Italian mayors rebel against Salvini migrant laws

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'Palermo open to all migrants'

Several left-wing mayors in Italy have refused to obey the "anti-migrant" policies of interior minister, Matteo Salvini. The right-wing leader has spearheaded a move to tighten asylum laws.

The mayors of several Italian cities on Friday said they were refusing to obey Italy's new anti-migrant law. The so-called Salvini decree strips humanitarian protection for migrants not approved for refugee status, but who cannot be deported.

The left-wing "rebel" mayors condemned the new legislation — which makes it easier to expel new arrivals and limits residence permits — as unconstitutional.

The "Salvini decree" also abolished humanitarian protection permits granted to people who didn't qualify for asylum, but for whom it was too dangerous to return home. 

Italy was the only EU member state offering the two-year permits which allowed vulnerable people to live in state-run reception centers and access training and educational programs and find work. 

Thousands pushed into 'illegality'

Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando said the law "incites criminality, rather than fighting or preventing it."

"There are thousands, tens of thousands of people who legally reside here in Italy, who pay their taxes, who pay into pensions, and in a couple of weeks or months they will become ... illegal."

Salvini fired back at Orlando, suggesting he should "take care of the many problems in his city instead."

That prompted Florence mayor Dario Nardella to chime in, saying that his city would "not bow to" a law which "expels asylum-seekers and, without repatriating them, throws them out onto the street."

Read more: Thousands march for refugee rights in Italy 

Italy's populist government: Key players

Conte: Novice at the helm

Giuseppe Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experience, was picked by the League and 5-Star Movement (M5S) as their candidate for prime minister. He was forced to temporarily give up his leadership bid after the parties' cabinet selection was initially blocked. However, after the two parties struck a deal with President Sergio Mattarella, Conte was eventually sworn in on June 1.

Italy's populist government: Key players

Mattarella: President with the final say

President Sergio Mattarella faced calls for his impeachment after he prevented the populist alliance from taking office. He singled out its choice for finance minister, Paolo Savona, warning that an openly euroskeptic minister in that position went against the parties' joint promise to simply "change Europe for the better." After the parties agreed to replace Savona, Mattarella gave the go-ahead.

Italy's populist government: Key players

Di Maio: Anti-austerity advocate

M5S chief Luigi Di Maio secured his party 32 percent of the vote in the March election. With the populist M5S-League coalition in power, Di Maio assumed the role of joint deputy prime minister and took over the economic development portfolio. The M5S leader has come under fire for his anti-immigration rhetoric, including calling rescue missions to save migrants from drowning a "sea-taxi service."

Italy's populist government: Key players

Salvini: 'The Captain'

Matteo Salvini is the leader of the anti-immigrant, euroskeptic League, which won 17 percent of the vote in the March election. A former MEP, he and his party have no experience in governing. Salvini has taken on the position of interior minister within Conte's Cabinet. Known for his hostile rhetoric toward immigrants and the EU, Salvini once described the euro a "crime against humanity."

Italy's populist government: Key players

Savona: Anti-euro radical

Paola Savona, initially tipped to lead the Finance Ministry, has called the euro a "German cage" and said that Italy needs a plan to leave the single currency. The 81-year-old's stance won him the backing of most Italian lawmakers but that wasn't enough to stop his appointment being vetoed. In his place steps Giovanni Tria, an economics professor without any previous government experience.

Italy's populist government: Key players

Cottarelli: Temporary caretaker

Carlo Cottarelli was set to become Italy's caretaker prime minster after the M5S-League alliance failed to have its controversial cabinet picks approved. The former IMF economist's time in the spotlight was short-lived, however. Political uncertainty in Italy rocked Europe's financial markets and prompted Mattarella to swiftly renegotiate and approve Salvini and Di Maio's governing coalition.

Italy's populist government: Key players

Berlusconi: Vanquished enabler

Silvio Berlusconi (right) and his Forza Italia entered a four-party electoral alliance including League in the March election that secured the bloc 37 percent. Berlusconi is now upset at his right-wing ally Salvini after the League leader moved to work with M5S. Berlusconi has said he would act as a "reasonable and scrutinizing opposition."

