Making Migration Illegal

"Extracomunitari illegali" (undocumented non-EU citizens)
Making asylum seekers and refugees illegal
Bilateral agreements and cooperation
Detention centres vs, freedom of movement and residence
Other provisions making migration illegal
Criminalization and racism
Informal groups supporting undocumented immigrants
Health care and prostitution

Migration became a mass phenomenon in Italy in the mid-eighties, coming on top of more general problems and transformation in production techniques and social models, and leading in some parts of the country to de-industrialization and the break-up of social cohesion. It was only in March 1998 that legislation dealing with migration as a complex issue (Act 40), was passed. Act 40 also set in motion the fourth regularisation programme1 of the country - which was not yet complete in October 1999.
Apart from regularisation programmes, planning quotas have been established since 1997, but it does not mean the measure is fully implemented. In 1998, for instance, the residence permits granted within the framework of the planned quota were little over 24,000 out of the 58,000 foreseen, as the director of Caritas - Italy's leading Catholic voluntary association as well as a reliable source of information on immigration - pointed out, observing that:
"If one adds up the legalised foreigners in 1986-88, in 1990, in 1995-96 and in 1998, the total number exceeds the amount of extracommunitarians (non-EU citizens) at the moment in Italy; it can be noted, then, that the legalisation processes and 'sanatoria' have often been a substitute for a long-term governmental plan"
This meant thousands of people living in difficult and precarious conditions (in old abandoned houses, often without power or water), always hovering between legality and a clandestine existence. A situation to which, unluckily, Act 40 has condemned those who reached Italy after March 1998, or were unable to apply for regularisation by December 15, 1998 (or to prove they reached the country before March 27, 1998). It will take time to see whether yearly quotas will finally work (unlike what occurred in 1998) and know how the new provisions concerning the figure of a "guarantor" - allowing foreigners to stay in Italy for some time to look for jobs - will be enforced.
While implementation of the improvements in the new legislation has been taking time ( the first residence permits of the fourth regularisation programme were issued only in early June 1999,in the meantime applicants were not allowed to work legally), both some disturbing and some ambiguously interpreted provisions - contained in the legislation on immigration (including Act 40) - have been applied from the beginning. The most striking is the number of "deportation orders" served in 1998, which multiplied by five in comparison with those served in 1997 (from 8,394 to 44,770), as Home Minister Jervolino said. Under the new legislation, "deportation orders" can be served jointly with "temporary detention orders". Until recently it had been relatively easy for people to avoid deportation; the danger of being arrested and detained is.
While racism has become stronger and is focussing more and more on the undocumented - paradoxically, in northern and north-eastern Italy, where the need for a foreign workforce is great - widespread solidarity networks play a fundamental role, above all on the Italian-Slovenian border.
On the southern coasts, where solidarity has often been spontaneous, whole communities have offered their support in many an emergency. Badolato, a village of emigrants with a few thousand inhabitants, welcomed about eighty Kurds in early 1998. All together - inhabitants and refugees, supported by the local administration - were able to set up some businesses and have the newcomers become a part of Badolato's social and economic fabric.
Another example is Molfetta - a crossing-point, as is the whole coast of the Puglia region. On many occasions, the frequent landings of, above all, Kosovars and Albanians, were solved, on a local level, with the aid of ordinary people and local groups. "A lot of families have put up migrants in their houses", the Mayor of Molfetta said in a radio interview in December 1998. [back to top]

"Extracomunitari illegali" (undocumented non-EU citizens)
According to Caritas figures, there were 1,250,214 regular foreign citizens in Italy at the beginning of 1999
3. With regard to their origins (see table 1, covering 1990-98): "At the moment, 4 foreigners out of 10 are European, 3 from Africa, 2 Asian and 1 from America. (...) Morocco is the most represented country (146,000), followed by Albania (92,000), the USA and the Philippines (50,000), Tunisia, Yugoslavia, Germany, The People's Republic of China, Romania, Senegal and Sri Lanka (30,000)4. (Table 1)
The figures concerning non-EU undocumented citizens, elaborated by NAGA
5, are concerned with a limited though important area, Milan and its surroundings.
According to NAGA's figures, the number of both East European and Latin American undocumented foreigners turning to the organisation for help has increased remarkably within the last ten years, by 20% and 27% respectively, while the number of Northern Africans has decreased from 50% to 25% in the same period.
