Oro Rosso, Sangue Nero

Invitation to the the first episode of a series of sessions on the Black Mediterranean – a topic amply discussed on these pages.

location: the MET – Bologna,

time: March 25, at 16.30-23.00,

During the meeting we will discuss the working conditions of Black African labourers in South Italy’s tomato fields (particularly Puglia and Basilicata). The workshop will revolve around several tables, each of which will produce a different map of this agricultural frontier.

More info on facebook and on the MET info site (in Italian)

Meticciato

 

On the Problematic Nature of a Word

by Camilla Hawthorne and Pina Piccolo

I am happy to act as a host for this joint article by Camilla Hawthorne and Pina Piccolo on the politics of ‘mesticcatio’, or cultural hybridity, in Italy. Since their essay Anti-racism without race in the journal Africa is a Country, a number of developments spurred them to deepen this initial discussion, which was prompted by the racially motivated killing of Nigerian refugee seeker on Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi in Fermo, Italy, in July 2016.

In their current contribution, which appeared originally in Italian on the la macchina sognante blog, they expand on some of the issues currently facing the anti-racism movement in Italy. Their joint joint contribution seeks to draw both from their professional research and personal experiences in the anti-racism and immigrant movements in Italy and the US.

Continue reading

Israel’s Eritreans in the Picture

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Check out the Guardian Africa Network photo album today with pictures of Eritrean migrants celebrating mass and baptising their children in Tel Aviv, Israel. The improvised suburban spaces used for these celebrations not only provide a spiritual escape from often aggressive government immigration policies but also recreate a sense of ‘home’ in a politically hostile environment. To place this in wider context, interesting work is currently presented on the plight of African refugees in Israel nowadays, amongst others by Haim Yacobi, Barak Kalir and Laurie Lijnders. 51gIhkX8ODL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Particularly Yacobi’s discussion of the ‘Villa in the Jungle’ – a trope that highlights Israel’s moral geographic engagement with Africa, significantly informs this debate. ‘Walling off’ Eritrean refugees, he says, has not exclusively become a vector for reproducing Israel identity as set apart from Africa and the Middle East, but also reflects the persistent attempts of government authorities at active demographic engineering and urban segregation. The active exclusion of Eritrean churches thus has to be read in this context, of the racialisation of political space that characterises Israeli society as a whole.

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‘Out of Place’

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Further to my blogpost on Boreano yesterday, I’d like to mention this report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which just came out last month: Out of Place. Asylum seekers and refugees in Italy: informal settlements and social marginalisation (the full report is only available in Italian so far).

“Based on research carried out in 2015, the report details the unacceptable conditions in which thousands of people are living in dozens of informal sites which have sprung up around the country. Most are asylum seekers and holders of international protection –and therefore legally present in the country– who have been forced to live in these conditions for months, and sometimes years, due to the inadequacies of Italy’s reception system and social integration policies. They include asylum seekers who have just arrived in Italy and who are being denied the assistance to which they are entitled by law due to a shortage of places in reception centres. They also include people in transit towards other European countries, and refugees who have lived in Italy for years but remain excluded from mainstream society.”

The sites visited by MSF include the former Olympic village in Turin exMOI, about which I wrote before, which continues to shelter over 1,000 people, to the Don Gallo house in central Padua, the “Ex-Set” factory in Bari, and the Borgo Mezzanone runway in Foggia, an informal site beside a government reception centre. But they do not include the many informal settlements like Boreano and Rignano Garganico that serve as permanent labour camps for predominantly African (but also Romanian, Bulgarian and other nationals) farmworkers dotted across the peninsula.

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Boreano: chronicles of ordinary racism

On the night of 7-8 May, a destructive fire once again hit the African ‘ghetto’ of Boreano, situated near the town of Venosa, in the province of Potenza, on the border between Puglia and Basilicata. It’s the third time in short period that an African labour settlement ends up in flames in this border region, which is also the heart of industrial tomato production in the South of Italy. The triangle of land between Puglia’s touristy coastline and Basilicata’s mountainous hinterland hosts dozens of ‘ghettos’ like this, but which usually escape the eye of visitors and the media.

