The Difference is in People’s Eyes

Centro Astalli gives legal advise to refugees in Italy.

Italy, being on the migrant route, starting from West Africa through Tripoli, or, from the other side, through Marocco to Spain, did not see a big difference in numbers of migrants in the fall of 2015. The difference I see, is rather in hate-filled people’s eyes and restrictions in the international protection procedure.

Working in the legal service of an Italian NGO, Centro Astalli – Jesuit Refugee Services Italy, I have seen many attempts to improve or restrict the international protection procedure. Left and right wings have followed each other to govern, with not a real solution for a pacific cohabitation.

Willy Monteiro Duarte was born in Italy by a Capoverdian family who came in the 1980s. He lived in Colleferro, nearby Rome. He grew up with a high standard of values. Most of his friends were Italian, and he was perfectly integrated, attending a Hotel Management School, playing soccer in the local team. Willy had no problems of documents or integration, he did not need Astalli, and I did not know him personally. Only his aunt, his mother’s sister, happened to have worked for my family from 1997 to the death of my mother, in 2014.

Today Willy is on all the Italian newspapers and maybe known also abroad. During the night between the 5th and the 6th of September 2020 he happened to see that one of his friends was in troubles, in the midst of a fight. Without thinking for a while of anything else, he ran to defend him. An action that would led to a permit for “special cases” for heroic acts, in the Salvini law. But he did not need it, and even if he did, he would never receive it. He happened to meet some people who hate other human beings, and he was beaten to death that very night.

If law 142/2015, tried to improve the quality of the international protection procedure, giving asylum seekers the chance to establish a residence on the territory, or improving the quality of reception, local authorities together with Minniti’s law first (13/17) and then Salvini’s (113/2018), turned the situation back. Many homeless lost their right to renew their documents, for instance, because it is not possible anymore for us, as for other NGOs, to assist them with our virtual address.

Asylum seekers have been trapped in huge structures with little care from a medical, legal and integrational point of view. Their asylum process can last years, and most of them, tired to wait, leave the centers, going from one part to another of the country. They are often in the hands of traffickers with the worst results.

On the other side, in smaller centers for recognized refugees, people can receive good standards of reception, and good chances for integration. Astalli took the chance to start also widespread reception, with parishes, families and flats structures all over the country. It is a very important and significant experience that is still working, despite law 113 cut many funds.

But the gap between the centers for asylum seekers and the centers for recognized refugees have not been overcome. Big centers with the confusion of huge numbers have been under the eyes of everybody, who started to refuse strangers. People did not any longer see individual, honest persons, workers and families.

At once, strangers were considered all murders or thieves, all with indefinite faces, natures and stories. At once, our country lost the tolerance that had distinguished it for so long, and people started to be proud of hating other human beings. In 2017 a left-wing government felt even called to sign an agreement with Lybia, on February the 2nd, in order to prevent people to leave for Europe.

With the elections, things went worse and worse. Among the disasters of Salvini’s law we can underline that a permit for humanitarian reasons does not exist anymore. After having been living in Italy for years, some people have only two chances:  Convert it to a job permit or asking the commission to confirm a special protection. Since it is the same commission who already thought they had no right for asylum, and with no job, even if they can speak Italian, may have friends, families and links, they will not receive a document, not anymore.

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This blog is part of a series reflecting on what has happened since the fall of 2015 when the number of people searching refuge in Europe reached new levels. Emanuela Ricci is a lawyer working with the legal service provided by Centro Astalli, at the headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service – JRS in Italy. For about 40 years Centro Astalli has been engaged in activities and services, accompanying, serving and defending the rights of those arriving in Italy fleeing wars and violence and torture