"Refugees" by Roberto Malini
Refugees: What future for the Roma people and other minority groups in Italy and throughout the European Union?
Open letter to the institutions of the United Nations and European Union from Everyone Group and representatives of the Roma people and immigrant community in Italy.
On Sunday, August 30th, 2009, the Italian authorities carried out the umpteenth pushing back to Libya of about 80 Somali and Eritrean refugees, people in precarious health who would have been entitled to asylum. In Gaddafi’s Libyan prisons the refugees, (many of them women and children and sick people) are in serious danger of being subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, torture and even death. On September 1st, the refugees themselves, aboard the patrol boats of the Guardia di Finanza (Finance Guards), issued a desperate appeal over a satellite phone before being put ashore in the Libyan port of Al Zuwarah. “We are exhausted, some of us are in a bad way. We can see the houses of a city in the distance and we fear we are about to be forced to go ashore. Please help us,” said the immigrant over the phone to a journalist of Somali origin who works for the BBC. “We told the Italian finance guards of our intention to apply for asylum, and we begged them not to hand us over to the Libyans as we fear we will end up in prison, but they would not listen to us.” The Italian policies on immigration are a clear violation of the Geneva Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all the charters, treaties and statutes concerning the defence of civil and political rights.
EveryOne Group is asking the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, (who has already criticized this latest umpteenth criminal pushing-back of refugees) to go one step further. The commission needs to take a precise stance, and communicate quite clearly the sanctions Italy will face if it continues with such serious violations. We must point out that the Italian Parliament has recently approved an anti-immigrant law (No. 94/2009) put forward by the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni and Prime Minister Berlusconi. Since August 8th, when the law came into force, refugees have been turned into criminals. The law allows for their imprisonment in a detention centre for up to six months. The immigrants are kept in inhuman health and sanitary conditions, as confirmed by volunteers from Doctors Without Borders and some MPs and senators who have inspected several of the Italian CIEs. From here they will be deported to countries where they will be subjected to punishment. The effects of racial law No. 94 are already being felt, because refugees from Africa, suffering from TB and AIDS are no longer going to hospitals as they fear expulsion. At the same time parents considered “irregular” immigrants are not sending their children to school. In a city as large as Milan, only about a dozen children (whose parents can be considered “illegal immigrants”) have been signed up to nursery school, while the others are being hidden away in unhealthy, derelict places, just like Ann Frank during the Hitler years. Recently, Mariolina Moioli, the Councillor for Social Policies in Milan, stated: “Now we find ourselves with the new laws of the security package, and we will study these laws, seeing local authorities are obliged to abide by the law.” Law no. 94, with its instructions on public safety, was approved to get around the European directive on expulsion. Confirmation comes from the Undersecretary for the Interior, Alfredo Mantovano M.P. “It was an obligatory step. The directive concerning deportation from the EU states that expulsion with escort to the border is possible only when a person is sentenced for a criminal offence. So an illegal immigrant, even when identified, could not be deported when no crime had been committed. We would only have been able to issue expulsion notices, which are useless, because the immigrants never leave of their own accord”. The numbers show that those who speak of an “invasion” of immigrants in Italy will celebrate for propaganda purposes. The percentage of immigrants in relation to the local population in Italy is much lower than in all the other principle European countries, such as Germany, France, Belgium. Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Switzerland. If we then look at the distribution of immigrants in the various member states of the Union, we can clearly see that Italy hosts a far lower percentage than Germany, France and Great Britain, who, put together give hospitality to the majority of the immigrants in the EU. When it comes to Roma citizens, people subjected to unjust laws and expulsions (again linked to crimes of illegal occupation of public or private land - when the institutions offer no kind of alternative lodging or assistance to the families) we can again point out that there are less than 50,000 individuals remaining in Italy, including both EU citizens and non-EU citizens: the lowest figure in the EU. There are now less than 4,000 Romanian Roma left in Italy, after their numbers have been depleted by camp clearances and terrible living conditions. It is estimated that the expulsions of EU citizens from the Roma ethnic group (through camp clearances, evictions and local ordinances) total around 100,000 over the last two years: a figure unprecedented in Europe. We must add that since the beginning of 2009, Italy has refused entrance to Egyptians, Kurds, Afghans, Iranians, Somalis, Eritreans, Algerians (including women, children and the sick) without even giving them the opportunity to apply for refugee status or international protection (humanitarian or aid). EveryOne Group denounces these anti-European policies, policies riddled with racial hatred and persecution of minority groups; policies which are in manifest contrast with the EU directives and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It is to be noted that in February 2009, the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, a member of the Northern League, the xenophobic and anti-European party, gave a statement to the press on the subject of immigration: “To fight illegal immigration we mustn’t be kind, we must be wicked”.
