It was cold last night in San Ferdinando. In the lashing northern wind, it felt much colder than the 6 degrees Celsius on the thermometers. Moussa Ba, Aldo Diallo and other day laborers who lived in the most exposed shacks and caravans—those closest to the street—were trying to find some way to get warm. Suddenly, at midnight, a fire broke out and spread in just a few minutes.
Ba had gone back to his trailer, and the fire caught him in his sleep. He had no chance to escape.
The flames ignited in a shack 15 meters from away from his trailer and spread rapidly because of the material used to construct the improvised dwellings: wood, plastic and cardboard. The migrants tried to extinguish the fire, to no avail, until the fire department arrived.
Thus, yet another victim was added to those who have already lost their lives in this death trap of a migrant camp, a mark of shame on the country. In this godforsaken corner of Calabria, the bodies are piling up one after another. After Becky, Suruwa, Dominic and Marcus, we can add Ba, a 28-year-old from Senegal, the latest martyr and victim of a state-abetted crime.
His residency permit had expired in 2015, for a failure to submit the required documentation. But in all these intervening years, the state has never deemed it necessary to do something about the shameful conditions in which people are living here. It has swept the mess under the rug, replacing the tents with containers, but failing to provide shelter and decent housing for the migrant workers. This concentration of poverty and ghettoization is precisely what leads to apartheid.
The only solution—one which activists, urban planners and trade unionists have been demanding for years—would be to house the migrants (as well as native Italians) in existing vacant houses that would be confiscated, of which there are nearly 40,000 just in the Gioia Tauro plain. Two weeks ago, the Comitato per il riutilizzo della case vuote della Piana di Gioia Tauro (“Committee for the Re-use of Empty Houses in the Gioia Tauro Plain”) was officially set up, with Mimmo Lucano and Father Alex Zanotelli as members.
Logic and common sense would dictate that, in order to eliminate the slum conditions, a beneficial process of re-housing in abandoned housing stock should be set up. However, the Prefecture of Calabria and the Interior Ministry—the real guilty parties for this debacle—are signaling that they have very different plans: deportations and profiling.
The prefect in Reggio Calabria, Michele di Bari—acting on the indications of Minister Salvini—announced on Saturday that the slum would be immediately evacuated, and the workers “who agree” would be transferred to the province’s SPRAR and CAS centers. He did not forget, however, the Salvinian iron fist inside the velvet glove, by adding the little magical formula: “subsequent to appropriate legal checks.” Translated from the wooden legalese, this means that whoever has all their documents in order will be locked up in another state-run facility—admittedly a less precarious one—but whoever doesn’t will end up in the circles of hell run nowadays by the police and the judiciary.
In his unmistakable style, Salvini doubled down by shamelessly blaming the tragedy entirely on illegal immigrants: “Illegality and degradation cause tragedies like this. We made 133 places available in the SPRAR centers for the third-country citizens at San Ferdinando who have international protection. Only eight accepted, all of them from Mali. And the others, who could have also gone to the CARA or CAS centers, preferred to remain in the slum. No more abuses!”
The minister’s outburst was not left without response. The USB protested against the exploitation of a tragedy, “taking Moussa’s death as a pretext to use an iron fist against the day laborers, placing the blame for the tragedy on the victims,” and said it would send a delegation at the scene “to avoid any authoritarian overreach.” On Saturday afternoon, the CGIL held a candlelight vigil, denouncing “the latest tragedy for which the political and institutional responsibilities are clear.”
“We must apply Law 190,” said Giovanni Mininni from the national secretariat of FLAI, “which calls for, among other things, in addition to the fight against illegal hiring, the convocation of a special commission on agriculture.”
The ANPI is also accusing the institutions: the leader of the Calabrian branch, Mario Vallone, pointed out the bitter irony that “in these parts, fire doesn’t help against the winter cold—it takes your life instead. It’s astonishing that the politicians and institutions are out there making ‘shocked’ statements. They would do better to stay quiet, and admit their failure to understand and find a solution for the drama of these human beings.”
Lucano has also made his voice heard, from his forced exile in Caulonia: “I’m suffering a lot, because these young people came here to find work, and instead they found death. We had tried in every possible way to explain that you have to find solutions, that you have to get rid of the slums and use the abandoned houses—however, from some of the meetings I was in, I got the feeling that the authorities didn’t want to get into contact with these communities, and would rather leave them in the ghettos. Salvini only pays attention to the situation when people die. But he lacks basic humanity.”
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