Saving drowning people, a crime?

This 13 August 2018 by the (right-wing) Daily Mail from Britain says about itself:

Rescue ship Aquarius saves 141 migrants off Libyan coast

More than 140 migrants rescued by an aid group as they drifted in the Mediterranean have claimed five ships passed them by without plucking them to safety.

According to international law, all ships are obliged to save people at sea in distress.

The migrants, including 67 unaccompanied minors, were mainly from Somalia and Eritrea and were believed to have been at sea for about 35 hours on a small wooden boat that had no motor.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Ship Aquarius stops its Mediterranean rescue missions

The rescue ship Aquarius is no longer operating in the Mediterranean. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who manage the ship together with partner SOS Méditerranée reports this.

Since 2016, tens of thousands of migrants on their way to Europe have been rescued from the water or from often not seaworthy boats.

Ideally, Médecins Sans Frontières would like to continue with the Aquarius, but the organization says that Italy has made it impossible. “The Italian government, supported by other European countries, has labeled our aid as illegal, smeared it and blocked it by withdrawing the registration of the ship, so the Aquarius can not sail.”

So, apparently, the xenophobia of Mussolini-loving Italian deputy Prime Minister Salvini of the extreme right Northern League party is the ‘new normal’ of the European Union.

‘Black day’

Director Nelke Manders of Médecins Sans Frontières calls this a black day. “Stopping the Aquarius means that people will die avoidably at sea”, she says.

The Aquarius was the last rescue ship to sail off the coast of Libya until September. Last year there were five organizations with ships active in that area. The Aquarius has been in the port of Marseille since October, because the ship lost its Panamanian flag registration.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that more than 2000 people drowned in the Mediterranean this year.

There are still ships stopping refugees’ small boats in the Mediterranean. However, these are not the Aquarius or other rescue ships. They are warships of Salvini and his NATO allies. They will either let the refugees drown, contrary to international law; or bring the refugees back to Libya. Back to the Libyan hell of slavery, torture prisons and militias killing each other and civilians.


Italian filmmaker Bertolucci, RIP

This is a scene of Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1976 film Novecento. Police attack striking workers and poor farmers; as working class women sing ‘La Lega‘.

Another well-known film by Bertolucci is The Last Emperor, on China in the twentieth century.

Bertolucci died on 26 November 2018.

Italian far-right government deports refugees from hospitable village

This 6 October 2018 from Italy is about a pro-refugee solidarity demonstration in Riace, Italy, against the arrest of the pro-refugee mayor.

By Marianne Arens:

Italian Interior Minister Salvini orders removal of migrants from Riace

19 October 2018

Italy’s right-wing coalition government and its fascist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini have ordered the removal of all refugees from Riace, known as the “village of hospitality”, in southern Calabria. On October 2, the mayor of Riace was placed under house arrest.

Last Saturday, the Interior Ministry issued a circular declaring that all migrants living in Riace should leave the village and move into various state refugee camps. Initially, the measure was to be executed this week but on Monday the deadline was extended for a period of sixty days. This leaves the refugees to an uncertain fate.

A week ago, several thousand people demonstrated against the detention of Mayor Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano and denounced the government’s fascist immigration policy.

Due to Lucano’s initiative to welcome migrants and refugees into his village, the former ghost town of Riace has been imbued with new life and is now known throughout Europe. In 2010, Wim Wenders shot his short film “Il volo” (The Flight), in which he honored the model-town on the Calabrian coast and its mayor.

This is video of Wenders’ film Il Volo.

Lucano has been awarded several international prizes, including last year’s Dresden Peace Prize.

Of the approximately 2,000 inhabitants of the village, more than 400 are immigrants and another 500 have returned from emigration. The first migrants came from Kurdistan twenty years ago and have largely adopted Italian citizenship since then. Refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, Ghana, Eritrea, Somalia and other countries came later.

About 200 of them are directly threatened by the announced deportation. The Interior Minister’s decree has caused great concern amongst the immigrant population. On Sunday, a group gathered in front of Lucano’s house, where they kept emphasizing: “We don’t want to leave Riace. Our new life is here.”

The locals support the immigrants, as Riace has gained greatly from its new inhabitants. Thanks to the influx of new residents, the local school did not have to be closed. Dilapidated houses were rebuilt and the whole town—with its cafes, shops, studios and services—was given new life. Lucano, who initiated the project twenty years ago as a teacher, was elected mayor in 2004.

For two weeks he has been prevented from leaving his house or receiving any visits. The government is demanding that the municipal council submit a new bill for all additional expenditures incurred by immigration, regardless of the fact that Riace has not received any state funds for special expenses in more than a year.

