Italy ham­lets strug­gle with mi­grant ‘hu­man ware­houses’

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE - Ella Ide and Kelly Ve­lasquez

Over 85,000 peo­ple have been brought to Italy this year af­ter be­ing res­cued in the Mediter­ranean af­ter they made the per­ilous crossing to Europe

They used to be sleepy ham­lets on Italy’s Sun-baked Padan Plain. But two years with hun­dreds of asy­lum seek­ers packed into over­crowded cen­tres dubbed ‘hu­man ware­house’ are tak­ing their toll - on both mi­grants and vil­lagers.

In­side vast white tents erected in a for­mer military zone on the out­skirts of the tiny vil­lage of Conetta, some 1,400 men from across Africa while away their days, packed onto end­less rows of bunks as the tem­per­a­tures rise.

Many es­cape for a few hours to cy­cle around the area: They are met with hos­tile ban­ners call­ing for them to leave.

“I used to call this place a mod­ern lager,” Cona mayor Al­bero Pan­filio told AFP, re­fer­ring to con­cen­tra­tion camps. The commune of Cona in­cludes the lit­tle vil­lage of Conetta.

“Af­ter two years this is (still) a place where hu­man be­ings are squashed in to­gether, with no hope for the fu­ture.”

“Now I call it a hu­man ware­house. The mi­grants ar­rive, they don’t know where to put them, they have a ware­house, they dump them here.” The asy­lum seek­ers were treated ‘like garbage’, he added.

Pan­filio says the 190 res­i­dents in Conetta have also suf­fered. Among sev­eral protest mes­sages scrawled on sheets and hung up in the vil­lage square, one reads sim­ply ‘Repa­tri­ate the mi­grants’.

'Lots of hos­til­ity'

Around 10km away in Bag­noli di So­pra, some 700 mi­grants are crowded into an­other for­mer military base. There are more barbed wire fences among the end­less fields of soy­bean and corn, and no ac­cess to jour­nal­ists.

Mayor Roberto Mi­lan said the res­i­dents there had held sit-ins de­mand­ing the mi­grants be re- moved, but to no ef­fect.

“The ten­sion is great, there’s a lot of hos­til­ity. There are many of them and it’s not pos­si­ble to cre­ate ties (with the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion). That leads to mu­tual distrust,” he told AFP by tele­phone.

“They come, they go, they ask for money,” he said.

Moussa Bamba, a 31 year old from the Ivory Coast, said he would ‘pay a price’ for speak­ing out about con­di­tions in­side the Conetta camp, but pleaded for au­thor­i­ties to al­low them to use their time prof­itably.

“I ask for one thing, train­ing: Teach us some skills while we wait here. To be a brick­layer, elec­tri­cian, me­chanic. To al­low us to in­te­grate if we stay, or re­turn hav­ing learned some­thing,” he said.

Over 85,000 peo­ple have been brought to safety in Italy so far this year af­ter be­ing res­cued in the Mediter­ranean as they at­tempt the per­ilous crossing to Europe. Many are flee­ing hor­rors in cri­sis-hit Libya.

What has been de­scribed as the worst mi­grant cri­sis since World War II be­gan in earnest in 2014, when 170,000 peo­ple landed in Italy. Europe forced Italy to close its bor­ders in 2015 to pre­vent peo­ple trav­el­ling on­wards.

Since then, the num­ber of peo­ple blocked in the coun­try has risen sharply, along with re­quests for asy­lum, which jumped from 63,500 in 2014 to 123,000 in 2016.

Those fil­ing the re­quests can wait up to two years for a re­sult.

In the mean­time, hu­man­i­tar- ian or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Red Cross warn that the con­di­tions in the re­cep­tion cen­tres are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.

‘We need you’

Guinean Kaba Ais­sata Mo­hamed, a 33 year old who worked as a jour­nal­ist back home, said he and the oth­ers in­side want noth­ing more than to be treated like hu­man be­ings and al­lowed to join so­ci­ety.

“We need you, we need the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion,” he said. “The lo­cal res­i­dents should at least be aware of our ex­is­tence. We want to live with you, with the world out­side (the camp), that’s what’s im­por­tant.”

“But here we are hemmed in, we are iso­lated,” he added.

Italy’s cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment has promised to re­dis­tribute mi­grants so small towns do not feel over­whelmed. But so far, lit­tle has been done.

“What’s go­ing to hap­pen in the fu­ture if they con­tinue to ar­rive?” asks lo­cal Pi­etro Grapeg­gia as he watches the young men ped­dle past on their round-trips to nowhere.

“They are good kids, well be­haved, strong, full of en­ergy,” said the 75 year old.

“You see them wast­ing away their days go­ing around on their bi­cy­cles, it doesn’t seem very nor­mal to me.”

“And when the gov­ern­ment stops pay­ing to look af­ter them, then what will they do?”


This file photo shows mi­grants walk­ing on a road next to the Cona re­cep­tion cen­tre, near Padua, in Italy on July 10

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