"Italy is the country with the highest incidence of immigrants coming from third countries. (...) In some Italian regions, extracommunitarian immigrants' incidence is even higher than 90% of the whole foreign presence. In 37 provinces there are 9 extracommunitarians out of 10 (north 16, centre 2, south 12, islands 7). Ragusa and Trapani are the provinces with the highest percentage (97%), whereas Bolzano has the highest number of EU foreigners (41,9%)".
There has been a remarkable increase in "registered foreigners" in the northern regions over a decade (1988-1998). This was due, firstly, to the arrival and settling of East European migrants after 1989. Secondly, to the smaller increase - however visible - of migrants from East Asia. Thirdly, to what many a migrant living in northern Italy could tell you: he or she landed somewhere on the south coast, either spent some time in the area (generally earning their living in agriculture) or went straight to the capital and, after some time, moved north, because it is easier to get a job there. (Table 2)
7 [back to top]

Making asylum seekers and refugees illegal
In April 1999 - a few weeks after the beginning of NATO bombings on the Federation of Yugoslavia (and the anti-Milosevic Montenegro) - a ministerial decree declared a state of emergency all over Italy until June 30, 1999, to face "a potential, exceptional exodus of people coming from the war-torn Balkans area". It meant provincial government chiefs were able to make facilities available or set up temporary accommodation centres for the Kosovo refugees. What the Home Ministry ordinance did not say was how Kosovar refugees were supposed to get to Italy. Moreover, up to early June 1999, there was no measure granting war refugees "residence permits on humanitarian grounds" (the measure was in force up to July 20, 1999, when the Home Ministry announced in a press release that humanitarian asylum wouldn't be granted any longer, as the war was over. What happens to Kosovar refugees and others crossing Italian borders without identity papers? There are two possibilities: if they are considered clandestines, they are served with an expulsion order. They may eventually be able to slip in, and are likely to try going north or, far less likely, to apply for asylum in Italy.
If they are believed to be refugees, they can apply for asylum under the Geneva Convention. In this case the Central Commission takes months to issue its decision, and mostly it is a negative one, as war refugee applicants cannot usually prove that they are individually persecuted, but that they are 'just' members of a generally-persecuted community. Usually in this case, the Central Commission refusal also encloses a recommendation to grant the dismissed asylum applicant a "residence permit on humanitarian grounds". It is however a lengthy ( about a year) and tricky way, as personally-motivated written applications are also required from war refugees applying for asylum under the Geneva Convention. And they can also be asked to go to Rome for an interview. Furthermore, government benefit covers only 45 days at 35,000 liras a day. They are given free accommodation in government accommodation hostels for a few weeks - the time to make the application - and, after leaving the hostels, many of them are dispersed all over Italy and can hardly be informed about the Commission's decision. For the same reason, many of them never receive government benefits
There have not been many asylum applications under the Convention of Geneva, after measures granting humanitarian asylum (Article 10) were implemented in the mid-90's
9, 60 % of all applications on humanitarian grounds are decided positively. [back to top]

Bilateral agreements and cooperation
Under an (ambiguous) agreement reached between Italy and Slovenia in September 1997, both countries - though it is usually one way, from Italy to Slovenia - can send back "the clandestines" (neither asylum seekers nor refugees are mentioned) if he or she is found within 10 km from the border and within 24 hours. Also, in the case of "sojourn" in one of the two countries - a definition that can be widely interpreted - the agreement provides that the undocumented foreigner is handed over to the police of the country where he or she "sojourned".
S. is a deserter from Montenegro who, together with his girlfriend from Kosovo, entered Italy illegally via Gorizia (on the Italian-Slovenian border) in early May 1999. The journey cost them 5.5 million liras. Under both Italian legislation and the Geneva Convention, the asylum seeker cannot be removed upon arrival if he or she is without an entry-visa or completely undocumented. Furthermore, Yugoslavian citizens have the right to apply for asylum if they are deserters and/or persecuted citizens. S. - who had a family member living regularly in Italy (and could have applied for family reunion) - and his girlfriend were, however, removed and handed over to Slovenia's border police. The Trieste Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS) followed their cases, but it is possible only to appeal against removal upon arrival to the Regional court - TAR - whose decision can take years. Of course, S. and his girlfriend meant to apply for asylum, when they were suddenly surrounded by several police cars a few metres behind the Gorizia border. What went wrong? Firstly - as an ICS member pointed out -, they should not have crossed the border in the province of Gorizia. Had they tried the Trieste border, they would probably have been able to make their asylum application, because the police attitude is different there. Secondly, they were stopped while getting into a private car belonging to a relative, who had met the two to take them to his home for the night, before they went westwards to apply in a Ligurian city or town.
