Monthly Archives: November 2012

I asked Valerie, the author of the wonderful blog, The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife if I could post one of her blog posts titled “Have We Got Too Many Immigrants” to my blog. Because she is so awesome, she said “yes”! She is always entertaining, interesting, and , truthful. Living in Sicily gives her an immediate and unique perspective on immigration. Enjoy this post and please consider visiting her blog on a regular basis. She does some interesting things there.

The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife

Immigration is a hot topic in most developed countries. Apparently the Latino element in the USA turned out to vote for Obama in record numbers and are now asking for immigration policy reforms, to legitimise their not-so-legal relatives as formally recognised US residents. Olé!

These people are mainly economic migrants, though. In Sicily, we get Africans fleeing for their lives. Sicily is exactly half way between Europe and Africa, so we are in the front line.

I went through the immigration process in Italy myself when I moved here eight years ago. I tried, in those early, naïve days, to point out to anyone who would listen that there is such a thing as the European Union and that I should have the automatic right to live in Italy just because I wanted to. That’s how it works for EU citizens entering the UK.

In return a uniformed, armed…

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The Limits of Hospitality and the Rosarno Riots: What Have We Learned?

Because illegal immigrants live in a state of “hiding in plain” sight, and because so many of them exist in the unfortunate position of living truly on the margins, no one ever expects them, either individually or collectively to not only advocate for their own rights, but to demand them.

Because immigrants, in general ,tend to be seen as “guests,” illegal immigrants are “unwanted” guests—intruders who don’t belong, and therefore, it is (unreasonably) reasoned, they are in the position to demand nothing—not even the right to be treated with basic human rights.  This is the way in which immigrants become politicized—their very existence becomes a national concern, but not in the benevolent sense, but rather a problematic one.   If you are not a citizen, if you are not naturalized, then you are, well, denaturalized—in essence, unnatural, unwanted.  Hannah Arendt, knew a thing or two about having rights and the criminal deprivation of them, which led her to proclaim ‘the only human right is the right to have rights.’

Bullet-ridden sign

In 2008 in Rosarno, Calabria, Italy, a gunman entered an abandoned factory where migrant farm workers were sleeping, resulting in the shooting of two of them and seriously injuring a young migrant form Cote d’Ivoire.  In response, they peacefully protested by taking to the streets to deliver a formal request to the town commissioner for more fair and humane treatment.  Tensions, while largely contained festered below the surface until 2010 when town youths attacked, unprovoked, migrant farm workers with air rifles as took to the streets, predictably they were met with the force of the police, whose patience against the migrants who they felt were intruders, it can be presumed, was running as short just as everyone else’s  in the town.  Fanning the flames of fear and hatred, Roberto Maroni, an Italian interior minister and member of the anti-immigrant Lega Nord (Northern League) proclaimed that tolerance towards the existence of migrants is what caused the tension. These types of tensions are great opportunities for members of the far right, as it provides them the opportunity to say, in essence, “we told you so.”


This image speaks for itself

The toll: 53 injured: 18 police, 14 locals and 21 immigrants.  The International Organization for Migration called the violence in Rosarno among the worst in recent Italian history.  Officials bused the migrants out of the town and put them in “holding facilities” for “their own protection.”  The reality of the immigrant/migrant is such that their lives’ already so devoid of any kind of security either physically or mentally, and there is a limit to the reserve energies that one has in protecting one’s own rights.  The men had no choice.  The town was “cleansed” (really, there seems to be no other word for it) and the seeds of fear were politically sewn, as politicians are expert   verbal seamstresses.  The cruel irony is that if the men had stayed, they would have been hunted as the criminals they were perceived to be.  But, still, they fought what could be called “democratic racism” the institutionalized and ideological notion that these illegitimate, illegal and almost certainly criminal population is a threat to the law and order of a peaceful (read “white”) town, conveniently forgetting the underground economy and heavily entrenched activity of the ‘Ndrangheta in the region.

Angry Rosarno residents

Anthropologist  Shahram Khosravi states:

“Unconditional hospitality means being open to a person who is not like oneself who is not the one wanted or expected.  Hospitality is only real when it is extended to a person absolutely different from oneself.  Unconditional hospitality entails recognizing the others right to have rights—the basic right of human rights.”

As can be expected, really, there is so much more to this story and the struggles of countless, literally countless, others in countries all over the European Union.  Is Rosarno symbolic?  Perhaps, but maybe not in the way we’d like to believe.  The struggle goes on as migrants denounce the Bossi-Fini Law, which they condemn as a labor-market law allowing for the blackmailing of immigrants amongst other practices seen as fundamentally exploitative and unfair.