Thousands are taking to the streets against the government’s pitiless refugee policy. On October 6, 6,000 people gathered in Riace to express their solidarity with the mayor; further demonstrations took place in Rome and Milan the same day. Several thousand school and university students also showed their solidarity with the migrants of Riace and its mayor on the October 6 and 12.

However, all these opposition protests have no voice in politics. Reports about them can be found almost exclusively in the blogs or Twitter accounts of the relevant initiatives and networks. The mainstream media either report them very scantily or not at all.

The merciless position of Salvini is an expression of the crisis and weakness of the government. It seeks to divide and intimidate the population while also diverting attention from itself as it prepares massive attacks on the entire Italian working class.

Salvini justified his tough stance in Riace by attacking mayor Lucano, stating, “Irregularities in the use of public funds cannot be tolerated.” This is all the more preposterous as Salvini’s own party, the far-right Lega, has misappropriated 49 million euros of taxpayers’ money in just three years (2008 -2010) and must now repay it in annual installments, as confirmed in September by the highest court in Italy, the Cassation Court.

This is awkward for the coalition partner M5S, which has always claimed to be against corrupt politicians and whose voters do not fully support Lega’s witch-hunting of refugees. As a result, several M5S leaders have attempted to cautiously distance themselves from Salvini in public. While Roberto Fico (M5S), the President of the House of Representatives, has not distanced himself from Salvini’s decree in Riace, he has criticized his migration policy in the past.

Salvini had recently praised the decision of Sarah Casanova (Lega), the mayor of Lodi, to exclude refugee children from school meals if they did not pay the maximum contribution. In a very short time, more than 60,000 euros were collected via the Internet for foreign children’s school lunches in Lodi. Fico then called upon Lega politicians Salvini and Casanova to rescind their decision in Lodi, to apologize and to ensure “that these children return to the school canteen.” In the case of Riace, the M5S has openly welcomed “the end of a model”, as of October 7.

Fico is certainly not worried about the refugee children of Lodi, but rather the crisis of the Five Star Movement, which is visibly losing its support base. While it was still the strongest party in Italy in April’s general election, it has now fallen behind, with 28.5 percent, trailing the Lega (33.8 percent).

While the Lega mobilizes its fascist supporters through its brutal immigration policies, Beppe Grillo’s party owes its rise to a slightly different clientele. Claiming to be “neither right nor left”, it benefits the most from the demise of the social Democratic Party (PD). According to the polls, the PD would currently only achieve 17 percent.

The M5S will not be able to fulfill its campaign promises to withdraw the Fornero pension reform and introduce an unconditional basic income. Italy’s budget deficit, at 133 percent of gross domestic product, is already more than twice the EU target. This week, the Italian government must submit its budget for 2019 in Brussels and calm the financial markets to avoid the Milan Stock Exchange crashing.

To counter the growing popular opposition, PD and other opposition politicians and union leaders are responding to the inhuman government policy in Riace with hypocritical protests. For example, Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris described the decision as a “shame” and called on the government to “take action against the Mafia” instead.

The mayor concealed, however, that Salvini’s refugee policy draws upon that of his predecessor, Marco Minniti (PD), and the decisions taken by the EU that have caused thousands of people to drown in the Mediterranean, die of thirst in the Sahara or suffer in the torture camps of Libya. …

The previous government of the Democratic Party (PD) under Matteo Renzi had already canceled the special tax revenue for the village of Riace.

The case of the threatened deportation of the inhabitants of Riace demonstrates that the working class in Italy must become active independently of the old organizations. If it wants to defend its social and democratic rights and protect the refugees, it must join forces with the international working class and not with the nationalist parties and bureaucratic apparatus of Italian politics.

Big Italian protest against arrest of pro-refugee mayor

This 6 October 2018 video says about itself:

Live: Demonstration in support of Riace’s arrested pro-migration mayor

A demonstration in support of the Mayor of Riace, Domenico Lucano, takes place in the south Italian village on Saturday, October 6 under the slogan ‘We do not stop Riace’. Riace Mayor Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Lucano was put under house arrest on Tuesday, October 2 in relation to allegations of aiding illegal immigration. Riace administration has been frequently lauded as a ‘model’ for the way migrants were integrated into the local community and made a positive contribution to it giving a new life to a village, which was previously mostly abandoned.

By Allison Smith:

Italy: Arrest of Riace mayor sparks protests

10 October 2018

The arrest of Domenico Lucano, the mayor of Riace, a small town in the Calabria region of Italy dubbed “hospitality town”, sparked pro-immigrant protests across Italy this past weekend.

