Being an illegal immigrant is an offence under a new Italian law, passed on 8 August. The law was promulgated by President Silvio Berlusconi and supported by the Northern League, an extremist Italian party. The new legislation meant to consolidate illegal immigration laws did not deter 57 Eritreans found in a makeshift boat off the coast of Italy, from embarking on a rather dangerous voyage. According to an African resident in Rome “this law, equipped with clauses encouraging informants and vigilante groups, is reminiscent of the Nazi era… it is scary”.
Armed with a new law called the “security package”, in force since August 8, Silvio Berlusconi has embarked on a renewed anti-illegal immigrant crusade to consolidate his government’s anti-immigration arsenal. With this new law, strongly criticized by civil society and the Vatican, the President of the Ministerial Council has scored some very serious points that make their French counterparts’ fight against illegal immigration look like child’s play. “The European champion will assist Nicolas Sarkozy in this dirty work,” said the Association of Malian deportees, criticizing Italy for the very first time. This law intends to: fine immigrants, encourage informants, set up vigilante groups… A finger-licking mouth-watering menu that has been lauded by the Northern League, an extremist and xenophobic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s indispensable ally on the issue of immigration. Could this be a return of the Nazi era mass repatriation law?
For the first time illegal immigrants, estimated between 400 000 and 500 000 in Italy, will receive fines ranging from 5,000 to 10 000 euros, alongside an eviction order. They will also be required appear in court after which they will be incarcerated should they fail to do so. Those who appear in court will be detained anyway. Silvio Berlusconi had initially opted for an immediate imprisonment but retracted his decision due to the overcrowded nature of Italian prisons. But the choice of the fine has been termed as rather “silly”, such that, only few illegal immigrants have money, if any at all. It is, therefore, likely that most of them would be imprisoned without them paying any fines while awaiting deportation. This, according to observers, would prove very costly to Italian taxpayers.
Extension of retention
Italy’s inconsistency is not singular. The law also mentions the extension in the duration of detention periods for immigrants from two to six months whilst they await identification and expulsion. This measure is to allow the detained immigrant’s country to have more time to accept and collect their nationals. According to Filippo Miraglia, an official in charge of immigration issues at the Italian association for social promotion (ARCI), this section of the law will not help to change the way countries operate in any way. “If they do not wish to accept their nationals two weeks upon their entry into the detention centers, two months or six months more will not change anything. Immigrants will not be more accepted by their countries of origin and will remain at the detention centers,” he says, basing his argument on an official study conducted by the Center for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) on behalf of the Italian Interior Ministry.
Even if the measures announced do not seem viable, the President of the Council of Ministers can still count on the population, who — according to a survey — support the policy by 76%. As an act of gratitude to the Northern League, which enabled him gain absolute majority in the Italian Parliament, Silvio Berlusconi included vigilante patrols, under the supervision of regional governments, in the new law. These patrols, which are to help hunt down immigrants, had already been unofficially introduced in the north, the stronghold of the extremist party. According to the law, those Italians who find themselves on the other side of the fence — helping illegal immigrants – will be accused of anti-solidarity offences and duly punished.
Silvio Berlusconi, with this law, seeks to create a climate of fear to deter foreigners from coming to his country. The encouragement of informants called for by Silvio Berlusconi adds to other measures to put immigrants in perpetual anguish. Constantly living in fear of being deported, illegal immigrants are being deprived, according to Filippo Miraglia, of their most basic rights such as access to health care. “They do not go to hospitals anymore for treatment. Women do not want to give birth in clinics. Everybody is afraid of being denounced,” says the Italian official. Moreover, the text now makes it mandatory for the presentation of a passport or a residence permit during the registration of the birth of a child. This provision excludes undocumented residents and could develop a new phenomenon; “invisible children”. Speaking to Afrik-news.com, a west African resident in Rome who chose not to disclose his identity said, “this is reminiscent of the Nazi era… only this time black people are mostly targeted… we live in absolute fear… this is not human”.
The Swedish presidency of the EU could, however, halt the Silvio Berlusconi’s in his tracks. Stockholm plans to seek the resettlement of migrants stranded off the Mediterranean coast in Europe capitals, including Italy: A blow to the Italian, who had planned to seal off the Italian coasts.