The relative was charged with favouring clandestine immigration according to Article 10 of Act 40 (the harshest sentence is 3 years plus 30 million liras for less serious charges, whereas serious offenders can be sentenced anything from 4 to 12 years), and their car seized.
The above case was finally sorted out in early July. S. and the girlfriend crossed the border again illegally, and this time were able to apply for the residence permit on humanitarian grounds at a police station in a town in the Piemonte region. As for the car, at the end of the summer it had not been released. Apart from this specific case, what should be pointed out is that no figures concerning the enforcement of such agreements are known.
In January 1999, a journalist with Il Corriere della Sera witnessed by chance the risks refugees run when they try to cross the Italian-Swiss border in order to reach the refugee centre run by the Red Cross and the Swiss government, only a few kilometres away. He reported his experiences in an interview aired by Radio Sherwood. At the Como train station he had met a young refugee from Kosovo who had a scratched face and injuries on arms and hands, and claimed dogs had been set on him and his 'passeur' while he was trying to reach the refugee centre. The boy couldn't tell who the Swiss uniformed men with the dogs were.
In order to get a picture of what refugees go through when trying to cross those few kilometres through the border area, the journalist decided to join a group, a family with 6 children and a reative of theirs with 5 children (the night route goes through the mountains, is longer and more expensive, but safer). Not long after they entered Switzerland they were found and detained for hours. The family with 6 children was eventually allowed to reach the refugee centre, as the father was able to prove his registration at the centre, which he had left only to help his family across the border; the woman with 5 children, along with the journalist and an Albanian picked up by the police earlier, were handed over to the Italian border police. Luckily, the case of the woman and her 5 children was eventually sorted out (the 6 were granted access to Switzerland). As for the other two, a police officer told them to try via Domodossola. He also revealed - and thus confirmed the above-mentioned teenager's words - he had seen a man who had evident marks of dog's teeth sunk into one of his legs, and another man with a swollen face, among the people removed by the Swiss police. Asked why he hadn't reported the case, the police officer answered that he had not witnessed the abuse, as legal proceedings would require.
The story got quite a large coverage, giving the readers of the daily the opportunity to learn that a bilateral agreement existed between the two countries, signed in September 1998. [back to top]

Detention centres vs, freedom of movement and residence
News about undocumented foreigners being detained pending their deportation began going round in the summer of 1998. By October 24, 1998, when demonstrations for the closure of such detention centres were held in some Italian cities, what was occurring had become clear, but a complete picture of the situation was not available yet. In October 1998 in fact, it was not known how many detention centres for undocumented non-EU foreigners there were. One was known to be in Trieste, close to the Slovenian border. It had been opened in June 1998, as solidarity groups found out during the summer of 1998. About 30 people were being held in an old building at the port. The 2,000-strong march in Trieste - scheduled to be concluded in front of the port -, was eventually able (after clashes with the police) to have a delegation enter the building and meet with the detainees. After the gates had closed behind the delegation, one of its members - a well-known and committed activist of the north-eastern Centri Sociali
10 - was suddenly seized and beaten up by two policemen. The day after, Home Minister Jervolino not only criticized the police force, but also backed the demonstrators' request. The detention centre in Trieste was closed. But the detainees were moved to new detention centres in Milan and Rome.
In April 1999, the new monthly Carta, published a map of all known detention centres in Italy (and Europe)
In the meantime, the struggle against the detention of the undocumented had joined the wider struggle for freedom of movement and residence. On December 12th 1998, the "universal citizenship boat" crossed the Channel of Otranto - from Brindisi to Valona, Albania, and back - with over 300 Italian activists and members of the Italian-organized Civil Society, as well as a delegation of relatives of the Channel of Otranto victims, to draw attention to the dramatic sea-journeys of the undocumented, and demand that refugees, asylum-seekers and ordinary migrants be allowed to reach Italy legally and safely. The Otranto Channel was chosen because it is highly symbolic. In fact, on 28 March 1998, - at a time when the rebellion was intense against the former Albanian president, and Italy's friend, Berisha - at least 85 Albanians drowned after the Italian navy corvette "Sibilla" rammed the old "Kater 1 Rades" while attempting to stop it 35 miles off the Italian coast, in international waters. It wasn't the only tragedy, but it wouldn't be possible to mention all, and many are not even known. A very serious case was denied by the Italian authorities for weeks: the tragedy at Christmas 1996, when 289 South-east Asians died near Capo Passero, at Sicily's southern tip. This series of deaths at sea will never have an end, as long as the policy of Fortress Europe continues.