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte (2015)

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte

But while national media reports on these “invisible cities” remain extremely rare even during the high harvesting season, local organisations speculate highly about the causes of this damaging fire. Daniele Troia, intendant of the Methodist Church, reports the cause might have been an incident: during a short moment of distraction, a gas bottle might have ignited and caused a rapidly spreading fire. Such fires do happen regularly in these haphazardly constructed bidonvilles made of cardboard and plastic sheetings. But others suspect a more criminal cause. Aboubakar Soumahoro, of the labour union Unione Sindacati di Base, says it is no coincidence the fire happened less than a week after a meeting, which brought together about fifty labourers who had decided to effectively claim their rights for fair pay and better housing conditions. Together with the Methodist Church, USB had started to accompany some of the African farm labourers who live inside the ghetto of Boreano, according to regional authorities under the strict control of the local mafia.

On May 5, about fifty African labourers met the mayor of Venosa in the city council accompanied by USB delegates, threatening to declare a general strike. As Gervasio Ungolo and Paola Andrisani, activists of the Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, speculate, this experiment could have a potentially disruptive effect when spreading to other ghettos and threatening to break the power of the gangmasters. But they are quick to add that the latter are unlikely to be the instigators of this fire, because of the huge profits the ghetto generates for them.

In contrast to labour organisations, regional authorities continue to criminalise the place as hotbed of local mafia and gangmasters. Pietro Simonetti, coordinator of the regional task force on migration, who has repeatedly refused to meet Boreano’s inhabitants, commented that probably, the latter had received information of the imminent demolition of the labour camp. And so in concomitance with this decision someone decided to set the camp on fire. Without further ado, the coordinator also promised -unlike last year- to demolish the remaining habitats and host “those workers who are not illegal or working for a gangmaster” in the official host centres regional authorities have started to set up in cooperation with private organisations. Ironically, Simonetti used the term bonificare (disinfest, reclaim), which raises the impression he wants to rid the area of undesired habitants as if they were plants or animals.

In the meantime, the inhabitants of Boreano have decided to carry their struggle onwards. On Thursday about 50 labourers are meeting in Potenza in front of the Regional Palace to protest and bring their demands to the governor Marcello Pitella.

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte (2015)

(c) Marc-Antoine Frebutte (2015)

 

Afropean conference

The School of social sciences and humanities of the University of Tampere, Finland, is announcing its first call for sessions for a conference on African diaspora and European cultural heritage. Among the confirmed keynote speakers is Professor Paul Gilroy from King’s College London. In addition to academics, the organizers welcome artists, activists, authors, journalists, and independent scholars with a specific interest in the field. The cultural programme of the conference is organised in collaboration with Fest Afrika festival and Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions.

1st Call for Sessions
Afroeuropeans: Black Cultures and Identities in Europe
Sixth biennial network conference
University of Tampere, Finland
6 – 8 July 2017

For more information, one is invited to explore the conference website.

Asmarina

On 13 May, the Human Rights Nights Festival in Bologna will host a rare screening of Asmarina, by Alan Maglio and Medhin Paolos. The documentary tells the history of Milan’s Porta Palazzo neighbourhood through the voices of its first- and second generation African immigrants. It investigating the identities, experiences and aspirations of Milan’s habesha community -a term that has attracted quite some attention lately with the ongoing arrival of Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants who use the neighbourhood as a hub for their onward journeys.

Besides many other interesting events, the festival also screens Jonas Carpignano‘s Mediterranea, about the plight of burkinabe’ immigrants working on Italy’s orange plantations. Their plight has received renewed attention lately because of increasing tensions about their labour condition in and around the region of Puglia and Basilicata, about which I will report later. In the meantime (and for those who cannot attend) I attach the movie trailer.

 

Pro/fuga

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An interesting report on Pro/fuga and the way it tries to confront the exploitative conditions of migrant workers in the Foggia area of Puglia, Italy, just came out on Meltingpot. Definitely worth the read. More information on the current situation is being regularly collected by OMB.

Ghetto Out

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GHETTO OUT

ALTERNATIVES TO SOUTH ITALY’S AGRO-CRIME

Thursday, February 4, 2016, 7 p.m.

