Refugees in Italy see un­cer­tainty af­ter evic­tions

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - International - By Me­gan Ia­cobini de Fazio

Yaya Barry left his home last month in the small Ital­ian sub­urb of Castel­n­uovo di Porto when it was still dark, as he did ev­ery morn­ing, to go to work in Rome. It was a long com­mute to a tough job — hand­ing out fly­ers and putting up posters — but it had taken him months to find work, and he was grate­ful.

That mid-Jan­uary night, when he re­turned to the large refugee cen­ter he’d called home for the past two years — a short drive north of Rome — he no­ticed a flurry of ac­tiv­ity. Some peo­ple were pack­ing their bags, oth­ers were mak­ing fran­tic phone calls to their lawyers or friends. A few were in tears.

“That’s how I found out the cen­ter was closing, and we had to leave. … My name was on a list, and I was told I would be taken away the next day, but they didn’t tell me where I was go­ing,” said Mr. Barry, 31, who fled from Guinea af­ter be­ing ar­rested for at­tend­ing an op­po­si­tion rally in 2015.

Like Mr. Barry, the 535 in­hab­i­tants of Castel­n­uovo di Porto refugee cen­ter — the sec­ond largest of its kind in Italy — were only warned a day or two in ad­vance of their im­pend­ing move, and they were not given de­tails on where they were go­ing. All they knew was that some would be sent to var­i­ous mi­grant and refugee cen­ters through­out Italy.

The sud­den and forced evic­tions from Castel­n­uovo di Porto are a di­rect re­sult of the so-called “se­cu­rity de­cree,” also known as the “Salvini de­cree,” which was adopted in Novem­ber 2018 and is named af­ter far­right politi­cian Mat­teo Salvini, Italy’s in­te­rior min­is­ter and leader of the rightwing League party.

The de­cree, among other things, cracks down on asy­lum seek­ers’ rights by abol­ish­ing “hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­tec­tion” res­i­dency per­mits — is­sued to asy­lum seek­ers who do not qual­ify for refugee sta­tus but are deemed vul­ner­a­ble and there­fore per­mit­ted to stay in Italy. The de­cree says these hu­man­i­tar­ian per­mit hold­ers are no longer el­i­gi­ble for as­sis­tance, which means that some peo­ple evicted from Castel­n­uovo — around 150, ac­cord­ing to some sources — are now ef­fec­tively home­less.

Mr. Salvini called the de­cree a “gift to Ital­ians,” and said in a Face­book post that the new rules would help “re­duce the costs of ex­ag­ger­ated mi­gra­tion, ex­pel more quickly crim­i­nals and fake refugees [and] strip the cit­i­zen­ship of ter­ror­ists” — im­prov­ing se­cu­rity in Italy.

But crit­ics be­lieve the de­cree will have the op­po­site ef­fect by push­ing vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple to the mar­gins of so­ci­ety and giv­ing them no hope of legally work­ing or stay­ing in Italy.

With Italy’s right-wing pop­ulist govern­ment adopt­ing in­creas­ingly anti-im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, the clo­sure of Castel­n­uovo is seen by many as omi­nous. The re­main­ing four cen­ters in Italy are set to close in the com­ing months, push­ing thou­sands stripped of their hu­man­i­tar­ian per­mits to live on the streets. By abol­ish­ing these per­mits, the Salvini de­cree will cause thou­sands more to be­come “ir­reg­u­lars” — il­le­gal im­mi­grants — mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to work legally, rent a home or con­tinue with ed­u­ca­tion.

“The pre­fec­ture called on Fri­day telling us that we would be closed by the end of the month,” said Costanza Fit­ti­paldi, who works as a le­gal ad­viser at the cen­ter.

“We were told to pre­pare lists: 35 peo­ple were to leave on Tues­day, 75 more on Wed­nes­day and so on,” she said. “As if these peo­ple were just ob­jects. There is ab­so­lutely no logic to it. If there is, it’s a per­verse one.”

Over the last 10 years, around 8,000 asy­lum seek­ers have passed through the cen­ter, said Castel­n­uovo di Porto’s Mayor Ric­cardo Travaglini, who has openly and heav­ily crit­i­cized the way the move has been man­aged: “We were not given any warn­ing. These peo­ple are suc­cess­fully in­te­grated, they are part of our com­mu­nity. To do this is to de­stroy years of work.”

The move will be es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult for some res­i­dents of Castel­n­uovo di Porto. “Some of our guests are in ex­tremely dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions; we have women who have es­caped the sex trade, and peo­ple who have sur­vived tor­ture and abuse in their home coun­tries and in Libya,” ex­plains Ms. Fit­ti­paldi.

Mr. Barry, whose lawyer is in Rome, fears the move will leave him in le­gal limbo.

“I just lost my job, I lost ev­ery­thing,” he said. “How will I travel back for my court dates?” He doesn’t know how to tell his wife, who is in Guinea with their two chil­dren. “I pay for my chil­dren’s school, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to do that now.”

Me­gan Ia­cobini de Fazio/The World

Yaya Barry ar­rived in Italy two years ago from Guinea af­ter flee­ing po­lit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion. He be­gan to re­build his life while stay­ing at a refugee cen­ter near Rome. Now, un­der the "Salvini de­cree," Mr. Barry faces evic­tion, along with thou­sands of other asy­lum seek­ers.

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