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African Migrants Revolt for Life & Dignity in Italy

In Borders, Cities, Revolt on January 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Clandestina, 9 January 2009

A racist attack on African migrant farm workers in the Southern Italian region of Calabria by a gang of local youths armed with air rifles has provoked a series of disturbances in the town of Rosarno. Last night hundreds of cars were damaged and set on fire as the migrants sought revenge for the attack that left several of them injured.

Earlier today, some migrants erected road blocks on the main roads into the town, whilst shop windows were again smashed as up to 2,000 immigrants gathered to protest outside city hall, chanting “we are not animals” and waving placards saying “Italians here are racist”. They demanded to see the town’s government commissioner, Francesco Bagnato, appointed last year when the town council was disolved to try and combat local influence of the mafia.

He tried to reassure the migrants that the police would protect them and persuaded them to leave peacefully. Nearby locals clashed with police and the situation was further inflamed when a local fired rifle to apparently try and scare the migrants off. Police said there were 15 arrests and 20 people injuried.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, in typical fashion, sought to exploit the situation, saying, “In all these years illegal immigration has been tolerated without doing anything effective, an immigration that on the one hand has fed crime and on the other has led to situations of extreme squalor such as that at Rosarno”. However, the governor of the Calabria region, Agazio Loiero, said that whilst the violence was “unacceptable”, the rioters had been “strongly provoked”.

The migrants are exploited both by the local farmers and by organised criminal gangs, and many are forced to live in squalid conditions in empty factories. Bagnato however claims that he has tried to improve living conditions since his appointment, reconnecting mains water to the factories and bringing in chemical toilets for the migrants.

…on the background of these:

  • a text by Roberto Saviano, the anti-Mafia journalist and author of “Gomorra”
  • and a months old New York Times article on the strenghtening of the anti-immigrant regime in Italy in the past few months  (both brought to attention byhttp://katalipsiesiea.blogspot.com/2010/01/blog-post.html).

“The Africans Will Probably Save Italy

As the Italian government moves to enact the harsh and discriminatory anti-immigrant policies favored by the Lega Nord, the anti-Mafia journalist and author of “Gomorra” has published a searing denuncia in La Repubblica. It is must reading for anyone concerned about Italy’s decision to address immigration issues by criminalizing immigrants.

“Forgotten Courage” is the title of Saviano’s essay. The “coraggio” of which he speaks is that of Africans in Italy who are refusing to submit to the will and power ofItaly’s various mafias.

Saviano begins by taking on the recent move by the Italian government to send back undocumented immigrants who approach Italy by sea. (This is in addition to the other anti-immigrant measures included in the government’s “security” decree passed in February.) These immigrants, many of whom are desperately poor and fleeing war and political oppression, will be denied the opportunity to apply for political asylum. Many will face imprisonment, or worse, if returned to their ports of departure.

The government and its supporters, Saviano notes, say the boats probably are full of criminals.

Saviano counters, “Those who say that the arrival by boat of immigrants brings an avalanche of criminals, who say that violence and social decay are rising, perhaps are forgetting two very recent and extremely significant episodes that have become part of the history of our Republic.”

“The two most important spontaneous revolts against the mafias in Italy were not waged by Italians but by Africans. It’s happened only twice in 10 years that there were here… public demonstrations organized not by associations or unions, without busses and without political parties.”

Saviano notes that after camorra gangsters murdered six young African men in Castelvolturno, near Naples, last September, it was Africans who took to the streets in spontaneous anti-mafia demonstrations. Rage over their killings sparked a “revolt” by other Africans near the scene of the murders. “Their revolt,” writes Saviano, “brought TV cameras from all over the world, and the images they transmitted were of an entire people that stopped everything to demand attention and justice.”

“In the six preceding months, the camorra killed a shocking number of innocent Italians. On May 16, 2008, Domenico Noviello, who ten years ago had reported extortion, was killed right after losing his police protection. But nothing, no protest at all. No Italians took to the streets. The few who were outraged….felt ever more alone and powerless.”

“But their aloneness was finally broken on the morning of the 19th [of September 2008] when hundreds and hundreds of African men and women occupied the streets and screamed their indignation in the face of Italians.” Saviano notes that there was vandalism during the protests, but “the extraordinary thing is that the day after, the Africans took it upon themselves to repair the damages.”  “Their objective was to attract attention and say, ‘Don’t try it ever again.’”

Saviano then writes about Rosarno, a town dominated by the ‘ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia. There, last December 12, two farm workers from the Ivory Coastwere attacked and seriously injured. That same evening, hundreds of foreign agricultural workers gathered to protest. Two days later, the attacker was arrested, an ‘ndrangheta extortionist who targeted African immigrants.

“The demonstrations against the ‘ndrangheta, which rules as if by natural right, had never occurred in prior years,” Saviano notes.

After the Rosarno protests, the Calabrian anti-Mafia writer and researcher Antonello Mangano published a booklet titled, “The Africans Will Save Rosarno, and Probably Italy, Too.” Mangano hailed the Africans for, as Saviano states, having “introduced into the daily life of southern Italy antibodies necessary to confront the mafia, antibodies that the Italians seem to lack, antibodies that are born from the basic desire just to live.”