How has life for Italy’s immigrants/migrants really changed?  Probably, not much.  The situation in Rosarno, reportedly, is not much different, given, not in small part, to the collective memory of the townspeople of the violence there and the attitudes against migrants in general.  All over Italy, due to  corruption that led   to the  draining of funds, refugee centers are closing. With a precarious, to say the least, economy, the vulnerability of immigrants, migrants and refugees becomes even more so.  A sad, but true fact.

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The Immigrant as Scapegoat: Alba Dorata Comes to Italy

The immigrant has always been a scapegoat , particularly, but not exclusively during times of economic crisis.

In the United States ,Republicans are furiously stirring the pot of controversy claiming that President Obama’s recent election was the “fault” of immigrants.  Count the ways.   In fact, the controversy has gotten so vituperative , so many right wing pundits seem no longer willing to differentiate between illegal or legal immigrants: just point the finger at them.  The issue is a complex one and I could never do it the justice it deserves in such limited space; suffice it to say, when something goes wrong , the immigrant will surely get the blame.

The  deteriorating economic crisis in the European Union is a serious one.  In Greece, for instance, where near desperate attempts are being made to implement further austerity measures. The Economist reports Greece’s unemployment rate as of June 2012 was 24.4 % .  Only Spain’s unemployment rate is higher.  Further, the jobless rate is 55.4% among young Greeks.   A situation like this provides fertile ground for far right movements who can whip people into a frenzy of intimidation and violence  by providing a “reason” for the unfortunate situation they find themselves in:  the immigrants. In an effort to appease his people, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samsaras promised to “reclaim” Greek cities from the negative influence of the country’s illegal immigrants.  As a result migrants were often intimidated and made to provide their legal documents.  Far from solving the problem, actions like these only serve to unite extreme anger and extreme fear—an ideal mixture for, eventually (if not before) the perfect storm.

Immigrant showing his documents in Greece

“Golden Dawn” is a neo-Nazi and fascist group, labels that they , not surprisingly reject. They are anti-immigrant, amongst being against many, many other things, but currently their violence is almost singularly aimed at the nations immigrants who they feel are, in a crippled economy with jobs as rare as hen’s teeth, taking jobs they believe should go to native Greeks.  Members of Golden Dawn are reported to patrol businesses to make sure that owners are hiring Greeks exclusively.  One can imagine the fear and intimidation in Athens, currently a hot bed of increasingly hostile and restless youth, looking for answers that Golden Dawn is more than willing to provide.  With their black t-shirts with a symbol similar to a swastika, they are setting up shop in smaller towns, spreading their message like an unstoppable cancer.   Strength comes in increased numbers , and with sturdy backup, their intimidation tactics are more bold, more violent, increasing fear in an already difficult and confusing time. Xenophobia is not only alive and well, but is thriving in Greece.  And it seemed just a matter of time before Golden Dawn’s influence spread into Italy, though, the Italians, too , have their share of   extreme right wing movements.

Golden Dawn in Athens

Alba Dorata (Golden Dawn Italy) has a branch in Trieste.   It’s founder is Alessandro Gardossi, who was a former member of Forza Nuova , another neo-fascist party.  With the heartbreak of so many lives’ lost in the Mediterranean, and hardship upon hardship, immigrants, migrants and refugees now must contend with a movement that is not only opposed to them in the philosophical sense (Go home immigrant!) but want to intimidate and physically harm them in the most awful of ways.  Any weapon will do , and any immigrant fair game.

Symbol of Hate

Greece and Italy are two countries traditionally chosen by immigrants and migrants either as a permanent destination or a stopping place on the way to somewhere else, one can only imagine the possible escalation of violence fueled by chronic anger and disillusionment.

Martin Luther King Jr. a man of peace amidst a time of great turmoil wrote ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’  Violence will not deter People will always cross borders.  People will always try to seek a better life .  People will always take terribly risks in order to attempt to make this happen.  Unfortunately, there will always be people who feel deprived of opportunity themselves and who will stop at nothing to make sure that others are deprived too.  And if they look different or speak differently, they are not entitled to a damn thing.  And that cycle of xenophobia not only goes on and on , but , in desperate times flourishes.  And even worse, to the unenlightened, somehow, seems to make sense.



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Women Migrants in the Mediterranean: Double Jeopardy

The story is the same sad one which seems destined to be repeated over and over:  On Sunday, between the Libyan coast and the island of Lampedusa , a migrant vessel sank and  ten “would be” migrants drowned in the Mediterranean while  sixty-two others were rescued.

