Tag Archives: institutional racism

An (Italian) undocumented migrant in New York

CorriereOnLine, 14 December 2014

Corriere della Sera, 14 December 2014

We are used to thinking of ‘illegal’ migrants as others from us, so if you are Italian and live in Italy the ‘clandestino’ is always imagined as a dark skinned, male and young person who travelled to Italy by a perilous journey on a rickety boat. More left-leaning Italians add to this image also the fact that the person may have been exploited, smuggled and vulnerable. No doubt, this is true for some, but there are many more routes into the country, more routes into ‘illegality’ and certainly different degrees of poverty, vulnerability and exploitation among undocumented migrants (see Sans Papiers).

Each country has a slightly different version of the quintessential ‘illegal’, and I say ‘slightly’ because a quick overview will easily point to a ‘preference’ for dark skinned and poor people for this casting role. But it is not a matter of ‘imagination’ only.

As I have pointed out a number of times (see my TEDx talk), immigration enforcement acts on those stereotypical representations of ‘the illegal’ and contributes to reify them. In other words, when the UK’s Home Office send border officers in search of undocumented migrants to raid Chinese or Indian restaurants or Kebab shops in East London or Brixton or to wedding ceremonies of people with South Asian sounding names in search of ‘sham marriages’, well, it is not rocket science but one can reasonably guess that it is likely that, if they are going to find someone without papers, he/she is going to be Chinese, Indian, Kurdish or Pakistani. There may well be thousands of white Americans or Australians living in the UK despite expired visas, but for the Home Office and a large part of the population they are not imagined as undocumented migrants and, fulfilling its own prophecy, not raiding more ‘respectable’ bars, shops or department stores the Home Office is unlikely to find them.


This video interview published on the Italian broadsheet Corriere della Sera is fascinating because it challenges upfront exactly those stereotypes and the immigration enforcement practices that they inform and in turn are reproduced by. So here you have a 24 year old Italian who, in breach of the terms of his visa, works in a posh patisserie ‘regularly’ but on someone else ID documents. He is aware of Barack Obama’s DACA scheme but doesn’t fulfil the requirements – ‘I can’t wait five years’, he says. He wants to regularise his position to open a business in the States as in Italy there is no chance to get a bank to lend him money. He has considered his options and the most feasible one is to marry someone with a US passport and gain the Green Card through marriage. It is not that difficult, he says. Being Italian doesn’t make him an obvious target for immigration control. He has also chosen to go for a gay marriage, not because this captures the zeitgeist of Obama’s America (but there may be something not verbalised around this) but ‘because otherwise my girlfriend would be jealous’, he explains. ‘It is a mutually convenient arrangements’, he adds. His US spouse is going to get tax cuts and $20,000 from him, but in instalments, the final one to be paid when he eventually gets the Green Card and can fulfil his American dream. Acting on stereotyping on Southern backwardness and machismo, the journalist asks: ‘Is your Sicilian mum shocked by your decision to marry a man?’. ‘No, no problem about that, but she worries because if I get caught, I could get a huge fine or even go to prison’.

Not bad as an example of migrant agency, youthful entrepreneurship and risk taking that Alice Bloch, Roger Zetter and I describe in our book, of the double position of the migrant as both immigrant and emigrant discussed by the French Algerian sociologist Sayad, and of migrants’ responsiveness to opportunity structures in both country of origin and country of destination that diaspora studies scholars talk extensively in their work.


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The story of Jo waiting for a future

From ‘Positive Contributions: Being a Refugee in Britain’ by Nando Sigona and Andreea R. Torre

In the mid-2000s, I carried out a piece of research for the Refugee Housing Association on the everyday lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Britain. At the time, the ‘bogus asylum seeker’ was in the news on a daily basis; moral panic on asylum was widespread and the Labour Party was struggling to come to term with a politically poisonous issue.

I set to investigate the positive contribution that refugees bring to Britain. The main aim was to offer an alternative image to counter hegemonic negative views, but I also wanted to avoid reproducing simplistic representations of refugees either as (voiceless) victims or unattainable political heroes. The kind of positive contribution I was looking for was very much mundane, ordinary and understated. The main aim of this report was to show, through their voices (drawings and photos), that refugees and asylum seekers contribute positively to British society, not just in economic terms but also, and above all, socially and culturally.