The Africans in Italy, Saviano continues, don’t feel bound by omertà, nor do they share the widespread attitude of native-born Italians “that everything has always been this way and always will be.” Their circumstances, their necessity to adapt to a new life, require them not only to fight to survive but also to defend their human rights. “And this,” says Saviano, “is the beginning of every battle against the mafia clans.”

Saviano is outraged that the Berlusconi-Lega government is intent on criminalizing undocumented immigrant workers when Italy “has exported mafia to every corner of the earth.” Italian criminal organizations, he notes, “have taught the world how to structure their mafias politically and militarily.” Mafia investments, he says, helped developed the cocaine trade in South America.

Italy wants to bar immigrants arriving from Africa on boats. But as Saviano notes, Italy has “exported” worse to Africa – “Italian gangsters have used African shores to bury toxic waste – in one single operation in the Ivory Coast, 851 tons of toxic waste were dumped.”

Saviano doesn’t deny that there are foreign criminal gangs in Italy. “There are foreign mafias in Italy, and they are very strong, but they are allied with Italian gangsters. Their power is nonexistent without the consent and financial backing of the Italian groups.”

Among these foreign gangs are Nigerians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, and Romanians. “The Ukrainian mafia monopolizes the illegal market in home attendants and construction workers, the Nigerians prostitution and cocaine trade, the Bulgarians heroin, Romanians and Moldavians car theft. But these are a miniscule portion of their communities and they are fed by Italian criminality. None of these organizations lives without the consent and alliance of Italian mafias.”

The government’s latest decree targets immigrants arriving by sea. But as investigations by Neapolitan prosecutors have shown, “These Nigerian mafias don’t arrive on crowded boats but on airplanes.”

“Even the desperately poor who carry cocaine in their bellies to pay for their trips and earn some money don’t arrive on ships, ever.”

Saviano fears that “If all the immigrants become criminals, the criminal groups will be able to establish themselves as their representatives and there will not be a document or an arrival that they do not handle.”  Criminalizing these migrants “helps the mafia organizations because it forces every migrant to align himself with the mafias if they have to depend on them alone for documents, places to live…”

“I know,” Saviano concludes, “that the part of Italy that has acted with understanding and acceptance, is that part that sees in the immigrants new hopes and new forces to change that which we have not managed to change. The Italy in which it is good to see one’s self and which carries in itself the memory of the persecutions of its own immigrants and will not permit this to happen again on its own land.”

Published on i-ITALY (http://www.i-italy.org)

http://www.i-italy.org/bloggers/9217/africans-will-probably-save-italy

Xenophobia Threatens Italy, President Warns

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO Published: May 14, 2009

ROME — President Giorgio Napolitano warned Thursday that intolerance and xenophobia posed a danger for Italy as the lower house of Parliament approved wide-ranging security legislation that includes measures toughening Italian immigration policies.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Mr. Napolitano warned that there was a danger that social tensions would be inflamed by “public rhetoric that, even in Italy, does not hesitate to incorporate intolerant and xenophobic tones.”

Under the terms of the bill, which was passed Thursday by the Chamber of Deputies after three confidence votes Wednesday to approve amendments, illegal immigrants entering or residing in Italy will be fined up to 10,000 euros, or about $13,500, before being expelled.

In addition, the period of time that foreigners can be held in detention centers has been tripled to 180 days. An African woman killed herself at one such center near Rome last week.

The bill, backed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition allies in the Northern League, which has championed a legislative hard line against immigration, also sanctions the creation of neighborhood watch groups to increase security on Italian streets.

“We have the consensus of the majority of Italians,” Interior Minister Roberto Maroni — who belongs to the Northern League — said Thursday shortly after the vote. “The government’s commitment on this front is appreciated by Italians.”

But critics say that because the new law criminalizes clandestine immigration, implementing it would clog up an already backlogged justice system. About a million foreigners are estimated to be living illegally in Italy.

The measure could also have a significant impact on Italian families, many of whom depend on foreign women — many of them in Italy illegally because of existing restrictions on immigration — to care for their elderly and children.

“The disorder this law will produce will be terrible,” said Christopher Hein, the director of the Italian Council for Refugees. “It’s one thing to publicly announce a law, quite another to implement something that will only create more confusion, more bureaucracy and make life more difficult for people who are legally here to work.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for a final passage before becoming law. Crossing that finish line will mark the end of a yearlong battle on the part of the Northern League, which imposed its hard-line position on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition even as some allies openly wavered in the face of criticism on the part of the Italian Catholic church.

The Northern League has been pushing its anti-immigrant line with the approach of European Parliament elections June 6 and 7. Last week, one League official in Milan suggested that subway trains in the Lombardy capital reserve seats for native Milanese.

Mr. Maroni has also taken credit for the enactment last week of a treaty between Italy and Libya that includes the forced return of migrant boats intercepted in international waters to their port of departure. The government has lauded the practice as key to fighting human trafficking.

On Thursday, Italy gave three patrol boats to Libya that will be used for joint patrolling operations.

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