Interview. The former mayor of Riace has a plan to house migrant workers and native Italians in abandoned homes. ‘But the central authorities in Rome prefer the fascism of the bulldozers, and that scares me a lot.’

Mimmo Lucano: San Ferdinando is about workers, not migrants

Mimmo Lucano, the exiled mayor of Riace, is in Paris, at the invitation of the Ecòle Normale Superieure, to debate immigration and migrant reception models along with Wim Wenders, Marc Mezard, the director of the ENS, and university professors Nuccio Ordine and Anne Benhamou. Before the conference, we interviewed Lucano about the eviction of the San Ferdinando migrant ghetto.

“After years of others just talking, we are going from words to actions,” Salvini said. Is that what’s happening?

I am disgusted by such cynicism. These “gentlemen” are in permanent campaign mode, profiting off the weakest, the unfortunate, the invisible people, those who are exploited and abused every day. Faced with a situation of neo-slavery, this minister, who should be fighting this slavery, what does he do? Stages a show that is nothing but a failure of the state.

The truth is actually this: in Salvini’s words, there was a lot of “just talking.” I know very well what life is like in these slums. I have repeatedly called on my fellow mayors and all politicians who would be willing to come live there for a week: in dirt, with no electricity, too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. No one was willing to do it. And Salvini, instead of ensuring a safe roof over the heads of these workers, would rather just eliminate the slum altogether, put up tents or deport the people.

The story of San Ferdinando is not new: it happened before in Rosarno, in 2010. They put up tents there as well, which over the years became ghettos once again. The only solution would be to ensure regular legal work and housing subsidies for these workers. It is not a migration issue, but a worker’s rights issue.

Together with Alex Zanotelli, urban planners and trade unionists, you have proposed a plan to house both migrants and native Italians in the abandoned homes in the Gioia Tauro plain. However, despite the positive evaluation of the project by the Region, the prefecture never implemented it. Why not?

These are all political decisions. In recent months, I have convinced the president of the Calabria region, Mario Oliverio, to play a leading role in this campaign by providing a guarantee fund. Calabria is a land of emigration, there are empty houses everywhere, and there are also those who have been taken over by criminal gangs. But the central authorities in Rome prefer the fascism of the bulldozers, and that scares me a lot. Today is a sad day, and the only one who can claim a victory is the minister himself. What has triumphed is the cynicism and sadism of these small and petty men, who play the strongmen against those who are weak and defenseless, but who are useless when confronted with actual strength. I have not seen any bulldozers coming after the houses occupied by the ‘Ndrangheta.

However, this week we have a meeting scheduled in the region, and we will finally be able to give 150 migrants from the Plain a roof over their heads. If Salvini is good for anything, it’s that he motivates us to act.

They have weakened the SPRAR system, destroyed the Riace model and bulldozed the temporary settlements of these modern-day slaves. And on Tuesday, the authorities shut down an organization near Gioia which had been enslaving laborers with impunity for years, and even sexually abusing them. Does Italian society possess the antibodies to fight such barbarism?

It’s certainly true that only few people know that a good part of the productive economic sector depends on these people who work the land. A state with real authority should be defending them. Instead, it humiliates them, deports them, refuses to give them housing conditions worthy of a civilized country, and deprives them of basic rights. They are non-persons—and yet, the national agricultural production only functions thanks to them. Until we manage to change the official narrative, we have no reasons to be optimistic.

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