di Antonello Mangano
Refugee emergency: €500 million flowed freely last year for the 20 million who arrived from Lybia via Lampedusa. The Civil Protection created a parallel system of first reception- without public tenders- for private organisations. There was a lack of checks and it was in Lazio that the first scandals emerged- cases of theft, rundown centres, migrants who were made to clear the snow, lengthy procedures, riots and violence. Those who work in the centres declare, “We are mothers, friends, guardians.” The situation is precarious.
Rome: €520 million. This so-called “North African Emergency” has cost the Italian taxpayer a lot of money- up until now at any rate. It works like this: the Civil Protection nominates an “acting body” for each region which is nearly always an employee of the very same Civil Protection (thereby leading to an overlapping of the Civil Protection’s role), or sometimes someone from the Prefecture. In Tuscany there are ten acting bodies, while in Campagna only one, but it is worth noting that it is the councillor responsible for public sector jobs. The acting body is free to choose the managing body. “We put ourselves forward because there was a procedure of urgency being carried out,” explains Claudio Bolla, manager of the Consortium Eriches which runs some of Lazio’s Centres.” All of the organisations were asked if they could make more places available. We, already well- known in the sector, put forward our tender. The majority of centres are catholic structures, whilst we are affiliated to the Pd (Democratic Party). We have a history, we are known throughout the region, renowned. It’s only natural to ask us if we have the possibility to create more places.” Each migrant costs €42 per day, minors €80. The Africans receive a daily allowance of €2.50 to cover essentials. It is usually in the form of a voucher, which can only be spent in certain shops which have an agreement with the management. An emergency should see the suspension of procedures, checks and guarantees in order to reach as rapid a solution to the problem as possible. In Italy, however, this is never the case. With the current system of emergency, everyone -except for the migrants- has the objective interest of prolonging the period of reception as much as possible. “The days go through periods of boredom and tension created by the uncertainty of their own future,” an employee from one of the Lazio centres tells us. “There is no lack of aggressive behaviour between them and us, which alternates with a type of infantilism typical of those who become used to receiving assistance.” The migrants await the answer from the “Commission” as to whether they will be granted asylum or not. More than half have already received rejections. Thousands of irregular migrants are being created without any possibility that they can be re-inserted into the system. Despite this, a few days ago the government presented a new seasonal flux decree: opening the doors for 35 thousand new entrants. “The answer takes around 6-7 months to come through,” explains Bolla. “If the migrants appeal, then this takes on average a further 3 months. If you ask the ministries, they’ll tell you: the associations who are responsible for the first reception don’t prepare all of the documentation quickly enough. However, our residents are followed by competent staff and within six months, that have an initial answer.” And anyway, new regulations such as the OPCM (Ordinanza del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri) contiune to be issued. This order, the first of which was signed by Berlusconi (12th February 2011), and the last by Monti (30th December 2011) has not only added several million to the Civil Protection’s coffers, but has also contributed to the financing of the mysterious agreement between Italy and Tunisia, to the Ministry of Defence for security costs and military transfer costs and even the boats that patrol the waters around Lampedusa. The State of Emergency has been extended to the 31st December 2012, even if the war in Lybia ended some time ago and there are no longer large numbers of arrivals. The average Italian is convinced that the money goes directly to assist the foreigners. While in the meantime, there are many protests by the migrants who want to know their future in as short a time as a possible. There are violent riots in the Hosting Centres for Asylum Seekers in Bari, Crotone and Mineo (with roadblocks and violent riots) and tensions have been running high in the Calabrian centres of Falerna and Cetraro. Yet there are certainly no complaints from those clever enough to enter into the migrant circuit. Many suspect that the reception centres for minors have become businesses. It is not so easy to establish the age of an African. There are probably- particularly in Lazio- organisations which have exaggerated the number of minors present in order to obtain the daily quota available in such cases. Yet within the system, there are also those who work with scruples and there are also competent staff. But private management and the absence of checks seem to intentionally favour the dishonest. The majority of checks which do exist are carried out by the Civil Protection’s “monitoring team responsible for visiting some of the reception structures.” Expenses are logged on an Excel sheet. “The term ‘Emergency’ means that those within