On Saturday, Oscar Camps, the migrant rights advocate and founder of Open Arms, brought together eight Spanish and Italian mayors at a Roman hotel. The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, summed up the significance of the meeting with a warning: “If they begin to trample on rights in the name of security, then we are moving toward a dictatorship.”
Present together with Orlando were Ada Colau of Barcelona, Pedro Santisteve of Zaragoza, Luigi De Magistris of Naples, Virginio Merola of Bologna, Damiano Coletta of Latina and Italian Francesco of Syracuse. Representing the municipality of Milan was City Councilor for Social Policies Francesco Majorino, while the mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, supported the initiative but in the end was unable to attend.
It was an informal meeting, chaired by the president of the A buon diritto association, Luigi Manconi, which served to lay the groundwork for the creation of a network of cities that, in view of the European elections in May, will try to counter the sovereignist policies of closing the ports to NGO-owned vessels that are rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. A call to the mayors “to save Europe from itself”—according to Ada Colau’s words in her manifesto, which served as a stimulus for the discussions and which, hopefully, other mayors will also rally behind.
The mayors were looking towards the situation in Europe, but also towards what is happening in Italy, in terms of the effects that the security decree will have in the territories governed by the mayors. “We cannot be left alone to face a problem that, as a matter of political strategy, aims to create a war among the poor,” Coletta said.
Orlando has taken the lead in the fight against this political strategy with his directive authorizing the registration of third-country citizens as residents of Palermo, contrary to the provisions of the Salvini Decree. From Jan. 2 up to now, 200 migrants have taken advantage of this possibility. The result, said the mayor, was that “four migrants were able to get work contracts, regularize their situation and start paying taxes. So, I wonder: who is actually creating insecurity, and, who is instead working for the citizens’ safety?”
Both Italian and European mayors are being called to action to defend values that we should be able to take for granted, but cannot any longer. How can this be done? “We have to create a parallel and integrated network of solidarity,” said the mayor of Bologna, Virginio Merola. “There is no reason to sound the alarm on security—they are the ones fueling the fear, and therefore we must perform an act of constitutional disobedience against an unconstitutional decree.”
Furthermore, we should not forget what is happening every day in the Mediterranean, with the tragedies caused by the past three years in which the work of the NGOs has been increasingly criminalized. “Saving lives is a duty, abandoning people at sea is a crime,” reiterated the mayor of Naples, De Magistris, according to whom the current government “wants to destroy the models of integration, while we work to integrate people: the security decree is fueling insecurity.”
As important as this mayors’ meeting was, however, it is only the first step. “The goal,” explained Manconi at the conclusion of the discussions, “is to organize a large-scale meeting after the European elections in one of the Mediterranean cities in order to continue the conversation.”
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