NewAfrican – Magazine
“IT MAKES NO SENSE TO STAY HERE ANYMORE”
Africans in Italy are used to the rampant racism they face on a daily basis, but the recent harassment of African immigrants and farm labourers by the Italian authorities and individuals has taken racism and immigrant control to new levels. Matteo Fraschini Koffi, an African-Italian journalist (now based in Kenya) writes about his personal experiences.
News about the recent violent protests by African immigrants in southern Italian town of Rosarno, and later Milan, has travelled around the world, shocking the people who thought Europe, and Italy specifically, was some sort of Eldorado for immigrants. The revolt in Rosarno which started on 7 of January, was provoked by the wounding of two African immigrants who were shot at by unknown assailants. Consequently, hundreds of immigrant labourers, harvesting fruits and vegetables for the Italian agricultural market and living in slum-like conditions in Rosarno for as long as two decades, took to the streets, burning and smashing everything they could find on their way. That night, and the next few days, became an opportunity for them to unleash what they had harboured inside them for years. The protests in Milano on 14 February similarly followed after the killing of an African immigrant.
Last September, an emergency clinical was set up by the Italian wing of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Rosarno. “The most frequent sicknesses are related to respiratory difficulties caused by the coldness of the season and the smoke inhaled when they start fires for cooking and warming up the sheds they live in,” explained Saverio Bellizzi, an MSF doctor. Cristina Falconi, the MSF project manager for the area, talks about the high incidence of depression among the immigrants. “Many of them regard their present situation as a total failure, a personal defeat from which they won’t ever be able to recover. When calling their families back home, they say that everything’s fine, but lying about the reality makes the depression worse.” Edward, like most of the immigrants working in the fields of Rosarno, is in his twenties. A Ghanaian, he has become the spokesman for the group: “If you come to Ghana,” he said, “you can be assured that we won’t treat you like this. If we have to live like animals in cages, among rats and with the fear of being shot at by the people outside, why should we harvest your oranges? You have to decide: if we are useful, we want to be treated better, if we’re not, we’ll go back to our countries. It makes no sense to stay here anymore.” In a peaceful demonstration in Rosarno, after the revolt of 7 January, an Italian woman who had been wrongly injured in the first eruption of the violence, marched side by side with immigrants and many other Italians, protesting against racism, the regional mafia groups who use cheap immigrant labour in an inhuman fashion, and against the indifference by the state and society. In the last two years, there have been many cases of social discrimination that turned to physical harassment. “Emmanuel Bonsu Foster comes from Ghana. He was 13 when he settled in Italy with his parents. One sunny afternoon in late September, Foster, now 22, was sitting on a park bench in Parma waiting for his classes to begin at a nearby technical institute. Seven men--plainclothed police officers, although he didn't know that--suddenly appeared and knocked him to the ground. They beat and kicked him, beat him some more in the police car, strip-searched him at the station, taunted him with "monkey" and "negro," took Abu Ghraib-style photos of the cowering "criminal" and finally, after six hours, released him. His left eye was hemorrhaging, and he was carrying an envelope with his personal effects on which the cops had scrawled "Emmanuel Negro." It seemed Foster wasn't a pusher, after all. He was just black. (The Nation, 2/2/2009).” Another victim of unwarranted brutality: “Abba was the nickname of Abdul William Guibre, who was born in Burkina Faso, raised in Italy and beaten to death here last month by the bar's father-and-son proprietors. The two, Fausto and Daniele Cristofoli, suspected Mr. Guibre, 19, of stealing money and set upon him with a metal rod, the authorities said, when it appeared he had stolen a package of cookies. During the altercation, the attackers shouted "dirty black," lawyers for both sides said. (The New York Times, 8/12/2008).” The two case were reported by the international media, but much of the suffering of the Africans living in Italy goes unreported. In recent months, Redani, which brands itself the “Network of the Black African Diaspora in Italy” has been sending out press releases about the latest incidents. The following list was included in one of these: “Actor Mohamed Ba, stabbed in the middle of the day in Milan without reason, in front of the complete indifference of the people. A Somali in Turin attacked on a bus [who] made it [out] alive with a broken jaw. A Congolese physiotherapist, attacked in front of his little daughter by a mob of 20 youngsters. And the latest killing, of Ibrahim M’Bodi, stabbed nine times in Biella by his employer who owed him three months’ salary and didn’t want to pay him.”
This is a tiny percentage of the racism-related incidents going on in Italy on a daily basis, a country I grew up in and where my family and friends still live. But this is also the country I chose to leave five years ago, and since then, the situation has been increasingly deteriorating. Intellectuals, activists and simple citizens are condemning and defending, at the same time. Italy is a country where acts of violence go hand in hand with subtle racial discrimination. During my last visit in December 2009, as I was entering a club in Milan, I was told by the bouncers: “Dress-code tonight, blacks can only enter if accompanied by a girl.” “Well, let’s call it a ‘Skin-code’ then,” I thought, and the most tragic thing was that the so-called bouncers telling me that were a Moroccan and a Senegalese. “Sorry brother, but that’s what the owner wants, he has a video-camera in the club connected to his house to check whether we do our job right.” I wonder what would have happened if I had come with Sara, my fairly-black younger sister, adopted (like me) by my Italian parents in Colombia. The same one that, not long ago, was at a football match in Italy, listening to some fans screaming to a black player “Monkey, wash yourself and go back to the jungle!” As these fans turned and spotted her sitting on the next bench, they became speechless. Racism in Italy was one of the main reasons why I left the country. Given the gravity of the incidents happening these days, it is with great sadness that I feel I won’t ever regret leaving the country. As some of you might think, mine was not an act of cowardice, but rather an act of faith. Faith in what I could do from Africa.
Matteo Fraschini Koffi
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