Crossing the Otranto channel, however, did not challenge the Schengen Treaty's inner borders. Another initiative was the European rally in Paris on March 27 1999, demanding that all EU countries radically change their policy on immigration.
More than 3,000 activists from all over Italy went to Ventimiglia (on the border with France) on two "free and undocumented trains"
12, which the association Ya Basta! had been able to get from the Italian government - which also granted extraordinary temporary permits to the members of a delegation from Albania (about 20 people) to join the march.
But none of the participants that got to Ventimiglia by train was able to cross the border with France. After walking 10 km in the rain, they witnessed how the French government had decided to deal with them: a thousand police officers and a unit from the Foreign Legion (plus 300 Italian "celerini", riot-police) had been deployed. They were now sure: no "free and undocumented" train would carry them to Paris. In fact, the Jospin government had not only refused any means of transport, but had also suspended article 2 of the Schengen treaty for 48 hours.
This meant that nobody would cross the border to France without being invited to produce identity papers.
A week earlier, the Milan "centro di permanenza temporanea" (temporary stay centre), had got some media coverage. The day on which his deportation was scheduled, a 36-year old Tunisian had climbed on to the roof of "Via Corelli" and threatened to jump off. The arrival of a lawyer prevented the worst, and the Tunisian was promised he wouldn't be deported as long as his appeal against deportation was being examined.
At the same time, a supporters group for detained refugees was formed in Milan. After months of protests, the group - which involved activists of the Centro Sociale Leoncavallo
13and members of the organisation FILEF - succeeded in visiting one of the detainees. But the presence of staff from the centre made it almost impossible to talk openly about the situation.
In September 1999, the Via Corelli detainees tried again desperately to make their protests known by burning some tables in the centre. The protests were violently repressed by "police wearing helmets and carrying batons", and "several persons were injured and many ambulances required". The beating was made known thanks to a detainee who was able to make a phone call - according to reports by Associazione Ya Basta! Lombardia and Centro Sociale Leoncavallo.
After the protests, it continued to be really hard to get permission to visit the detention centre. Requests to be allowed in increased more and more over the following days. Eventually, a group of observers was allowed to enter the detention centre on Sunday, September 26. At the same time, a sit-in was held outside. Protesters wore white overalls (with hoods, to prevent identification), and helmets to protect themselves from police. A banner said "All of us are clandestine". When the observers left (among them there were two independent media, the daily 'Il Manifesto' and the radio station Popolare Network), according to witnesses, they looked upset, with a mixture of desolation, rage, and a feeling of impotence. Like lawyer Melloni few months before, they couldn't but repeat that, given the conditions, "riots were unavoidable".
What is known about detention centres is little more than the legislation regulating such new jails - which were established through a Home Ministry decree. According to Act 40, detainees should be "the undocumented who need aid or whose name or nationality are to be ascertained" before being deported. It is the police commissioner ("questore" in Italian) who can put the undocumented in a cage, where he or she is forced to stay - for not longer than 20-30 days, according to the law, before being removed -, if the local magistrate confirms the detention order within 48 hours. The appeal that can be lodged is useless, as the sentence of the "Corte di Cassazione" - the supreme court empowered to nullify the sentence of other courts - is not suspensive. [back to top]

Other provisions making migration illegal
The creation of detention centres for the undocumented to be deported is closely tied with other provisions restricting the protection of non-EU foreign citizens who have been served with an expulsion order. There is a 5-day deadline to lodge the claim (if the foreigner has also been served with a detention order, two appeals must be lodged), appeals that are not made before the deadline are inadmissible. A shocking misinterpretation and misapplication of the legislation on juveniles was witnessed and reported by several associations in Turin at the beginning of 1999 (see below extracts from "Appeal for the suspension of repatriations of foreign minors in Turin"). They consequently questioned the recently established Committee for Foreign Minors - the body enabled to issue authorizations for the "assisted repatriation" of the minor who is in Italy alone -, claiming it is not clear what "assisted repatriation" actually implied. This, they said, has turned the legislation aimed at protecting juveniles into a law to deport them - In the minors intrest, in the collective interest. An appeal for the suspension of the repatriation of forgein minors in Turin -
The appeal was signed by: ASGI - the Italian association for law studies on immigration -, Rete d'urgenza contro il razzismo, Caritas/Servizio Migranti, Agenzia torinese Minori Migranti, Ass. di libera accoglienza, Ass. salesiana, Ass. Ercole Premoli, Nova Familia, San Vincenzo, Ass. Crescere Insieme, Gruppo Abele, Ass Frantz Fanon and Centro Studi Sereno Regis.