the private sector can do what they please,” says another employee. It is all legal, partly because many of the normal procedures have been suspended. Legal practitioners call it a “state of exception”. Compared to Bertolaso’s period in office, the Civil Protection has only partly changed. The status of Emergency and the bypassing of regulation still remain, but now the money flows to many instead of a select few. It can almost be considered an anti-crisis manoeuvre, which favours hoteliers, unemployed graduates and social workers. The most serious case, up until now, is that of Roccagorga. We are in the Pontino area of Lazio: forty six immigrants were put in 90 square metres in unhygienic conditions bordering on the extreme “and it’s the same in Latina and Rosarno” commented a local newspaper. They got a plate of rice to eat each day and received no healthcare assistance. The onlus (non-profit organisation) assigned to them had the standard €42 per resident per day, but they were spending more or less €5. The unchallenged scam touched on a million euro. After a tip off from the Ministry and the Civil Protection’s monitoring programme, the carabinieri carried out a first blitz in the summer of 2011 which consequently saw the arrest of five people last January. Amongst those arrested was the president of the cooperative, the municipal Pdl (Popolo della Libertà) councillor of Sezze. For months the refugees were moved about like pawns from one apartment to another, yet financing was never revoked. The investigation also revealed attempts to cover up the situation through political dealings. The refugees have been dispersed throughout Italy, from the Dolomites to Pollino; from the Sila to the remote villages of Calabria; from the plain of Catania to the Belt of Rome; from the Milan hinterland to the city of Veneto. They are called the Lybians, even if they were born south of the Sahara. They used to work in Khadafi’s country up until the war left them with no choice but to flee. Apartments and buildings, often hotels have been adapted in order to provide accommodation, “If there are not enough places, the governing body turns to private companies, usually through Federalberghi, who can guarantee the same service as the structures which typically provide the migrants with accommodation,” the Civil Protection inform Linkiesta. Yet, an employee puts it slightly differently, “They have created a parallel system of reception, but it is second class.” The then Minister of the Interior, Maroni, spoke of a ‘Biblical invasion’ and a plan of action was put in place for 50 thousand people. Today, in Italy there are 21,257 refugees (in Tunisia there are 290 thousand). A State of Emergency was declared when the official network of CARAs (Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers) and SPRARs (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) became saturated. But we are dealing with a viscous circle: it is the slowness of procedures which creates saturation. And this is the same problem which also concerns the Italian workforce. Many workers, after many years spent studying, find themselves working on temporary contracts. But let’s move on to a Centre near Tivoli, where we meet an employee. She asks us to remain anonymous because with the various types of temporary contracts which are on offer, her job security is hanging by a thread. “We are highly qualified, but our skills are not required,” she explains, “we just work as guards. It is no coincidence that the majority of employees here are male, they can’t speak English and are not at all interested in the problems surrounding the asylum seekers.” Regional conventions foresee certain basic services for the asylum seekers (health assistance, cultural mediation etc). But this is just in theory. In another centre, we are told that employees ask their friends who are doctors, lawyers and teachers to come and offer their services for free, to help out. Many of the employees do as much as they can, “As well as carrying out the role of mother, sister, friend, guardian, we are also doctors, lawyers, teachers and psychologists.”
“It would be good for them to be useful to the country which is hosting them.” It was with these words that in the middle of an emergency caused by excessive snowfall that Romano La Russo invited 3000 asylum seekers in Lombardy to pick up shovels and help clear the streets. Asylum is an international right recognised by the Geneva Convention; there is no rule that states it must be repaid. The proposal by the Regional leader of the Civil Protection, remains a hypothesis surrounded by controversy. And on the outskirts of Rome, it actually happened for three days at the beginning of February. “The asylum seekers who cleared the snow between Tivoli and Marcellina were volunteers,” one of the Centre managers told us. “The local community didn’t do much to welcome the migrants. We asked them if they wanted to help out and they were more than happy to do so. We gave them shoes and shovels. Then a few people started to show their thanks…I know that some people thanked them….We also made sure they signed to show they were willing to do the work voluntarily. It’s absolutely forbidden for those who haven’t yet had their asylum status clarified to work and, without the signatures, this would have been a good enough reason for them to have their asylum requests denied.”