Interview. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini continues to attack a social center aiding migrants outside of Naples. The spokeswoman for the Ex Canapificio organization says they’re vital to the local community. ‘We have invited the minister to come to Caserta and see for himself, but he never came.’

Salvini’s security decree is ‘the most racist law of the past 15 years’

According to Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s latest attack against the young people running a social center in southern Italy, “The fact that public cash is being managed by people who have squatted in properties is something bizarre.” Salvini doesn’t seem to have bothered to check that the Ex Canapificio, in Caserta, has a perfectly legal concession contract with the Campania region. The “public cash” in question refers to the fact that they have won a public tender to manage the treatment of 200 refugees within the SPRAR system, offering a model for all of Italy.

The Ex Canapificio has implemented “bilateral social inclusion paths”: the young migrants graduate from middle school, and those who want to continue their studies have internships available (after which, on average, 20 percent get offered a permanent contract, compared to the overall Italian average of 6 percent). The NGO has also implemented the Pedibus program, which involves walking the kids to school as well as offering lessons in civic education. In the afternoon, they offer free English and French courses for those families who cannot pay for after-school courses, and they rehabilitate abandoned public spaces.

Speaking for the Ex Canapificio, Mimma D’Amico has called on Salvini not to eliminate the residence permits on humanitarian grounds: “There will be chaos in many cities.”

Ms. D’Amico, what do you think about the proposed security decree?

We are used to immigration being equated with a public safety problem, an approach that Salvini’s decree is now setting in stone with the most racist law of the past 15 years. For example, automatic deportation for those without a residence permit was already there as a principle in the Bossi-Fini law, which called for migrants to be expelled if their employment contract was terminated. In practice, we have already seen detention centers hold people for identification purposes for up to 180 days—places where nothing ever changes except in name only. In summary, the principles underpinning this security decree are old ones, but made even worse. Experience has taught us that such measures do nothing but create distress and fear among migrants, as well as add to the growing sense of insecurity in the general population.

What are the elements that you are most concerned about?

Until now, prefectures, municipalities and local health authorities were operating in the field of migrant reception for all migrants in special situations, with the SPRAR framework as their guide. Now, the system will be split into two—and the special categories will be shifted to the local public welfare system, which will offer only the barest minimum in terms of reception. Thus, the most vulnerable migrants will end up in hotspots for months, and then on the rolls of local social services. The ANCI has estimated that local municipalities will have to pay more than €200 million more: the migrants won’t just disappear, but will be dumped onto the social services without any reimbursement from the state to the local governments for their expenses.

What will happen in Campania?

In Caserta, Naples and Castel Volturno, migrant communities are already bewildered. All the effort put into helping them emergence from the shadows will have come to nothing, labor exploitation will increase, and it will only take a couple of months before we will have a social time bomb on our hands. Those who received humanitarian residence permits were given some time to try to regularize their situation, and switch from working illegally to working on a contract. Now, they will almost certainly fall back into the labor underworld. For Castel Volturno [home to 15,000 migrants without legal status], we had been requesting funds for the social integration of migrants: €4 million for work grants, Italian courses and rent subsidies. Now, the government is going in the opposite direction. Since repatriations don’t actually happen in practice, even “voluntary” ones, the consequence will be that the police will have to perform administrative checks by going from person to person, a great waste of manpower and funding which will be diverted from the fight against the Mafia, drug trafficking and human trafficking. This is also a phenomenon that we have already seen.

Salvini has called you “left-wing extremists who are making a business from foreigners.”

We have invited the minister to come to Caserta and see for himself, but he never came. Instead of making baseless allegations, he should rather give us a prize for thinking about “Italians first,” as the Lega likes to put it. Thanks to how well we conducted our SPRAR project, the municipality of Caserta received a prize of €165,000 from the Interior Ministry, according to the rules (which the yellow-green government has now canceled). Two weeks ago, the migrants wrote an open letter proposing that the prize should be used to cover the costs of the textbook subsidies that schoolchildren in Caserta have been unable to get because of a lack of funds (two years of arrears) on the part of the municipality, which is in financial trouble. Thus, the prize paid for textbooks for 1,300 children.

What should the government have done instead?

The “I Was a Stranger” Law, a citizens’ legislative initiative with 90,000 signatures, has already been submitted to Parliament, and its aim is to overturn the Bossi-Fini approach and establish widespread local migrant reception initiatives on the SPRAR model, and to create pathways to access them for all immigrants, including those not classed as being in special circumstances. The “security decree” that the government has approved, however, will produce nothing but insecurity.

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