‘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)

 

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.

 

Death by Rescue

A new investigation by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, accuses European Union policymakers of “killing by omission” after cutting rescue missions in the Mediterranean in full knowledge of the lethal consequences of their actions.
The report ‘Death by Rescue: The lethal effects of the EU’s policies of non-assistance at sea’ demonstrates that, with the ending of the Italy-led Mare Nostrum Operation and the launch of a limited Frontex-led Triton operation, agencies and policy makers enacted a policy of retreat from state-led search and rescue operations. By doing so, they consciously placed the burden of migrant rescue to merchant ships, thus ignoring insistent calls from from shipping industry professional organisations that catastrophic loss of life could occur. Because this decision was taken in full knowledge of the risk, the EU carries a strong degree of responsibility for mass deaths at sea.
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courtesy University of London

In the meantime, Watch the Med, another organization concerned with deaths at sea, has placed an urgent call for donations for its Alarm Phone, which has already saved dozens of lives in the Mediterranean. You may find more information on the organization and the call here.

Ghetto Out

MIC 4

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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Cemetery of souls

Lots of news on asylum in Europe these days…

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While European and African leaders are trying to hammer home an agreement in Malta, including a €1.8bn “trust fund” in an attempt to cajole African governments into taking migrants back and stopping them from leaving the continent in the first place, Europe’s individual states are toughening their stance. Sweden, once considered the haven of social democratic welfare and migrant rights, has announced the introduction of temporary border checks. The controls will come into effect from midday local time on Thursday and will last initially for 10 days, the BBC writes.

In the meantime, German chancellor Angela Merkel feels increasingly battered at home and abroad for lack of vision, and for her unwillingness to apply tougher measures. With Schengen in shatters, the European dream has clearly vanished, the European commissioner for immigration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said. In the meantime, a report from the Brussels based Migration Policy Institute lays bare the huge discrepancies between national immigration procedures. Reception conditions vary greatly from country to country, with some offering the minimum standard of shelter, food and clothes (like Italy and Greece) and others offering services for active integration, including schooling and work permits -which causes migrants to ‘shop around’ for better benefits.

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The biggest obstacle, however, appears to be working permits: because European directives only designate the right to work, but not the actual possibility to exercise this right, migrants are sometimes actively pushed back into illegality. Similar perplexities surround the right to housing, on which I’ve written before here: without actual residence permits, migrants are regularly excluded from fundamental rights to health care and other social services, regardless of their paperwork. As long as these rights are not properly defined within a revised Dublin system -which has in any case become ‘obsolete‘ according to Angela Merkel, the European right to asylum will remain largely death letter.

While the European asylum system is disintegrating, photographer Giles Duley reports back from Lesbos as part of his work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He introduces a new series of images documenting the plight of the world’s displaced people: cemetery of souls indeed…

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Hide and Seek

After Austria announced its border closures two weeks ago, Slovenia has started building several fences alongside its border with Croatia -thus forcing migrants to choose alternative routes. Though Reuters has no news on where and when the fence building would start, the Frankfurer Allgemeine (FAZ) mentions several border ‘obstacles‘ at Bregana/Rajec, Gornji Macelj, and Rupa, the main crossings from Zagreb towards Slovenia (respectively to the North, Northwest and East, towards Maribor, Ljubljana and Trieste, in Italy). This means migrants coming from Croatia practically have no alternative then to go straight to Italy -possibly facing another dangerous sea route.

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The Slovenian government says these obstacles are not meant to completely seal of the border but just to “divert” migrants. Already on Monday evening, it took several emergency measures to protect the Schengen area in preparation of the arrival of up to 30.000 refugees to Slovenia this week. The small country has become one of the main transit countries on the so-called Balkan route.

The constant migrant flows across the Balkan route are triggering an intriguing sequence of openings and closures towards the EU, as this interesting map from Reuters (September 2015) shows. In the meantime, an interactive Refugee Volunteer map has been introduced on google, which indicates changing camp sites and possible border crossings.