But in Italy, alongside this rampant and extremely violent xenophobia, we find a worrying climate of homophobia which has revealed itself in a number of serious episodes in various Italian cities. On August 19th, Rez, a well-known gay singer-songwriter was assaulted in Rome. Again in Rome, on August 25th, two boys who were exchanging effusions were insulted, attacked and one of the two was stabbed through the abdomen. The injured boy still lies in a critical condition in hospital after undergoing a complicated operation. The assailant was arrested only two days later, after protests from the Italian LGBT gay movement. In the same week in Naples, two couples of homosexual tourists were covered in insults and beaten up by a gang of young boys. In Messina, on the night of August 30th, a boy was picked up and then beaten up in a meeting area: he suffered a broken nose and jaw and was given a 20-day prognosis. However, he decided not to make the assault public or go to the police, for fear of further attacks linked to his homosexuality. It must be pointed out that, unfortunately, this intolerant drift is dictated by the extremist and irresponsible stance of some political parties, who are encouraging sentiments of racial hatred and homophobia in the Italian people. Political figures of the Northern League and other parties in the majority have released many statements that have offended the dignity of thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, and undermined the fundamental rights of the Roma people, immigrants and the homeless. In the last few days, while dozens of Eritrean refugees were drowning in the stretch of sea that separates Italy from Libya, and the Italian and Maltese authorities were blaming each other and attempting to keep the tragedy a secret, Internet was buzzing with Italian racists playing the game “Bounce the Illegal Immigrant Back”. The game was ideated by Renzo Bossi, the son of the leader of the Northern League. It was reserved for users of Facebook and was also present on the Northern League website. The horrifying game allowed players to push back (at the click of a mouse) the “boats of hope” - kicking the “illegal” immigrants back into the sea. On the Facebook page of “Lega Nord Mirano”, a small town in the Venice area, a leaflet urged: “Illegal immigrants: torture them! It’s self-defence”. The slogan was accompanied by the symbol with Alberto da Giussano, and the invitation to vote for the Northern League. EveryOne Group expresses its worry about the present Italian policies towards minority groups being dictated by the Northern League, a xenophobic, anti-European party which promotes intolerance from a position of power. Let us remember that the Northern League obtained four important ministerial posts and receives ample coverage in all the media controlled by Prime Minister Berlusconi (practically all of it).
Without the support of the Northern League the government would fall and Silvio Berlusconi would be put on trial for crimes of various kinds. The outcome of these legal cases could bring about the collapse of his empire. The Italian political situation is atypical in that it does not allow for a respect of democratic laws. This is because the government is made up of a substantial number of MPs with close ties to Prime Minister Berlusconi himself, MPs that obey his orders without showing any personal critical sense whatsoever. This allows a xenophobic and intolerant party like the Northern League to draft up and obtain the approval of laws and measures that discriminate against and persecute minorities. At the same time the media control ensures that information on the real situation in Italy is being vetted and therefore finds it difficult to cross our borders. In the meantime activists and free thinkers receive heavy threats and pressure. Hungary too has a racist movement that spreads hatred for Roma citizens and immigrants - just like the Northern League in Italy. The party’s name is Magyar Gárda and it obtained important results in the last European elections. The Budapest Court of Appeal, however, after examining the ideologies of the Hungarian Guard published in the press and used at rallies, decided to ban the party. The present situation in Italy permits the Northern League to steer the laws of the country and to violate human rights in all sectors of society, particularly against immigrants, the Roma (due to racial propaganda and the absence of education and information programmes) and homosexuals.
EveryOne Group is officially asking the European Union, through the EU Parliament, Commission and Council, to evaluate the risks the project of the Union itself is facing, considering that its civil and legal foundation is being ignored - from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, to Directive 43 against discrimination, and Directive 38 on free movement in member states.
The right to international protection and asylum cannot be questioned, like the right not to be discriminated against, tortured and persecuted; the right to dignified housing and employment; the right to health and social care when in hardship; the right to protection of minors and the family; the right to a fair trial. The anti-gypsy propaganda which started out in Italy, and was facilitated by the media controlled by the government, has already spread to other European countries. To Romania, for example, as can be seen from the boos from many of the 60,000 fans directed at Madonna, the pop singer, who, before she began her concert, publicly criticized the segregation and racial persecution of the Roma people in Europe. Racist propaganda, discrimination of minority groups and the violation of human rights are phenomena that gave rise to the great persecutions, the dark years of civilization, the Holocaust.
The development projects of the entire human community, (summed up in the mission of the United Nations), and the dream of the European Union – whose founders intended it as a number of countries coming together to promote civil, social and economical progress – can not exist unless they are rid of the above-mentioned evils.
For this reason, it is essential that the institutions and bodies of the United Nations and the European Union put aside diplomatic games and political opportunities and take a firm stance and stigmatize the policies that breach the conventions on human rights.They must speak out against discrimination - for the sake of democracy and freedom - in order that the universal projects that concern all human beings (and which were founded on the most noble civil conquests made by our civilization) are not lost, leaving room for sinister ghosts.