The report ‘Positive contributions: Being a refugee in Britain’ develops the idea of positive contribution in three main directions:

  • refugees enrich British society through their presence by multiplying points of view and creating an attitude that is conducive to questioning assumed truths and credos
  • their knowledge, skills and resources enhance society as a whole when they become part of our common shared values and culture
  • forced migration is a result of highly interrelated social and economic processes occurring at global level. As individuals living in ‘our midst’ refugees, asylum seekers and forced migrants bring direct and actual experience of these processes to society

One of the twenty refugees I interviewed was Jo, a Catholic, Georgian, Kurdish and former Soviet citizen. In his previous life, he was a journalist, a human rights activist, an interpreter and, years ago, a soldier in the Soviet army. In 2001 he went to a party in Tiblisi. There were many important people there. Someone took a photo of him speaking with a Vatican envoy. The authorities didn’t like it and he was arrested and tortured for two weeks. His organisation was banned. When he came out of prison he was told to leave the country. He applied for asylum in Britain in 2002. His case was rejected by the Home Office. He appealed but for the next three years didn’t hear back. When I met him he put on the table a large folder with papers, photos, newspaper cuts.

What have I been waiting for? Can you explain it to me, please?

He said and showed me a letter he had just received from the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal saying that, because the notes taken at his first interview at the Home Office were illegible, his appeal had been frozen for the past three years. This is one story like many one can hear from people who have been through the asylum system, of a life left in standby, of legal limbo and precariousness. But there is also something else, a question I asked myself at the time and that didn’t find an answer yet:

How could the Home Office refuse his application for asylum in the first instance if the notes taken at the interview were unreadable?

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Operation Mayapple: Another name & shame campaign from the UK government

A few years ago the Labour government launched a name & shame campaign against employers who employed undocumented migrants and fined them with up to £10,000 for each worker. More recently the coalition government has employed a similar strategy to tackle tax avoidance . Following what must be deemed a successful model, in a similar fashion today the Home Office Border Agency is advertising the results of its latest law & order campaign named Mayapple started in May this year. The campaign is mostly a PR operation that comes after a series of fiascos in migration and border management (some self-inflicted as in the case of the ‘net migration’ policy) that have seriously affected the reputation of the Home Office and its Border Agency.

Video and photo cameras were sent with UKBA officers to film ‘law & order’ operations (maybe inspired by the experience accumulated with the participation to the UK Border Force TV series).

However, this is not a PR operation for the 2000 migrants who having overstayed and/or breached the terms of their visas had to return home.  One third was made of Indian citizens. The rest were mostly from Pakistan, Nigeria, China, Bangladesh and Brazil.

One is left wondering if there is any rationale behind these countries of origin. A devil’s advocate may argue that there is not one rationale but three. To maximise impact and minimise troubles, the ‘illegal migrants’ were carefully cherry picked according to the following criteria: a) no women and no children because human rights activists could make a fuss; b) no citizens of rich and wealthy allies (i.e. US, Canada and Australia) because their embassies could raise a few eyebrows; c) no white people because they don’t fit the stereotype of the ‘illegal’ migrants, and, added benefit, the choice would please a section of the right-wing electoral body.

There is also a further aspect to consider. As shown in an excellent piece published in the Brixton Blog, the Operation Mayapple doesn’t affect only the ‘illegal migrants’ who are eventually removed or the approval rating of  Damian Green, local residents in areas that have been targeted by UKBA’s raids feel criminalised and angered by UKBA’s heavy-handiness during the arrests. After last year’s riots, the Home Office should be wary of exacerbating community relations to achieve short term political gains.


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Anti-Gypsyism and the politics of exclusion in Italy

The special issue of the Journal of Modern Italian Studies on contemporary anti-Gypsyism in Italy I have co-edited with Dr Isabella Clough Marinaro is now out! The collection includes work by Sabrina Tosi Cambini, Marco Solimene, Giovanni Picker, Ulderico Daniele, Isabella Clough Marinaro and myself. My article provides an overview of the current situation of Roma and Sinti in Italy, exploring in particular the ways in which recent political debate and policy initiatives have produced the securitization of the Roma issue and argues that the resignification, in the hegemonic discourse, of camps from ethnic enclaves for ‘nomads’ to Guantanamo-like enclosures for latent criminals is exemplary of this process.

View the introduction in pdf

View the table of contents

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Dale Farm e l’urbanistica del disprezzo

From Dale Farm Solidarity's blog

“Abbiamo messo il sito in sicurezza”, dice Tony Ball, il sindaco di Basildon. Decine di giornalisti giunti da tutto il mondo lo circondano. Telecamere, cavi, microfoni, macchine fotografiche e riflettori sono in postazione da giorni,  insolita scena in questo paesone della contea di Essex. Basildon è una new town nata nel dopoguerra dalla fusione di tre villaggi, architettura modernista a basso costo per i pendolari della trasbordante Londra. Tony Ball, uno dei tanti conservatori che governano l’Inghilterra non metropolitana, è un politico di provincia che una vicenda di abusi edilizi ha portato sorprendentemente alla ribalta internazionale.