It is estimated that nearly 6,000 people demonstrated in Riace against Lucano’s arrest by the Italian tax police on charges of faking marriages of migrant workers and abusing public funds. Protests also took place in Milan and Rome. Many supporters took to Twitter to denounce his arrest and the “fascist” anti-immigrant policies of the coalition government.

According to authorities, in a wiretapped conversation Lucano and his partner Tesfahun Lemlem admitted to arranging the marriage of a Nigerian woman to avoid her deportation. Lucano also allegedly … awarded rubbish collection contracts to companies that support immigrant workers, which angered the local Mafia.

In 1998, Lucano welcomed the first immigrants and asylum seekers to Riace—a boatload of Kurdish immigrants that washed up on its shores—to save the town from total economic collapse and save the immigrants from deportation. Since then, the town’s population has grown to 1,500, including 400 immigrants from 20 countries. Migrants are given housing and jobs repairing roads and houses, baking bread, reopening cafes, or setting up shops for local crafts. His policies have attracted international attention and the ire of the Italian authorities.

Lucano’s arrest occurs in the wake of a European Union (EU) immigration summit accord in Brussels this past June where the Italian coalition government of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League (Lega) insisted on provisions for EU funding for refugee prison camps in Turkey and North Africa. They called as well for building closed detention camps in Europe for those seeking asylum and the construction of more such camps, named “regional disembarkation platforms”, along shipping lanes for migrant vessels.

The EU accord also agrees to block refugee movement between EU countries. Finally, the plan calls for rewriting the so-called Dublin Accords on EU asylum law, which mandate that refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach. Italy is a first destination country for thousands of immigrants, and the Italian government is working to prevent migrants from seeking asylum when they reach the Italian border.

In recent years, the government has enacted laws to criminalize immigration. In 2002, then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his coalition partners, Gianfranco Fini of the neo-fascist National Alliance and Umberto Bossi of the far-right Northern League (predecessor of Lega), launched a joint attack on poor immigrants, passing the “Bossi-Fini Law,” which introduced criminal sanctions for persons caught illegally entering the country or who return after being expelled.

Under the law, an immigrant who is stopped without a residence permit is expelled immediately. Immigrants are also subject to arrest and detention of six to 12 months, followed by immediate deportation, if caught attempting to re-enter Italy before the expiry of a re-entry ban. A second offence is punishable by up to four years imprisonment. The law also increases the time limit for seclusion in detention centers whilst waiting for extradition. This was extended from 30 days to 60 days and asylum seekers are placed in detention while awaiting asylum review, in contravention of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.”

Subsequent administrations, including center-left, have never acted to repeal this draconian measure.

While the bourgeois media have expressed a degree of sympathy for Lucano as well as their concern about Italy’s moves toward an authoritarian state, they speak for the same center- and pseudo-left forces that paved the way for the current government’s immigrant policies.

M5S, with its fake anti-establishment posture, is revealing its true colors. For all their criticism against Berlusconi and the Italian Democratic Party (PD), they are moving to the right of both and have no problem implementing and further elaborating the legal framework adopted by the PD against immigrant workers.

In fact, M5S is honoring their manifesto, which vows to do away with “the business” linked to illegal immigration and promises to boost border security by hiring 10,000 police officers and building new prisons.

An October 7 post on the blog of M5S is headlined, “Riace was not a model, the era of the immigration business is over.” The blog post, written by M5S undersecretary Carlo Sibilia, confirms the withdrawal of funds for the Calabrian city: “‘We have decided to reduce speculation on hospitality to zero. There are no coverages for Riace, and our government has set itself the goal of eliminating rainy day funding in terms of migration policies.’ These are my statements made during the visit in Calabria on August 6. Today, after the arrest of the mayor of Riace as part of the Xenia operation carried out by the Guardia di Finanza [Italian finance police], they are more understandable.”

M5S offers nothing progressive in their policies, including the proposed “Citizenship Wage,” which, even if enacted, comes with so many restrictions it will be rendered meaningless. They seek to agitate public opinion against immigrants and migrant workers to divert attention away from election promises and the real issues facing Italian society—poverty wages, crumbling infrastructure and the like.

There is widespread concern among Italians about immigration, but there is also mass sympathy for the plight of immigrants and an understanding that the significant increase in immigration is due to the unending wars and economic destruction abroad.

The current government is thoroughly right-wing. If this is what the Italian state is doing to a member of the political elite, workers should be warned that the true goal of this administration is draconian attacks on immigrants and workers alike. The only way forward for Italian workers and youth is the development of a socialist and internationalist movement in opposition to the government and the financial elite who control the levers of power in Italy.