"Foreign minors alone in Italy, have been in Turin (as well as in other large Italian cities) for some years. They often come from Albania, Morocco and, recently, from Rumania too (...). Since the early 90's, a policy of integration has superseded the logic of expulsions in Turin. (...) This policy has had some remarkably successful cases. But this positive process could be interrupted now. A new mood seems to be approaching: from a policy of integration to a policy of repatriation.
The alarm is due to the fact that, after some scores of minors were repatriated in the previous months, on February 22nd a new police operation was carried out, and about ten Albanian boys were picked up by the police. They too were attending either public courses in Italian or vocational training courses. It is not known how many were actually repatriated and how many were able to flee from the police and thus avoid repatriation.
Paradoxically, such operations are explained as positive innovations in the law on immigration (nr. 286/98). (...) Repatriation is - or rather should be - a measure radically different from expulsion (...) based on the assumption that the minor would meet more favourable conditions in his or her country. In order to verify that, it is necessary both to get in contact with the family and verify the opportunities related to welfare, education and work the country can offer. However, it is often impossible to talk with the family, above all in Albania, where many families live in distant villages in the mountains, and even a contact by phone is impossible. (...) The situation of young girls repatriated to Albania is particularly grave if they have been in the hands of procurers: once they have been repatriated, they can be refused by their families; sometimes they are abused, even killed.
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Criminalization and racism
The pitch reached by a defamatory mass-media campaign likening migration to crime, in January 1999, was unprecedented. It followed some murders in the city of Milan, none of which had involved any foreign citizen. In an interview aired on Radio Sherwood, Massimo Todisco from the Milan monitoring group on immigration "Osservatorio sull'Immigrazione" said "all mass-media - with the daily, Corriere della Sera, to lead the pack, along with "Porta a Porta" RAI-TV programme - have given a distorted image of Milan - as if it were a city where citizens want immigrants to go away".
It must be said that such spurious allegations addressed to migrants did not exactly represent something new in the country. Imprecise news was already commonplace, including the report on the exaggerated number of migrants living in Italy - whether regular or not -, mostly hinted at as a critical issue. However the most widely-spread comment was: "Non-EU foreigners (extracomunitari in Italian) 'steal' jobs Italians could do" This is an interesting statement to examine. What jobs? Those that Italians didn't do and don't want to do any longer? There are some industrial districts (in the province of Vicenza, Veneto region, for instance) and agricultural sectors (also in the south) that relied on a mostly foreign workforce, and still do. There is also dangerous manual work Italians keep away from if they can (an example is the petrochemical industry of Marghera-Venice or the dockyard in the same town where a huge number of sub-contractors makes it easy for workers - hundreds of whom are foreigners - to be forced to work unsafely).
Even before the defamatory campaign in January 1999, intolerance had grown to such a level that some Northern League-led local administrations in the north had felt free to make both symbolical and concrete unconstitutional steps at the expense of non-EU citizens meaning to reside regularly in towns such as Treviso in Veneto and Alessandria in Piemonte. The Treviso city council carried a motion in early 1999 requiring potential resident to produce, among other unnecessary papers, a medical certificate attesting he/she was healthy and strongly-built.
In another racist campaign, Lega Nord aimed at collecting signatures to demand a referendum repealing the new legislation on immigration. In some cities, signatures were also collected, separately, by the extreme right-wing 'Movimiento Sociale Italiano-Fiamma Tricolore' and the 'Forza Nuova' Neo-Nazis. In Padua, where such an ominous triple alliance presented itself, the local associations Razzismo Stop and Mediterraneo issued a press release ("No Lega Nord racist campaign in town") warning that "Once again, one's skin-colour, style of dress and religious beliefs are fundamental elements in order to be accepted as what they call 'a true citizen of Padua'..." [back to top]

According to media reports, the tip of the iceberg in exploitaton of undocumented workers is represented by Chinese workers. There's almost no information on the media about other cases of sweatshops involving the undocumented foreign workers.
With regard to documented sweatshops, it must be said they represent one of the modern forms of "relocation of production within the borders": small worksplaces where, like slaves, usually young workers sweat 14-16 hours a day for a million liras a month. In the north-eastern province of Treviso alone (over 755,600 inhabitants, Treviso city included), between June 1994 and November 1997 ten such places were raided by the police and scores of young people working in extremely poor, sometimes appalling conditions were served with deportation orders. In some case it was possible to establish links to Italian clothing firms contracting some of the production.
