16 June 2015

A land of barriers

The
European Ministry of the Interior met yesterday in Luxembourg in order to
discuss the new politics of immigration in the wake of the proposals from the
European Commission and in view of the summit to be held in Brussels at the end
of the month. According to initial reports, the meeting ended with a new push
towards the creation of the famous ‘hotspots’ for identification,
categorization and, so it seems, ever easier methods of repatriation for
incoming migrants. Everything is taking place in the heated context of days
thick with declarations and proposals from the world of institutional politics,
a world which frequently employs a mystifying language totally devoid of any
historical dimension in which one could raise the grave situation faced by so
many migrants gathering in various frontier zones.

A few hours
ago the news came out of the eviction of a group of Eritreans, Somalis and
Malians who had been holed up for days at the border between Ventimiglia and
France, with clashes between police and refugees, now transferred to wait at
the local railwaystation: http://www.rainews.it/dl/rainews/articoli/Immigrazione-a-Ventimiglia-sgombero-dei-migranti-dagli-scogli-Vertice-a-Lussemburgo-ab672a44-73b9-4633-8301-301df37d1a53.html.

Meanwhile,
France has closed the border and the Italian government has relaunched the
proposal of temporary humanitarian visas, which would allow migrants to leave
Italy in more peacefully, and also while many new mayors from the Lega Nord are
rejoicing in their electoral victories. For only recently, the few citizens who
do vote have boosted the confidence of those who propagate campaigns for
security based on the supposed necessity to repatriate migrants, singled out as
the unique cause of ubiquitous petty crime and the main threat to the honest
Italian worker struggling to find a job. As such, yet again, no one has instead
raised the question of the actual causes of this crisis, the situations in the
countries from which these refugees are arriving. Too many probably cannot even
name these countries.

Reading the
newspapers one gets the impression of observing a tragic game of exchange, in
which the few players allowed to take part are busy dividing up a powerless
human cargo as they see fit. Thousands of exploitable bodies for the labour
market, hundreds of people about whom to speechify in order to mobilise an
increasingly uncritical mass. I say all this not with cynicism, but through
having concretely observed what happens every day in our country, when we still
maintain the hypocrisy of calling the arrival of refugees an ’emergency’, when
migration is now no less than a structural fact, and only the machine of
so-called ‘welcoming’ remains built around the model of an emergency. A country
which continues to boast about its ability to welcome people, but which at the
same time continues to erect walls and barriers.

We can
start to trace this from Sicily, when migrants find themselves trapped even
from the moment of their arrival, forced to choose between staying there for
years in order to get documents, or to take flight with all the increasing
danger that entails. In Catania there are still hundred of refugees on the run,
who gather together at the station after disembarking, or in the Piazza della
Repubblica, avoiding the various forced evictions. There they join others from
the same countries who, despite having arrived months or years ago, have never
managed to become part of our system, and now survive only by blackmailing the
weakest among them. Even their ‘organised’ journeys northwards have had a
sudden interruption recently with the closure of the frontier due to the G7
summit in Germany. Thus we have found out that the police at the Brenner Pass,
in quite explicit ways, are driving back those trying to get to Germany – even
those with valid tickets – and sending them to the central stations in Milan
and Rome, where the situation is ever more explosive: http://www.redattoresociale.it/Notiziario/Articolo/485694/Tiburtina-oltre-100-persone-nella-tendopoli-allestita-dalla-Croce-rossa

In Milan I
met with A, a young Eritrean man who I first met some weeks back at Catania
central station, when he was trying to explain to us in stilted English the
reason that he wanted to get to Germany. Together with dozens of other
migrants, A had been stopped at the Brenner Pass and sent back to Milan to wait
for the next train. It began to rain, and together with A we were taking
shelter behind one of the many glass showcases besieged by tourists in search
for the Expo when we came across B, a young man from Nigeria who told me about
Mineo, from where he had just come, having been there for some 11 months. “I
escaped from Mineo because I couldn’t bear anymore to do nothing but work in
the fields, where sometimes you’re not even paid. And I’m so angry because I
could work, the law even says so, but I was never given a permit to leave.” He
has a law degree, taught in Nigeria for several years before getting out and,
besides English, knows five other languages, though not Italian. “I’ve got
relatives in Germany, so I though that, to live in this way, the best thing
would at least to be near those who have some faith in me.” In short, through
our conversation all those other barriers became apparent, those less well
known institutionalised borders, which punctuate the daily life of a migrant in
Italy, especially those requesting international protection. Obstacles which
are more or less visible, such as, for refugees in Sicily, the distance which
separates Cara di Mineo from urban centres, but not only this. Linguistic
barriers exist, but also the suspicion and distrust which so often
characterises the relation between migrants and the various agents of ‘welcoming’,
and which reinforce the firmly asymmetrical relation which has developed
between those who aren’t Italian and those who are, who assist migrants and
refugees, but ‘should at least say thank you’ to those who have simply agreed
for them to survive, and offer them nothing beyond this.

All of this
is in the context of a broad ignorance of the multiplicity of needs, beyond the
mere basics, of those who arrive, and the total depoliticisation of the
important work of those who work with migrants (work frequently not even
remunerated), despite all conventions and laws, forgotten as soon as it was
realised that one could simply call the situation a state of emergency in order
to do business and receive kickbacks.

The fuel
for this system is often a tremendous fear, skilfully fermented by those who
have an interest in doing so, a fear which needs to be defeated by the daily
human and cultural work, already undertaken by so many ordinary citizens,
workers and professionals, but which is making far too little noise. Concrete
gestures of those who have begin to live together with and taken notice of
migrants, understanding the importance of their own evidence of how the system
of which we are a part can be harmful, today for them and in a not too distant
future, if not already, for us. Those who are realising quite how myopic and
stupid it is to still be afraid of rethinking our actions and our politics,
with no goal other than to construct a better society.

Translated
by Richard Braude

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