These days I often think of my girlfriend N who has lived in Italy for more than a year now. She left on a tourist visa from Serbia, a divorced mother without a penny or a home, and over-stayed her visa. She found a job as the caretaker of an old man, somewhere in Northern Italy.
She wrote to us: she is not exactly happy, but feels more secure about her children, who stay with her parents, now that she is a breadwinner for them all. She has no legal residency papers and she feels bad about that, but then. another 60 000 people living and working in Italy are in her same position. As a weirdly democratic country, all legal citizens and even illegal residents of Italy have free healthcare.
Well, only a few days ago, the Berlusconi government approved a new law, which makes the status of the clandestines not only illegal, but criminal. The president of the republic and the democratic opposition were firmly against it, but the government, which has the majority, passed it. Furthermore, the new law legalized the so-called ronde, meaning a good old fascist tradition where groups of vigilante citizens cruise the towns and catch illegals with their own hands. The ronde is happening these days all over Italy, it is scary and primitive. You never know in those hysterical rage attacks against the foreigners — mostly black ones — if the voice of reason will speak before it’s too late.
In Torino, an African street vender was beaten and robbed by three guys: he went to the police to denounce the violence, and was arrested for being illegal. He now faces a 5000-euro fine and deportation. That’s the new penalty for i clandestini visible in the streets.
Caretakers of the old who still have some time for legalizing their position, if their employer want to go through with it. Not big news that most employers don’t do this, because that means tax money for the state.
I think of my Serbian friend N and her personal history: she went through a war ordeal, mostly as a victim of international sanctions, then she suffered a violent husband, and now she is a clandestine immigrant exposed to vigilantes. She had to deliberately choose to survive: she was always brave enough to look ahead.
What can N do in this situation in Italy, where her labor is welcome but she has no rights? It’s entirely similar to the legal treatment of prostitution, which is legally prohibited, but when it comes to tax payment for sex work, the system closes one eye and collects the money.
Sometimes, trangression makes the invisible global population visible to national law. I remember a refugee during the Bosnian war whose personal documents were burned. She was imprisoned in Hungary as stateless. When she paid the Hungarian state for her prison stay, she received new documents that made her legal.
Italy is supposed to be a free country in peace, now sliding into the dangerous absurdities typical of wartime and martial law. The Globalization of Balkanization is on every street-corner, illegally selling shoes.