Still more news about the human rights violations internal to the Italian migrant detention system continues to reach the public. In a joint press release, the coalition of LasciateCIEntrare, Legal Team and Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata (OMB) denounce the CPR (Centro di Permanenza per il Rimpatrio) of Palazzo san Gervasio as a site of repression and abuse. On the phone with a local news site, the spokesperson of LasciateCIEntrare, Yasmine Yaya mentions the presence of some particularly vulnerable migrants who are trying to seek asylum and need urgent assistance. At the same time, the organisation denounces the high degrees of psychological stress that leads some inhabitants to purposively inflict self-harm and attempt suicide. In the afternoon of 26 April, a Syrian Kurdish citizen threatened to kill himself; while two other people, perhaps of Tunisian nationality, threatened to hang themselves in another migrant reception center. Final proof of the migrant rights violations arrived a few days later, with the unconditional release of all 42 inmates of the CPR in Palazzo. Interviewed by the same press agency, the lawyer of the OMB Angela Bitonti, confirms that she and her assistants managed to liberate these citizens because the detention measures were “illegitimate”, as they were based on an alleged social danger that did not persist (remember the migrants had been detained on presumption of having set fire to the reception center in Lampedusa). “From now on, they are asylum seekers, for whom the application of the rule of international protection applies… Many of these people should be helped,” Bitonti concludes, remembering that “we are dealing with human lives, with human beings, to whom life can not be denied.”
The Alarm Phone project publishes its report entitled “Mediterranean Coalitions of Struggle”. It offers an overview of the situation in the three main Mediterranean regions and the developments there: of deterrence, forcible returns, and criminalisation of migrant flows. In addition, the report gives an overview of the political campaigns and struggles members of the Alarm Phone have been involved in over the past six weeks, ranging from 24/7 phone activism, symbolic actions in the Netherlands, protests with fishermen in Tunisia, rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, counter-investigations that speak back to European attempts to criminalise non-governmental rescue, to collective commemorations in Greece.
A violent clash between inmates and police left several injured in the migration detention of Palazzo San Gervasio, Italy. Palazzo, a small town of 5000 inhabitants in the region of Basilicata, has recently come to host a group of Tunisian asylum seekers from Lampedusa, which has been officially closed down for renovation (another group was dispatched to Turin). Officially, the Tunisians are being charged now for setting on fire parts of the Lampedusa camp in protest against their inhumane treatment -a charge that has been firmly denied and contested by a court in Turin.
After their arrival in Basilicata mid-March, some Tunisian asylum claimants had started a hunger strike, in a desperate attempt to claim their right to asylum and to see their lawyers. on 27 March, a sit-in in front of the gates by a dozen of activists from the CSOA Anzacresa collective incited the inmates to protest against their infinite detention, which caused the police offensive (according to this report by Cronache di Ordinario Razzismo). Video fragments (which are very difficult to obtain because of the deliberate destruction of personal belongings by the camp guards) shared by the family members of the detainees show several injured inmates carried away by the police.
After a long closure, the migrant detention centre (officially Centri di Permanenza per i Rimpatri: CPR) of Palazzo was officially reopened in January to take on inmates from the overpopulated hotspot of Lampedusa, which had been criticized for some time for its inhumane conditions (for Italian reports see here and here). The structure has a long history of migrant accommodation. Originally confiscated from organized crime in 1999 (from a man called Antonio Sciarra), it initially served as a temporary accommodation for seasonal foreign labourers who return to the region each year to harvest tomatoes (an issue we talked about repeatedly on this blog). In 2011 regional authorities abruptly closed the infrastructure, officially to prevent migrants to settle illegally within the camp structure. While this decision deliberately dispersed foreign labourers to the surrounding countryside to set up their makeshift migrant ‘ghettos’, the regional administration quickly transformed the former labour camp into an open prison (officially CIE: Centro per Identificazione e Espulsione) for about 60 migrant detainees dispatched from various landing sites in Sicily. In April 2011, journalist Raffaella Cosentino documented the extreme cruelty with which migrant prisoners were detained there at the time (amongst others in this video), causing a subsequent protest and official visit by three Italian parliamentarians (Touadì, Calipari and Giulietti), who confirmed this situation as unacceptable.
After a long closure, the management of the infrastructure has been assigned now to a private company, called Engel Italia srl. Engel is not new to migration detention in Italy. In 2014 two civil society organizations, the labour union CGIL and LasciateCIEntrare, officially denounced the company for serious irregularities in the management of a refugee reception centre in Paestum, where migrants claimed they were threatened at gunpoint after claiming their basic human right to medical and assistance and to legal support. Local associations from Basilicata, presided by the Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, and flanked by LasciateCIEntrare and the legal assistance collective ASGI, already last December attempted to sensitize the public opinion to the imminent reopening of the centre with a joint appeal. Lawyers, who have been denied access to the centre now for “security reasons”, are trying to find other ways to reach the 40 people held in this open-air prison. The only news that crosses its walls now arrives through local associations and through the relatives of the detainees.
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.
Little over two weeks after the eviction of the Ghetto of Rignano the situation in the province of Foggia continues to worsen. Still hundreds of people continue to live in the vicinity of the ghetto, huddled in caravans, cars and abandoned houses. While Minister Marco Minniti continues to associate these informal settlements with “illegal migration” (an observation that has repeatedly been proven false: in fact agricultural workers are for the most part regular immigrants), the police and judiciary of Foggia province firm their grip around the urban areas as well. Yesterday, local sources say, around 30 people have been identified and prosecuted for illegal occupation at a site in the periphery of Foggia, located in a former milk factory. The site has been evoked more than once as an example of resistance against the caporalato system, because workers located at la Casa Bianca -as they have renominated the former factory- refuse to work with illegal intermediaries. And, together with Pro Fuga -a local association from which they have drawn some support- they have denounced numerous times the detrimental effects of forced evictions on migrant labourers. The Foggia prosecution signals a clear change of course in addressing the phenomenon of migrant labour in Southern Italy: from 20 years of neglect, institutions appear to move towards a gradual dismantling of all remaining labour settlements -including those situated in urban areas.
