ROME, March 13 ― In a derelict car park a stone’s throw from the centre of Rome live dozens of mostly African migrants, who sleep in tents while dreaming of escaping to northern Europe.
The March 4 general election saw parties promising mass expulsions of illegal immigrants make big gains, but in reality little will change for those huddled in the campsite.
Their makeshift homes have been provided by the Baobab Experience, a volunteer organisation which has been working with migrants since 2015 despite repeated evictions and police confiscating their materials.
Kicked out of their original home in an old glassworks near Rome’s Tiburtina train station just before Christmas 2015, Baobab’s present shelter for migrants is a campsite that is under constant threat.
“We have already been evicted more than 20 times,” coordinator Andrea Costa told AFP.
“We often say in Italy that there’s no limit to how bad things can get. But I wonder what could be worse than a tent camp.”
More than 690,000 migrants, most from Sub-Saharan Africa, have arrived in Italy by boat from Libya since 2013.
Migration study foundation ISMU estimates that around 500,000 ― 0.9 percent of the population ― are living in the country illegally.
Baobab says that since 2015 it has worked with more than 70,000 migrants, of whom 95 per cent want to leave Italy.
Many come to them after leaving Italy’s asylum reception system, either in an attempt to move north or because their asylum application has failed.
But those who are trying to stay in the country don’t expect much to change.
Patrick, a 29-year-old undocumented Nigerian, has been in Italy for four years after arriving via Libya, and has remained despite his asylum application being rejected.
He splits his days between his shared apartment on the outskirts of Rome, Italian lessons and begging outside a supermarket in a wealthy area of the city.
The election result, which saw a right-wing coalition headed by far-right, anti-immigrant iconoclast Matteo Salvini win the largest share of the vote, did not surprise him.
“Most Italians are racist. This is not news,” he says.
“People don’t let us sit on public transport, or they close their noses as though we smell bad. If there are only black people waiting at a bus stop, often the bus doesn’t even stop.”
‘They must stay’
However the promise of the right and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) ― who finished close behind the right ― to expel hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants is a hard one to maintain, given the reluctance of the migrants’ countries of origin to take them back.
Despite a major effort from the outgoing government led by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), just 6,514 people were repatriated in 2017, and that was a 12 per cent increase on the previous year.
The right’s rhetoric has it that the PD has allowed an “invasion” to happen, but that same government has also cracked down on arrivals after controversial agreements with Libyan authorities and militias that has cut the number of people landing on Italian shores by 70 per cent since last summer.
Despite an increase in anti-migrant sentiment, there is some resistance to the idea of sending them all back, as Salvini and is allies would like.
Stefano Calabro, the left-wing mayor of tiny Sant’Alessio in Aspromonte in the southern region of Calabria, has seen his village reborn with public funds, jobs and services that have arrived thanks to the migrant reception system.
His village has 330 inhabitants and welcomes about 30 to 40 asylum seekers and refugees for six-month integration programmes that give full-time or part-time jobs to 10 locals.
“Italy cannot do without good reception centres,” he says.
Luigi De Filippis, president of the Coopisa association which manages migrant reception in Sant’Alessio in Aspromonte and other nearby villages, says that even the people who voted for M5S or the League don’t want to see the migrants leave.
“People say to me ‘we must send the migrants home. But not the ones in the village, we know them and they should stay’,” he said. ― AFP