It isn't unusual to come across small groups of Chineses appearing in the streets late in the evening or on Sundays, provided they are free to. This was not the case with the 40 Chinese men and two women found in chains inside a factory in Prato (Tuscany), as RAI 3 news reported on March 19, 1999. Some of the Asian workers had applied for regularisation but their documents had been seized by the two owners (of the same nationality).
It's even more difficult to get information when Italian groups or individuals are involved, though some stories can be heard. Such is the case with the one published, on 26 February, in the Veneto region daily "Il Gazzettino" that carried a reporter on M&C Fashion, a clothing firm located at Noventa Padovana (Padua), where workers went on strike because they had last been paid the previous November. To avoid a halt in production, the firm owners had found seven Chinese workers (three of them undocumented) who would have replaced the workers on strike if the police hadn't arrived on the first night, as workers and unionists were made suspicious by the lights on. The owners were charged with exploiting a clandestine workforce, a charge that can be punished with economic sanctions.
It is also hard to get to know about the undocumented in the building sector, as they work in one place just for short periods of time. Most of them are from Romania, former Yugoslavia and other East European countries. What follows is the informal report of a reliable source who had the opportunity to be an eyewitness. The setting is a building site (close to a large department store in the town of Castelfranco, Treviso), during a week in May 1999 (from early Monday afternoon to the following Monday morning). "After working with his feet in water for 2-3 hours, the man dressing/facing a marble floor of about 100 square metres decided he had had enough and left the place. A few hours later, six East European workers came in the firm's van. A man supposedely showed the foreigners how to use the machine and then left. The six stayed there nearly 8 days, sleeping at the workplace. It seemed they had little money, as they bought chips and similar stuff for food. At 7.00 in the morning they were already working. As well as at 8.00 in the evening. Once I went there at 10.00 at night. Machines and lights were on. As usual, four of them were working and one was relaxing. I think they worked without stopping the whole time".
Finally, women and work. According to estimates made by INPS (the state agency for social security pensions also dealing with job contracts for home-help) and released in early June, there are about one million women working as home-helps ("colf" in Italy) though only 208,407 are registered. 95,184 out of 208,407 are from non-EU countries, while non-EU women represent 70% of the Acli-Colf union. Should the average be confirmed, at least 500,000 foreign women, either documented or undocumented, work off-the-book as home-helps. Given the regular presence of foreign citizens in Italy (about 1.4-1.5 million, including those regularised under the 1998-9 regularisation programme), there must be huge numbers of undocumented women working as "colf." [back to top]

Informal groups supporting undocumented immigrants
Unluckily, it is not easy to find examples of mutual help within immigrant communities in Italy. That doesn't mean it does not exist at all. But the peculiar process of regularisation in Italy - characterised by the regularisation procedures mentioned in the introduction, and by the existence of many 'irregular' non-EU citizens who become temporarily 'irregular', (as long as, for instance, they were able to demonstrate they had a lodging) - made their composition always change; and thus made it particularly difficult to know about the social network of undocumented foreigners. Certainly - as many could see - Senegalese communities offered help to newly-arrived nationals.
It is different with regard to informal groups supporting undocumented immigrants, though their work is rarely covered by the national media. Such is the case with some scores of citizens, above all from Moldavia, who got to Marghera in March 1999. Their arrival in the industrial area of Venice was not by chance, it was preceeded by contacts between activists from CS Leoncavallo of Milan and activists from CS Rivolta of Marghera. The first score of Moldavians got to Marghera and worked hard with the Venetian activists to prepare accomodations at the CS. The Red Cross as well as the Civil Defence were contacted and both offered the equipment needed. An important role was, and is, played by the Venice administration which intervened by asking the police not to deport them, even though they were undocumented. Four months later, there were still about the same number of undocumented non-EU citizens accommodated at CS Rivolta, but not all of them were among those who first got there. Many of them, in fact, now have a job (in the black market, often underpaid and characterized by over-exploitation) and a place to stay though undocumented. Some of them are planning to leave Italy in order to come back as 'regulars'. The 1998 legislation - whose Implementation Regulation was issued only in July 1999 - provided that foreigners can legally enter Italy not only if there's an employer ready to take them on, but also if they are able to find a guarantor, thus having a year to look for a job.
