigrants on board unsafe ships for crossings that often ended in shipwreck; the recruiters of labour are no different from the agents of criminal gangs who “sold” emigrants to unscrupulous employers.

The parallels are infinite, the results, often tragic, identical.

It is essential, remembering the work done by our emigrants, to assess the positive contribution to the host nation. In an Italy with an aging population, the contribution of immigrants sustains demographic and economic development. Already today, they provide a consistent contribution to the country’s GDP. They compensate for the shortage of labour in the care sector, agriculture, construction and services. Their social security contributions are also important in balancing the books of the pensions system. Increasingly present in the self-employed sector, the vitality they bring to manufacturing and business in Italy is clearly in evidence.

Looking through the eyes of history, it is possible to see today’s migration in a different light..