Hundreds of immigrants evicted from gypsy camps! Italy wakes up to the realities of immigration! Italy: a country united by racism!
Such are the headlines these days, prompting us to ask: What’s up with immigration in italy?
Indeed, immigration is a tense and contested subject in Italy these days. Several recent events have increased negative feelings on both sides of a fight tainted by racism, which some believe is necessary to protect Italy’s culture and identity, but others fear is spiraling out of control as many foreign-born people, especially Romanians, Africans, and Roma people are met with distrust, fear and hostility more than ever before.
Less than two months after Italy’s worst ever outbreak of racially motivated rioting, in the southern town of Rosarno, immigrants held a nationwide one-day strike to draw Italy’s attention to their contribution to the country. The peaceful demonstrations accompanying the strike seek to convey that while much negative and stereotyped attention is directed at immigrants in general, irrespective of their person, a majority of immigrants add value to Italy, not least because many of them are less hesitant than many locals to take on low-wage, physically challenging, labourious jobs, which are oftentimes coupled with irregular working hours.
This demonstration adds a new chapter to Italy’s struggle with immigration, and was in part prompted by Prime Minister Berlusconi’s attempt to shift the focus back to immigration, aimed at gaining votes ahead of regional elections this month. The Prime Minister has openly said that he is against the vision of a multi-cultural Italy.
In January, the southern town of Rosarno was the scene of Italy’s worst ever outbreak of racially motivated rioting, and hundreds of African fruit pickers were hauled out of the town following battles with locals. Shortly afterwards, an Egyptian man was left dying in Milan after a fight between North Africans and Latin Americans, an incident which triggered hours of rioting by North Africans on Milan’s multi-ethnic Via Padova, during which 36 cars were damaged or overturned and five businesses, mostly run by South Americans, were destroyed.
Also highly affected by Italy’s anti-immigration policies – the most aggressive ones in recent years – and the anti-immigrant sentiment, are the Roma, living in gypsy camps all over Italy. In Rome alone, there are 18 Roma camps (nine are authorized, nine are unauthorized), a number which is to be whittled down a total of ten by the end of 2010. The Roma are an especially contested immigrant population, given their apparent wish not to be integrated, but instead to live separate from the general italian population, as well as the bad reputation that has been earned for the Roma by some criminal individuals. While it is tempting to think in stereotypes, it must be kept in mind that discriminatinon against ethnicity is a violation of basic human rights, and has brought about some of the most horrendous large-scale crimes in history.
But perhaps it is the prevalence of stereotypes that can help us understand the aftermath of the horrific murder of an italian woman in her fourties, who died after having been violently attacked, in a part of northern Rome generally considered safe. Although a young man of Roma origin admitted to the crime, and was put on trial, the gypsy camp where he lived was raided by police within days of the attack, the shacks bulldozed, and hundreds of people arrested, to be ferried to 13 detention centres on the outskirts of Rome. On the day of the victim’s funeral, three Romanians were beaten and stabbed in a Rome suburb by Italians, in a violent rage. Richard O’Neill wrote an article passionately defending Gypsy Travellers, referring to this very spiral of violence in the Guardian:
Think hard about the last time you heard, read or saw something positive about a Gypsy Traveller person. What about something negative? That’s much easier. Take, for example, the recent case in Italy of Nicolae Mailat, a Romanian Roma Gypsy who admits to attacking Giovanna Reggiani, a 47-year-old Italian naval officer’s wife, in northern Rome. Early reports suggested that she had been tortured, raped, robbed and ferociously beaten. In fact, she was neither tortured nor raped, though the attack was a horrific one from which she died two days later. Mailat admits he snatched her bag, but denies murder. His Roma neighbours say he is mentally disturbed.
Whatever the truth about this crime – and I know of no Gypsy person who would even attempt to excuse it – it has given racists an excuse to perpetrate equally vicious crimes. A band of thugs beat up and stabbed three Romanians in a Rome suburb. Several immigrant encampments were flattened with bulldozers, and the violence and abuse towards Roma shows no signs of abating. Did this happen in Spain to British expats when one of them was accused of murder?
When reviewing media reports on immigration in Italy, is appears that it is rather more difficult than usual to distinguish between reports that were written with a honest interest to discover the truth, and those that are published to perpetuate the agenda of a political party, or someone’s opinions. Clearly, not every story is told, and many stories are told only from certain perspectives: The realities faced by individual italians and immigrants remain unascertained. Therefore, we believe that this issue deserves a more indepth examination. Over the next few weeks, in a series on immigration issues in Italy, we will publish articles concerned with some of the major events in Italy’s immigration struggle over the past few years.
What are your experiences with immigration issues in Italy? Let us know in the comments.Rate this article by clicking here.
Add your views/ideas/references below, no need to log in.