‘Left on the streets’: Migrants in Italy face new hostility as elections approach | Italy

For the tired Kurdish family and young people from Eritrea, Mali and the Ivory Coast outside Ventimiglia train station, life is like Groundhog Day, a route invariably made up of repeated attempts to cross the border into France , scrambling for food and finding a place to sleep.

The northern Italian coastal town, popular with tourists for its Friday market, has been a permanent waiting room for migrants for more than a decade, most of whom have made the perilous journey to Europe in boat, landing in southern Italy before heading north. .

But as a conservative coalition vows to crack down on mass immigration as it plots its way to victory in the September 25 general election, a new humanitarian crisis is playing out in Ventimiglia, a situation exacerbated by a combination of negligent policies on both sides of the political spectrum and dysfunctional European measures.

Ibrahim, from Mali, said he tried to enter France four times, twice by train and twice walking along a highway, before being turned away by French police. “He tried 23 times,” he said, pointing to his friend from Ivory Coast. “All we want is to be able to live.”

The couple slept in boxes outside the station. Others lie down for the night among piles of rubbish under a bridge by the Roia River, in the park or on the beach.

Migrants arriving in Ventimiglia – around 100 a day, according to charity workers – have been left homeless since a council made up of the coalition of two far-right parties, Brothers of Italy and the League, and Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi, elected in 2019 and heading for national power, kept his promise to close the city’s only shelter, called Roia.

That advice, however, was not made to last, with Ventimiglia rudderless since June after the mayor, Gaetano Scullino, a triparty-backed independent, was forced to resign after losing a confidence vote.

The northern Italian coastal town of Ventimiglia, popular with tourists for its Friday market, has been a permanent waiting room for immigrants for more than a decade. Photography: Tibor Bognar/Alamy

By then enough damage had been done, with Scullino also shutting down a fountain used by immigrants and homeless people to wash up.

The only source of food and medical aid comes from charities, including the Church-run Caritas.

“The situation has gotten so bad here,” said Christian Papini, who runs the Caritas center near Ventimiglia station. “People have been left on the street, there’s nothing close to hospitality here.”

An estimated 27 people have died trying to enter France since 2017, either by drowning, being hit by a car or walking along the so-called ‘passage de la mort’, a mountain path taken by Italian Jews fleeing the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. regime during World War II.

Since French authorities tightened border controls in 2015, French police have been accused of using aggressive tactics to ward off people trying to cross the border. In June, an Egyptian man died after being shot in the head by a French officer. The man is said to have traveled in a van which forced its way through an immigration checkpoint in a French border town.

“You also have people who beat immigrants or steal money from them, pretending to take them to France to leave them stranded at the border or elsewhere,” Papini said.

The situation was not much better when Ventimiglia was in the hands of the left-wing mayor, Enrico Ioculano, who prohibited residents from feeding migrants.

“He made this decree of ‘decorum’ which had been in place for several years, under the pretext that certain citizens had tried to poison the food,” said Delia Bonuomo, who ran the Bar Hobbit, a bar which was until presents a solidarity center for immigrants. closed last December. “The truth is that he didn’t want the issue of migrants in the city. Some of us still continued to donate food, risking a fine.

Bonuomo, nicknamed “Mamma Africa”, opened her bar to migrants at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, providing them with food, clothing and a place to wash up. But as more and more people lined up outside, the initiative did not sit well with neighboring businesses or its Italian customers, who stopped frequenting the bar, the catalyst for its closure. Bonuomo also got spat on in the street by people blaming him for the crisis.

Another victim of his own humanity was Father Rito Alvarez, a priest who helped hundreds of people through a shelter set up at St. Anthony’s Church until authorities in Ventimiglia shut it down in 2017. Alvarez was then transferred to a mountain parish, where he wouldn’t have the opportunity to help the migrants.

“We helped many vulnerable people but because of politics we were forced to close,” Rito said. “The problem was that there was no alternative, apart from the Roia shelter, but that too closed, leaving people abandoned.”

Rito said he was worried about the upcoming elections, recalling the sweeping measures introduced by League leader Matteo Salvini during his tenure as interior minister in 2018-19. Measures included blocking migrant rescue boats, closing shelters and removing two-year permits that had allowed them to work.

Meanwhile, Giorgia Meloni, the Brotherhood leader from Italy who could become prime minister, has called on the navy to send people back to Africa.

“These are all worrying policies, but we have always said that the immigration crisis is not only national, but European,” Rito added.

Several protests have taken place in Ventimiglia demanding France open its border, while charities have long called for the Dublin Agreement, a controversial EU measure that says asylum seekers must do so in their first country of arrival, to be abandoned. .

“The right says it will close the ports, while it is the left that made an inhuman deal with Libya to keep migrants there,” Papini said. “Neither side has the desire to resolve it, so the only way to do that would be to get rid of the Dublin agreement and force France to open its border.”

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