Filmscreening and Discussion

Around 300’000 immigrant day workers are employed in Italy’s agro-business each year, 30 percent of which without a proper contract. While picking our tomatoes, olives and oranges, they are subject to violent exploitation: underpaid and overworked, they are frequently forced to live in improvised settlements, or so-called ‘ghettoes’. As Hervé (Papa Latyr Faye) said: “behind your tomatoes lies our slavery.” Yvan Sagnet and Leo Palmisano write in their recent book Ghetto Italia (Fandango 2015) that the caporalato system of illegal hiring corresponds to an internal logic of the labor market that permeates the entire Italian peninsula.

What keeps this criminal market running, and – above all – what are its alternatives? A team of specialists from different European Universities, the film protagonists of “La Belleville” and activists from Italy will discuss South Italy’s ghetto economy – focusing on the cases of La Capitanata (Puglia) and Vulture (Basilicata). The debate will be preceded by a screening of the documentary ‘La Belleville’ by Francesco Belizzi.

The evening opens a research project financed by SNIS (Swiss Network for International Studies)

Programme

19.00: Opening & introduction by Katharina Morawek (Shedhalle Zürich) and Sarah Schilliger (University of Basel)

19.15 Screening of ‘La Belleville’ (Francesco Belizzi)

20.15: Roundtable with Papa Latyr Faye & Mbaye Ndiaye (Casa Sankara), Yvan Sagnet (former CGIL, author of Ghetto Italia), Mimmo Perrotta (University of Bergamo, Funky Tomato), Elettra Griesi (University of Kassel), moderated by Timothy Raeymaekers (University of Zürich)

Shedhalle Bar afterwards!

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Silent Storm

So this is how the season of migrant occupations in Bologna finally ends: in utter silence.

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After the spectacular evictions of ex-TELECOM and Via Solferino over the last two weeks, which -together with Atlandide‘s- was already considered a serious blow to the city’s autonomous movements, occupants have silently started leaving their rooms in via XXI Aprile, in the former dental clinic Beretta -fearing an imminent attack by the police. This means literally hundreds of migrants from Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, Ghana, Marocco) and Europe’s new member states are left out in the streets.

In the heath of the moment, the Bologna city council -through the voice of its social councillor, Amelia Frascaroli– promised temporary accommodation for the 280 inhabitants of ex-TELECOM. But the transfer to Galaxy, a temporary outlet that costs the city council over 200.000 euro a year, has already caused rising protest by inhabitants who say it will bring criminality to the neighbourhood. In the midst of this chaotic transition, other migrants have preferred to travel on, testing their chances within the closing web of European asylum quotas. They organise their journey among the so-called transitanti, onward travelling migrants whose movement is tolerated -even facilitated- by some of Europe’s more lenient border police -a movement against which the Bologna city government says it cannot and does not want to agitate.

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Bologna is of course not the only city that has had to deal with evictions over the last year. Similar actions have been taken in Milan, Turin and Rome in particular (some of them are reported on in this extensive blog). Even Churches don’t open their gates as easily any more, as this new report by Fabrizio Gatti reveals. The change of attitude in Bologna is intriguing because it appears to come primarily from the new head of police in town and his refusal to communicate with the city council on presumed security matters. Ignazio Coccia, who has a background in intelligence, special operations and anti-terrorism, already preordained his plans when taking position in April this year. He said Bologna is certainly a “complex city but I like tough challenges.”

When meeting Frascaroli in front of police headquarters last week, she told me “something has been broken.” Yesterday during a longer interview she explained that these broken ties simultaneously involve her relationship with police and Bologna’s social movements, where she herself emerged. Today’s situation in Bologna is exceptional in the sense that the national government and police are trying to show their muscle with respect to a model of negotiation that was to some extent unique, because it tried to implement coercion within a logic of the overall protection of individuals, she said. So in this sense the evictions have brought about a fracture at an institutional level, too. Rather than an open battle between political forces though -besides the attempt to create a grand coalition on the Left during the last few days in another social centre threatened with eviction, LABAS– it appears for now that the major blow has been suffered by the hundreds of migrants who have increasing difficulties getting a place to sleep, eat and make a living. With the winter knocking at the door, their lack of residency will certainly become one of the major problems ahead.

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