'Naples will welcome stranded migrants'

Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris then upped the ante by offering to take in 32 migrants who are blocked in limbo at sea after being rescued by an NGO but denied a safe port in Europe.

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"I hope the boat approaches the port of Naples, because — contrary to what the government says — we will launch a rescue plan and let them dock. I will oversee the rescue operation myself," de Magistris told a local broadcaster.

The mayors of Bari and Milan also protested the new migrant law.

Salvini had described the law as a "big step forward" in what he termed the "fight" against migrant arrivals, including greater police powers to "make Italy safer."

Italy's new populist government has pursued a hard-line position on migrants, having shouldered a large burden during the influx of refugees. It has blocked charity-run search-and-rescue vessels from docking in Italian ports, forcing France's Aquarius to divert to Spain and Germany's Lifeline to dock in Malta after they both spent days stranded at sea last summer. 

Read more: Europe's apathy toward humanitarian rescue outrages NGOs  

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

From dream to dystopia

Conceived in the 1960s as a seaside town for the Neapolitan middle class, Castel Volturno, which stretches 27 kilometers (17 miles) along the Mediterranean, grew without any urban planning. In 1980, it became a shelter for people made homeless by an earthquake in nearby Irpinia. Subsequently tourists turned to other sea spots, and the local economy crumbled. Nowadays 30,000 rooms stand empty.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

A place called home

Castel Volturno is home to about 40,000 people. Many came from sub-Saharan Africa, mostly Nigeria and Ghana. The immigrant presence dates back to the 1980s, when Africans filled the demand for manual labor in the tomato fields.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

Setting up a new economy

Ester has a talent for hairdressing and makeup, so she recently opened her own salon. Due to the lack of services and economic opportunities, the African communities created their own economy, relying mainly on small shops, restaurants and mobile phone stores.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

'I have what it takes, but I am still begging'

Israel, from Nigeria, was rejected for numerous jobs due to lack of papers. After several times back and forth to the refugee commission, he was finally granted asylum until 2021. Even so, he remains unemployed. He ended up in Castel Volturno after looking for a cheap place to live.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

Organized crime territory

This area has always proved fertile for the expansion of criminal organizations from the nearby cities of Naples and Caserta. On September 18, 2008, the powerful Casalesi clan shot dead six African migrants to affirm their control over the area. The victims were chosen randomly and had no connection to drug dealing, one of the crime organization's businesses.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

Connection houses

Connection houses are private apartments that function as restaurants, places to gather and also brothels. African men come here to have a drink, smoke and, if they wish, have sex with prostitutes. Older Nigerian women tend to run them.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

Dreams don't come true

J., 26, from Delta State in Nigeria arrived in Italy a year ago. Her dream was to complete her education in Italy, but she ended up working in a connection house in Castel Volturno. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 11,000 Nigerian women arrived on Italian shores in 2016. The number fell to 5,425 in 2017, but they remain among the top nationalities to reach Italy.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

'Somebody shouts hallejah'

The last 20 years have seen a surge in the number of Pentecostal churches, most of which can be found in abandoned and run-down buildings. These days, there are around 30 churches in the Castel Volturno area.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

'Only God will help us'

Pastors celebrate in a mixture of English and Italian dialect and undertake all sorts of cures, including healings and exorcisms.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

New hope

B. was trafficked to Castel Volturno in 2004. She sought help from the New Hope charity in Caserta, which provides trafficking victims with education and vocational training as tailors. Today she is a happily married and the mother of two.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

Second-generation chases opportunity

Former player Massimo Antonelli founded TAM TAM Basketball as a tool of integration in a place with few facilities and social activities for adolescents. At the end of 2017, the team launched a campaign to play in the official Italian league. Parliament then passed a bill changing sporting regulations, so that all children born in Italy to immigrant parents are allowed to compete.

Migrant life in Italian dystopia

Dreaming of the future

Victor, 14, and Fabian, 12, have both grown up in Castel Volturno, raised by Nigerian families. Despite the many problems of their hometown, they regard it as a beautiful place. Both want to become professional basketball players, but Victor also has a flair for electronics and logistics. "I would move from here. It's nice, but there are no jobs at all," he says.

kw/rt (AFP, dpa) 

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