On February 28th 2013, the Italian Government declared the end of the so-called North African Emergency. Almost 17,000 refugees have managed to obtain a temporary residence permit since the exceptional wave of immigration began in 2011, following the Arab Spring. The refugees come from different countries: Italian former colonies such as Somalia and Ethiopia, countries torn apart by civil war such as the Sudan, and other countries like those in the Sahel region. Many who were working in Libya fled north during the Arab Spring. Italy has spent 1.3 billion euros in handling the emergency, amounting to 46 euros a day per refugee. Refugees have been accommodated in very poor conditions with very rare provision of social or employment support.
As part of the Emergency, refugees were offered 500 euros as a “measure to accompany exit” [misura di accompagnamento all’uscita], a tacit invitation to return to their country of origin. This is because refugees have to apply for asylum in the country in which they first arrive and must live there or leave, according to Dublin II. Many accepted this sum, some refugees asked to live in another country, others moved illegally to France or Germany, and many others have continued to live in Italy as homeless people.
To avoid chaos, the Italian Government “allowed a large number of refugees who have not left their temporary accomodation and shelters to stay beyond the deadline of March 1. […] The circular provides necessary humanitarian measures to continue in favour of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable groups (such as the disabled, elderly, pregnant women, single parents with children, victims of torture, rape or other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, disabled and persons in need of health care), for families with children and foreigners waiting to appear before territorial commissions or waiting for definite answers to their appeal as well as those waiting to receive a residence permit and/or a ticket.”
It was like checkmate. Refugees were being held in a country without any possibility of having a proper life and without being able to leave. The failure was quite evident, as reported in the Guardian and the New York Times, along with many others.
The result was that, on February 28th, thousands of refugees were left alone, without jobs, food or housing. The response was immediate. Two days later, in Turin, students and left-wing organisations helped refugees to occupy three buildings, built to host athletes during the 2006 Winter Olympics and left empty, like 50,000 other houses in the city, ever since. At the moment, the buildings house around 300 people. The neighbourhood is giving active help in the form of furniture and food, and NoTAV committees and other organizations are organizing collective meals and events.
Solidarity groups and migrants held a demonstration on April 10th, the day Laura Boldrini, President of the Chamber of Deputies and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), gave the opening speech at the Biennale Democrazia. This event is meant to be a space for wide political debate on democracy, with speeches, lectures and workshops. Some events focused specifically on war in Africa but, regrettably, no refugees were invited to contribute.
In Padua, 50 refugees asked for somewhere else to stay after their refugee shelter closed. They were supported by professors, associations, lawyers and private citizens but received no answer from the local authorities. Instead of living on the streets, they decided to occupy the garden of a closed school. The visibility this gave them lead to 20 people getting short-term jobs.
In Pisa, refugees should have left the Red Cross shelter after they received the 500 euros but they did not. With the help of anti-racist activists and students they are managing the building themselves, until they receive what they’re entitled to: legal accomodation in the Red Cross shelter and an internship of six months.
At the moment we don’t know what’s happening in other places. If you have any information, please share it with us on Facebook, Twitter or by mail.