Italian right-wing government deports all Riace immigrants to concentration camps: here.

Italian right-wing regime arrests mayor for anti-racism

This 2 October 2018 video says about itself:

Italy: Hundreds protest arrest of pro-refugee mayor

Several hundred people staged a protest in Rome on Tuesday to demonstrate their support for the arrested pro-refugee mayor of Riace, Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Lucano.

Lucano, who achieved worldwide fame for his role in welcoming refugees to his village in the south of Italy, was arrested on charges of aiding illegal immigration on Tuesday. The protesters vented their anger at what they believe was a calculated decision by Italy’s [right-wing] coalition government to target someone who is widely seen as a champion for the integration of migrants.

From Wikipedia:

Domenico Lucano is the mayor of Riace, in southern Italy. He gained worldwide attention through his innovative approach to dealing with refugees, in the context of the European migrant crisis. About 450 refugees have settled there among the 1,800 inhabitants of the village, revitalising it and preventing the closure of the village school.

Lucano came second runner-up in the 2010 World Mayor competition. …

Lucano was also listed by Fortune as one of the world’s greatest leaders in 2016; featuring at number 40 in the magazine’s listing.

By Ylenia Gostoli, 2 October 2018:

Italy’s pro-refugee mayor Domenico Lucano arrested

Domenico Lucano, known internationally for promoting migrant integration, charged with ‘aiding illegal migration’.

The mayor of an Italian town known around the world as a model of integration has been put under house arrest for ‘aiding illegal migration’.

Lucano’s partner, Tesfahun Lemlem, was banned from living in the town under the same charges.

And the right-wing regime of racist Deputy Prime Minister Salvini may try to deport her from Italy.

The arrest on Tuesday morning came amid a government inquiry into the allocation of funds for refugees in the town.

Italy’s … government has adopted a hardline stance on migration controls in recent months.

International plaudits

Lucano has won international acclaim for ‘repopulating’ Riace with migrants and successfully integrating the arrivals.

With a population of about 1,500, the town hosts around 500 migrants and refugees from more than 20 countries.

Like other small towns across Italy, it has witnessed the massive flight of young people in recent decades, who left looking for economic opportunities elsewhere.

Lucano’s model gained international attention at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015 and he made Fortune Magazine’s 50 greatest leaders list in 2016.

Refugees and migrants in Italy are usually hosted in reception centres, most of them privately run but publicly funded, with strict rules and timetables guests have to follow.

These rules and the centres’ locations, often far from city centres, have made it difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to integrate and hold down a job.

In Riace, they have been given homes left empty by former residents. They also have the opportunity to work through a programme that has created employment among both refugees and locals – the first focused on cultural mediation and local craftsmanship and the second on language teaching.

‘Civil disobedience’

Authorities wiretapped a conversation between the mayor and his partner where he talked about ways to help a Nigerian woman who had been denied a stay permit three times.

In a Facebook post after Lucano’s arrest on Tuesday, [anti-mafia, anti-Salvini, pro-Lucano author Roberto] Saviano wrote: “the goal of Mimmo [Domenico] Lucano’s actions is not profit, but civil disobedience.”

“Civil disobedience: this is the only weapon we have to defend not only the rights of migrants, but everyone’s”, argued the author, concluding that the investigation is “the first step towards Italy’s definitive transformation from democracy to an authoritarian state.”

A number of civil society organisations have expressed concern about the arrest, which they see as yet another attack by a government that has built its popularity partly on anti-migrant rhetoric.

“It started with NGOs saving lives at sea. Now it’s the turn of those who do it on land“, wrote Naples-based anti-racism group Associazione 3 Febbraio in a statement calling for solidarity with the mayor.

For Leonardo Neglia, the mayor of Petralia Sottana, a town near Palermo with less than 3,000 residents, Lucano’s reception model is one to replicate.

Neglia had considered starting a similar project in Petralia Sottana, although the idea has been put on hold after the government’s ‘migration and security’ decree.

“Beyond technical and juridical considerations, I think his reception model should be recreated in other municipalities,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We were looking for people who would be willing to make their empty homes in the city centre available for the project. There are many, due to the depopulation of our towns as many young people leave, creating a vicious circle of impoverishment”, Neglia added.

“But this [arrest] sends a message that times have changed.”

The arrest, according to British daily The Guardian:

the suspension by the public broadcaster, Rai, of a TV show about Riace, which had been lauded as an exemplary model for integration. …

Lucano received a show of support on his Facebook page, with Riace locals calling on each other to rally together in solidarity.