Women Migrants

Three of the ten bodies were that of women, accounts of which you do not often hear about. The photos and accounts of both death and survival are grim in their familiarity:  so many young men who perish during dangerous trips in ill-equipped boats. But what of the women?  Since immigration laws have changed in past years, it has changed the face of migration.  It would seem that the dictum “only the strong survive” would apply here.  Women are seen as a liability on a journey that is often a brutal testament to both mental and physical stamina, as well as the fact that  they may have more trouble finding and keeping a job upon landing.  Jobs for women are most commonly found in domestic service and pay considerably less on average, than what a man of migrant status would be paid.  These women are valuable to the labor forces as they work cheaply and are willing.  They often will move from job to job. Sometimes they place themselves in further peril as they may resort to prostitution in order to survive.

There are so many other constructs of gender that  play a crucial role in how , why and women migrate, especially women arriving in Italy from the so-called “Third World” countries.  Women migrants are often the unlucky victims of sexual abuse and exploitation of various kinds.  They often arrive in their country of destination alone.

If illegal immigrants are “clandestino’s,” destined to not only  hide in the shadows but deliberately not seen by the dominant culture, one could conjecture that  women, by virtue of their sex alone, are even more so.  It is a pathologizing condition, which wear’s one down in both body and soul and erodes the fabric of society. It is a personal condition that is often difficult to transcend.


Amnesty International reports “The desire of some European countries to prevent irregular migration (without permission to live and work in these countries) has undermined safe and timely rescue at sea.” 

For those of you who like statistics here is one:  As many as 13, 5000 migrants have died since 1998 in an attempt to make the perilous crossing in the Mediterranean in unsafe, overcrowded boats, often having paying  dearly for the privilege. It is not known how many of them were women.  Or pregnant.

Now, here is a fact: It was reported  that a woman who was rescued among the  aforementioned 62 was pregnant. It seems incredible in and of itself that she survived the journey.  Only time will tell how she and her child will fare against  the odds.





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Mody’s Dilemma: Evicting the Vulnerable As Refugee Centers Run Out of Money

A few months ago my friend good friend Mody, a Sudanese refugee in Sicily, sent  me a photo of  an article in the Sicilian newspaper  La Sicilia announcing the possible (likely) closure across Italy of  centers where migrants and refugees live while they are being considered for asylum in the country.

La Sicilia, Wednesday, September 12, 2012

He was justifiably outraged.  The possible closure of your home is news that can shake your foundation and dash  any hopes of what is so difficult for a refugee to achieve: stability and the feeling of safety.  Mody was  upset to the point of utter distraction and was losing sleep.  “Frankly, Michelle, tell me what you think of this.  Tell me what you think about the “human rights” when you just drop people on the street with nothing.”

Once again I was confronted with the situation of uttering pointless comfort, but the truth is, it shook me up, too.   The 2011 Arab Spring sent thousands upon thousands of (mostly) men from primarily  sub-Saharan Africa across the Mediterranean seeking refuge.   Government funds earmarked to deal with what was termed the “emergency” (and indeed, it was) will run out on December 31.   The idea of these centers is a good one:  the men are housed and fed .  In the two centers that I have been in, the men enjoy a camaraderie with one another, based on not only their country of origin and their religion, but in their common plight:  far from home and often jobless.  They wait for their cases to be heard.  And they must leave before they wear out their welcome. Usually, six months.

The arrival of the refugees, by the account of so many , was carried out in a chaotic manner and funds were misappropriated lining the pockets of anyone who could make money off of the vulnerable.    Anyone who could “house” a refugee (no matter the accommodation) was reimbursed an astonishing amount for each person.  The treatment of the refugees could be substandard—it didn’t matter.  The “host” still received the money.  Michele Sasso and Francesca Sironi wrote a report for l’Espresso, on the gross misappropriation of  the government funds.

The renewal of the government contracts that funded these centers is  extremely unlikely. This  really  comes as no surprise.  What happens next?

Mody in Sicily

For my friend Mody, the future, if it wasn’t already, has just gotten scarier.  He tells me that any progress they have all made trying to get acclimated to a new life, will set them back—-and some may never recover.

Life is too hard, Michelle. I don’t want to be homeless?  Where will I go?”

Without a job or even the prospect of one I cannot even imagine.  But I don’t tell him that .  Instead, I say, “Get some sleep.  Rest. Stop thinking.”

My words sound hollow, empty. Even to myself.



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