It's also worth mentioning the work done by many people in the Church. For example, nuns in Padua are eager to help many undocumented Moldavian women looking for a temporary job (generally as home-help, and for a period of time allowing them to earn the money to pay for their children's schooling, etc). [back to top]

Health care and prostitution
Health care projects for the undocumented have a long story in Italy. One of Italy's leading health-care associations for the undocumented is the above-mentioned NAGA, which has been working (only) in Milan since 1987, covering Milan City and about a third of its province. It currently has about 180 members many of whom are doctors and nurses. Along with Caritas, NAGA has successfully campaigned for the right to health for all - as provided in the constitution. In July 1998, legislation was finally approved, but until May 1999 no implementing regulations had been issued.
NAGA is also a good place to gather information, as a yearly average of 20,000 undocumented foreigners turn to it. According to NAGA's early 1999 figures - confirming those of the previous years -, firstly, 40% of the yearly average had attended high school, and 8% were university graguates; secondly, 50% of them could speak Italian, 32% could speak only their own language, while the others could speak also a communicatory language; next, about 50% had no jobs, 25% did occasional work and 25% had permanent employment. Finally, not only were they generally young and educated, it was (again) proved false they were "uncommonly sick persons" - as some Lega Nord mayors as well as politicians have declared. According to Naga's figures, 25% of the yearly average of them suffered from respiratory diseases; 16-18% diseases related to the digestive tract; 13-14% to the skeletal muscle, and 13-14% to skin diseases. "Which obviously depended on poor living conditions (the first, second and fourth points), and on strenuous work which they are not used to (third point)" - as Dr Olivani pointed out.
Street-projects for prostitutes are "still like leopard spots," says the "Questionnaire Response" by the Committee for the Civil Rights of Prostitutes - kindly mailed to me (also in English) by Pia Covre at the end of May 1999, shortly before it was issued. It is a valuable source of information on foreigner prostitution.
"90% of the 25,000 prostitutes that are on the streets are foreigners. (...) it is not possible to count the overall number of prostitutes with precision. (...) Numerically, Nigerian women are the major ethnic group, and just about everywhere they represent some 60% of the women present. In descending order, the other constituent nationalities are Albanian, ex-Soviet Union (Ukrainian, Moldavian, and Russian), Latin American, ex-Yugoslavian, Romanian, and a smattering of other nationalities."
The avenues of arrival of foreign prostitutes in Italy, generally irregular immigrants without residence permission, vary according to the country of origin. The Nigerian women enter with false passports and visas that have been acquired illegally. While they are in Italy they are in irregular immigrant status and, at times, are without any sort of identity papers. They pay off a very high debt, with the amount usually set upon departure, but often the procurer who controls the women in Italy increases it. Today, this debt runs at around US $40,000.
The women from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union arrive with one to three month tourist visas. On their first trips, they are entrusted to the traffickers,who organise their voyage and residence and guarantee them a place to work. They sign a contract that requires them to pay a fixed amount each month to the traffickers. These monthly payoffs can be as high as US $3,000, but anything earned above the fixed amount is theirs to keep. In general, they soon learn to travel to Italy on their own. And if they are successful in getting into the country, they can usually avoid entering into clandestine-immigrant status.
All the women from Albania arrive clandestinely with their pimp boyfriends, who, at times do not hesitate to resell them to other gangs that are well embedded in the territory and tightly control them. The police often repatriate them, but they immediately return via regular 'clandestine-immigrant' speedboat runs from Albania to points in Puglia on the coast of Italy. Even after they have been repeatedly raped, and suffered all sorts of physical and psychological abuse, the women who cannot or refuse to engage in street prostitution, seek help, as soon as they can successfully manage it, and report what they have been through to the police. Usually, the youngest among them are those forced to undergo this hellish abuse. According to the estimates of the associations that work in this field, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 women in Italy who are smuggled in and forced to prostitute themselves.
The migration of transsexuals from Latin America is of a different sort. They arrive with passports, with tourist or other visas. They stay for years in Italy, but even though they are irregular immigrants, they often succeed in leaving/entering our country without any trouble.
In the second part, "Changes Detected!", it said: "Compared with 1998, it can be affirmed that more legal instruments are available to protect the weakest of prostitutes and those who want to abandon prostitution. However, general market conditions have worsened.(...) The overall situation has become more dangerous and difficult, including ours, and the work of other mobile street-intervention units. In these last months, however, there is the impression that there may be a drop in the presence of Albanian women and an increase in those from Eastern Europe. The Albanians are taking their women into Northern Europe, perhaps in the hope that expulsions and repatriations may be less likely, or hoping they can work with Italian documents."