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)
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!
Society and Space just published a marvelous virtual theme issue on international migration, with contributions from Rutvica Andrijasevic and William Walters, Deirdre Conlon and my former colleague Susan Thieme, amongst others.
The collection adds further depth to the ongoing discussion in critical legal geography on the complex and expanding spaces of the law, expressed for example in a recent collection edited by Irus Braverman and others. These authors draw in turn on a long-standing scholarship of legal anthropologists like the Von Benda Beckmanns, Boaventura Santos, legal geographers like Nicholas Blomley and David Delaney, and legal scholars like Zoe Pearson and Oren Yiftachel.
In the guest editorial of Society and Space, called ‘the where of asylum’, Mustafa Dikeç asks the pugnant question:
“Does law produce spaces where it no longer applies? Does it, in other words, set up spaces of lawlessness?”
Parallel to Irus Braverman and colleagues, Dikeç addresses this question not merely from a practical legal perspective (how law is shaped) but out of a profound curiosity into power’s spatial constitution, as John Allen would put it.
What animates this growing body of work, Dikeç writes, is the idea that law may be involved in producing spaces of lawlessness. In other words: violence that is commonly depicted as ‘lawless’ may actually be committed through the law –or rather: through the continuous reproduction of its exception. It is this latter strand that seems to be the main concern of contemporary legal-spatial research.
Dikeç’s question came to mind lately when watching a series of recent Italian documentaries on the expanding migrant ‘ghettos’ in Puglia, Campania and Basilicata (the issue is generating worldwide attention nowadays, some day I need to produce a list of recent contributions). Set up as labour camps for the numerous seasonal land labourers (or braccianti) who invigorate South Italy’s plantation economy, these ‘ghetto’s’ reflect the extremely violent and exploitative forms of encampment capitalist labour regimes engender across international borders today (not to speak about the strong semantic resonance of the term). But they also express how the law (particularly asylum law) consciously creates it own exception, which is henceforth placed outside of its protective realm.
In other words, the conscious abandonment of protection as a fundamental value of state sovereignty within the EU’s national state frameworks is not just made possible through the systematic prevention of access to its territory, or the official detention of migrants across Europe’s many camp sites. But it is also justified through the reproduction of these liminal environments, which simultaneously constitute the law’s outer-space – or frontier zone – and the inner space of cross-border capitalist undertakings. Reflecting on Europe’s schizophrenic hospitality, Andreas Oberprantacher writes:
It is crucial to realise, however, that it is not just states that are implicated in the creation and management of a heterogeneous population of illegal aliens, but also actors that are usually acting in concert with liberal democratic states, so that two major elements of the rule-of-law, that is jurisdiction and accountability, are effectively diffused in a rather viscous and all-too-often treacherous frontier regime.
Somebody who has been working on the transformation of the state’s legal space theoretically more recently is David Delaney. In his recent book, Nomospheric Investigations, he tries to overcome the discrepancy between the legal and the spatial as two autonomous realms. The nomosphere is the cultural-material environment that emerges out of the performative engagements through which the social signification of the ‘legal’ and the legal signification of the ‘social’ materialize and mutually constitute one another. At the same time Delaney makes it plain that nomic settings, like the home, the archive, or the workplace, do not exist in isolation from one another. But they are the contingent products of pervasive cultural processes associated with the nomosphere (he uses the term nomoscapes). His work feels reminiscent of feminist scholarship about the location of knowledge (I think of Donna Harraway and Bell Hooks for example) as well as some of the more recent critical scholarship on borders (of which the Society and Space theme issue is just one recent outcome) I look forward to engage more in-depth with.
Two documentaries just came out on the slavery-like conditions of migrant labourers in South Italy’s agricultural sector. Watch out for screenings of ‘La Belleville‘ and ‘Destination de Dieu‘ at
https://www.facebook.com/labellevilledoc (facebook) and @ (twitter)
The LSE Book Review decided to dedicate a piece on an edited volume I have chapter in, on Displacement Economies (edited by Amanda Hammar, and published with Zed Books).
It describes the book as “a volume of varied, compelling discussions on displacement economies in Africa that seeks to shed light on the large influence of displacement on the continent’s economies, and address the lack of systematic research on this topic. It does so through unusual angles that range from the Somali economy of camel milk to the role that being ‘out of place’ plays in the identity and livelihoods of unarmed youth in Eastern DRC. Each of the ten authors admirably examines both the widening and contracting opportunities present in situations where unpredictability and uncertainty dictate both the economic market and peoples’ lives. All of the chapters in some way address the questions: What do we find when we broaden the lens on displacement economies? And, what is not just destroyed but produced by displacement?”
The book’s compelling invitation – which owes much to Amanda Hammar’s sharp introduction – is that it “to look beyond the crisis of displacement and examine the adaptation and innovation of the economies that persist in, and even result from, such situations.” Also welcome is the reviewer’s emphasis on the cohesiveness of our argument, which, given the disperse character of displacement in the diverse case studies we describe, should be read as an achievement.
You can read the entire book review here.