 

Slovenia and Croatia (which does not belong to the Schengen area) have agreed now to allow a maximum of 1000 migrants to cross the border every three hours, the FAZ writes. On Monday Croatia sent more then 5000 people onwards to Slovenia, which caused the Alpine country to seal off its borders. While the border between Croatia and Hungary is closed, and Hungary has built a border fence with Serbia, the latter allows migrants to cross the country after registration at its border checkpoints with Macedonia. Croatia continues to channel its migrants through several, mobile camp sites -amongst others in Opatovac (which has apparently been closed), and Slavonski Brod, situated on the Sava River.  Ironically, Slavonski Brod served as a refugee camp during the war in ex-Yugoslavia. It was subject to serious shelling by Serbian forces stationed in Bosnia at the time, as this book on war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia indicates. For now, it appears to suit Croatian authorities, who are managing the camp together with IOM, UNICEF and the Red Cross, best because it has its independent railway station to channel migrants in and out of the camp swiftly.

Besides these overlapping borderscapes, European leaders face serious difficulties diffusing the tensions these constant migrant flows to the Schengen area generate. While Balkan leaders continue to scream for emergency measures (Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov was quoted as using U.S. independence hero Benjamin Franklin’s saying: “If we don’t stick together we will hang separately” two weeks ago), EU Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker increasingly attaches assistance to ‘effective border management’ and wants EU-directed migration to be recognised as a global issue. At its upcoming top, he wants the G20 to declare a step up of funding for international organizations dealing with migration crises. Some major battles around the issue of migration are surely ahead of us.

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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.

05

The colour line

Further to my earlier comment a few weeks ago, which critically assessed Matteo Renzi‘s personification of people smugglers in Libya as the slave drivers of the twenty-first century, I to add two fresh posts that further explore the reasoning behind Europe’s bordering business. On Africa is Country, Enrique Martino interestingly writes how representing people on the move as easy prey for unspecified bands of ruthless traffickers is also a colonial script, because it portrays migrants as ignorant and passive. But their itineraries are also driven by an imperialist history of white people moving deep into the African continent.

And yesterday, opendemocracy.net published a letter signed by 300 slavery  and migration scholars, which criticises the EU’s unfolding naval campaign against ‘human traffickers’ in the Mediterranean along the same lines:

[Comparing human traffickers to the slave traders of the 21st century] is patently false and entirely self-serving. (…) [W]hat is happening in the Mediterranean today does not even remotely resemble the transatlantic slave trade. Enslaved Africans did not want to move. They were held in dungeons before being shackled and loaded onto ships. They had to be prevented from choosing suicide over forcible transportation. That transportation led to a single and utterly appalling outcome—slavery.

As I also wrote in the same post, human rights abuses rather occur in the many outsourced host and detention centres, where migrants risk to wither away in oblivion, or worse, are subjected to violence and torture (as has been the case in Libya, but also in Germany and Italy, as of lately).

In two additional posts, Nick De Genova and Harald Bauder reiterate that there is fact nothing natural about migrant’s illegality, but that their illegalization entails an active process of denied protection, involving often intensified efforts to increase migrant’s vulnerability. In other words, governments are complicit in the strategy to deny rights to migrants, resulting in a self-fulfilling spectacle of the border that excludes them from participating in the economies they sustain with their very lives.

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children of sharecroppers, US (around 1900)

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day labourers, Europe (around 2015)

As if by accident, Sandro Mezzadra’s public lecture on W.E.B. Du Bois‘ concept of the colour line -a lecture he gave at the annual KritNet conference on Borders, Migration -and Race, was just published online on Voice Republic along with the interventions from Juliane Karakayali and Vassilis Tsianos, Patrizia Putschert and Klen Nghi Ha.

There is a need to broaden the geographical, conceptual debate on the migratory regimes ‘in the crisis’…

Interesting terms that turn up in Mezzadra’s speech are the verticality and the temporality of the border (picking up on the work of Vicki SquireRobert Latham and others), and the colour line…

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