Europe has been a favorite, if not the easiest destination for many asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East. Each European country has been the recipient of asylum requests, with Germany receiving the biggest number of applications, according to the UN' refugee agency UNHCR. While all members of the European Union have been trying to coordinate their effort towards a smoother procedure for granting asylum, each country maintains a different approach that can refer to different past, traditions and legal systems.
Among all European countries, Italy has been the focus of close media scrutiny due to the controversial situation linked to immigrants and asylum-seekers reaching its shores illegally by boat. The tragedy that last October involved the southernmost island of Lampedusa, when a migrant boat capsized causing the death of more than 300 migrants, has brought the country and the whole Europe into the spotlight. While in 2012 the number of migrants reaching Italy was little above 13,000, in 2013 it dramatically increased to almost 43,000, and while some held legitimate asylum claims, not all did, causing tensions both within the island' population and among governments in the EU. Under the international law, the Italian Navy has the obligation to rescue migrants arriving by boat as they face an imminent life danger, and refugees escaping from the country where they face persecution or imprisonment on political grounds have the right to asylum. Lampedusa is a small island with a population of 6,000, and the never-ending flow of migrants from northern Africa is becoming a burden that the local council can't manage anymore. Reception centers in the rest of the country have a bigger capacity, but the whole nation is under huge pressure. According to the UNHCR, in Italy currently reside 64,779 refugees and some 6,000 have applied for asylum. In a recession-torn country, managing a continuous wave of migrants and asylum-seekers, mainly coming from Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, and among which, according to the CIR, the Italian Council for Refugees, at least the 73 per cent is entitled to protection, is all but an easy task. Another southern European country that is currently coming to terms with an increasingly bigger exodus from western Africa is Spain, the southernmost tip of which, the Canary Islands, is so close to Morocco that it' visible from the African shores. In 2006 almost 40,000 migrants reached Spain by boat. Since then, the Spanish government has increased control on the greater vessels approaching the national shores, and the number decreased to less than 4,000 in 2012. Now, according the UN' agency for refugees, Spain houses 4,510 refugees and 3,735 have submitted asylum applications. Even though much lower than in Italy, the number of illegal immigrants heading to the Spanish coast is increasing again also due to the fact that migrants are traveling on smaller rickety dinghies that can't be intercepted by the Spanish police. Whether it' migration waves for the purpose of a better life or the flow of asylum-seekers, the situation has been reaching alarming figures, and both Italy and Spain have been demanding that the European Union ensure a stronger support on dealing with such a humanitarian emergency.Angela Corrias