Hopefully, the new legislation (Article 18 of Act 40, for the drafting of which several associations were consulted, among them the Committee for the Civil Rights of Prostitutes) providing for victims of traffickers to enter into a programme of social protection - and thus obtain a "residence permit on social protection grounds", whether they report to the police or not - will avoid new tragedies like the one occurring on the night of February 25th 1998, along the so-called "Pontebbana" road, Veneto region, where a 25-year-old Nigerian prostitute fleeing from a police raid was run over by a police car, and died. Nobody asked for the body of "Marjiola" Boze. I would like to dedicate these pages to her. [back to top]

Michela Bressan

Countries of origin: Registered and unregisterd aliens
1990 1997 1998 1998 1998
% % % Registered aliens total evaluatiuon*
Europe 33,5 39,5 38,5 397,571 481,061
-Eastern Europe 5,6 23,5 22,5 232,295 281,097
Africa 30,5 28,3 28,8 297,295 360,050
-Northafrica 18,6 17,7 18,7 193,199 233,771
America 16,4 13,9 13,1 135,570 164,040
-Latinamerica 8,4 8,8 8,4 86,858 105,098
Asia 18,7 18,2 18,3 199,365 241,232
-Far East/India 13,4 15,7 16,5 171,034 206,951
Oceania 0,8 0,4 0,3 3,167 3,832
*incl. estimated number of undocumented foreigeners
Caritas Roma, Dossier Statistico Immigrazione, based upom figures given by the Home Ministry
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Number of Requests
Geographical Areas % Povincial capitals
North 51,2 Milan 73,757
Centre 31,7 Rome 71,513
South 12,8 Turin 19,379
Islands 4,3 Naples 17,261
Italy 100 Bresica 16,887
Florence 14,289
Caritas Roma, Dossier Statistico Immigrazione, based upom figures given by the Home Ministry
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1 The previous ones were in 1986-88, 1990 and 1994 -97. See also footnote 4.
2 Caritas Roma: Dossier Statistico Immigrazione
3 1,078,613 or 86,3% non-EU citizens, of whom 585,100 were women and 665,114 men
4 Caritas Roma: Dossier Statistico Immigrazione
5 NAGA is a health-care association for undocumented foreigners situated in Milan but covering an area far larger than the city.
6 Caritas Roma: Dossier Statistico Immigrazione
7 Table 2 refers to applications for regularisation made within December 15, 1998 (in the introduction it is called "the fourth regularisation programme"). According to Caritas, applications were about 400,000. The table shows their geographical distribution in the first column. The second column shows the cities where applications were higher.
8 This is probably the main reason why asylum seekers generally prefer going to northern Europe, unless some voluntary organization concerned with migrants, or some relatives, offer them help.
9 670 applications in 1995; a little more in 1996; 1000 in 1997 and 7,800 applications in 1998. Altogether a modest number if compared with other European countries.
10 Squatted buildings, centres for social and cultural activities in a lot of Italian cities, also frequented by young migrants. Some of the Centri work closely together.
11 Apart from those mentioned (Rome and Milan), readers learned about a new one in Turin; six in Sicily region: Trapani, Agrigento, Pian del Lago (province of Caltanisetta), Pozzallo (Caltanisetta), Fontanarossa (Catanzaro) and Termini Imerese (Palermo); one in the southern isle of Lampedusa; two in the Calabria region: Lamezia Terme and Crotone; and two in Puglia: Lecce and Otranto.
12 The Government allowed demonstrators to travel free on two trains (Naples-Rome-Genoa and Trieste- Venice- Milan- Genoa). This was the result of a struggle, started many years ago, for the right to travel free to go to national demonstrations (it has been done for years now). This struggle has extended to cover the claim concerning the right to travel free if unemployed or (more often) under-paid. In June 1997, the first free cross-border train left Milan to join the European March in Amsterdam. This was impeded by the French government in March 1999. Many of those trying to reach Paris thought it would have been possible, had other free-trains also crossed the French eastern, northern and western borders.
13 See the Centro Sociale Leoncavallo press release (in Italian), September 23, 1999,
(Click on "centri sociali"), or contact There is also a video available, recorded by CS Leoncavallo, Milan, picturing the Via Corelli, shortly before its opening, when protesters were able to climb on the roof with a banner to inform about the purpose of the building. [back to top]

This work has mainly been possible thanks to "The Melting Pot Project", a programme in six languages (including Italian, except for the weekly separate news programmes) aired on radio Sherwood ( ), a non-commercial radio covering most of the Veneto region and often broadcasting in network with Radio Balkan of Trieste.