La vicenda in questione si può riassumere in due righe: ottantasei famiglie hanno costruito e abitato abusivamente su terreni di loro proprietà per dieci anni tentando ripetutamente, ma senza successo, di condonare gli abusi post facto. Una vicenda, tutto sommato, di ordinaria amministrazione che però ha intercettato, per caso o per astuta pianificazione, interessi e dibattiti che avevano luogo in altre sedi – a Westmister, a Brussels, a New York. Ed è così che Tony Ball si è trovato lo scorso 19 Ottobre a commentare in diretta sui media di mezzo mondo lo sgombero violento di alcune piazzole di Dale Farm, un’area di sosta privata abitata complessivamente da un migliaio di cittadini britannici appartenti alla minoranza legalmente riconosciuta degli Irish Travellers.

Mentre Tony Ball rassicurava il mondo sul positivo svolgimento dello sgombero, la sua voce era offuscata dall’incessante rumore del elicottero della polizia che per ore ha sorvolato e filmato l’area dello sgombero. Intanto a poche decine di metri dalla sala di comando dove si svolgeva l’intervista, centocinquanta poliziotti in tenuta anti-sommossa facevano irruzione nel perimetro non autorizzato di Dale Farm. Impalcature e barricate messe su nelle settimane precedenti si sono sbriciolate in pochi minuti. I poliziotti in gruppi serrati urlavano e battevano i manganelli contro la plastica degli scudi, come suggerisce i manuale di istruzioni sullo sgombero perfetto. Attivisti e volontari di varia provenienza che per settimane sono stati accampati a Dale Farm in segno di solidarietà hanno provato ad interporsi, a rallentare l’avanzata, ma i poliziotti procedono inesorabilmente alla ‘bonifica’ per lasciare spazio alle ruspe e allo squadrone di duecento ufficiali giudiziari e operai che mettono su teli e nastri colorati, delimitano le piazzole, leggono delibere e iniziano la demolizione.

Alcune famiglie hanno trasportato le loro case mobili in terreni di parenti e amici nei giorni precedenti per evitare la distruzione ‘accidentale’ della loro casa, altri hanno traslocato i loro oggetti più cari nella parte autorizzata dell’insediamento, altri ancora aspettano non avendo altro posto dove andare.

I giornali popolari di destra hanno attizzato l’opinione pubblica per mesi, facendo diventare Dale Farm l’inferno in terra, ‘il più grande insediamento di zingari d’Europa’: un’assurdità, ma molto efficace. Questa campagna si è intensificata quando la vicenda ha iniziato ad assumere rilievo internazionale. Quando, in particolare, un discreto numero di agenzie e organizzazioni europee ed internazionali per i diritti fondamentali, umani e delle minoranze ha iniziato a protestare, facendo giungere le proprie perplessità sulla gestione della vicenda al governo Cameron. L’intervento esterno ha incrinato il supporto che i conservatori erano riusciti a creare per il loro approccio ‘law and order’ (incluse alcune frange di lettori del progressista Guardian). La risposta del governo a queste critiche è stata quella di chiudersi a riccio, accusando la comunità internazionale di interferenze indebite. Un tipico esempio di due pesi due misure da parte della Gran Bretagna.

Nel silenzio dei politici laburisti, una delle poche voci critiche nel panorama politico inglese è stata quella di Lord Avenbury, un liberal democratico con una storia di battaglie per i diritti umani e le minoranze. In un interrogazione alla Camera dei Lord, ha chiesto: “Onorevoli colleghi, cosa pensate della decisione di spendere £117000 per famiglia per sgomberare queste persone da Dale Farm considerando il fatto che non ci sono aree alter aree disponibile nel paese dove indirizzarli?”.

Purtroppo l’intervento di Lord Avebury non ha cambiato il percorso della vicenda. Un’altra indicazione delle relazioni di forza nell’attuale governo di coalizione conservatori-liberal democratici.

Ai contrbuenti britannici l’operazione di sgombero di Dale Farm è costata quasi venti milioni di sterline oltre a mettere sulla strada quattrocento persone che ora dovranno trovare altre aree di sosta dove fermarsi. Ma le aree di sosta che non ci sono come ben sanno il comune di Basildon e il governo britannico. Il precedente governo aveva elebarato un piano che prevedeva l’individuazione di quattromila nuove piazzole, non sufficienti per coprire il bisogno abitativo di tutti, ma un passo avanti. Purtroppo come spesso accade negli interventi a sostegno di queste comunità la volontà politica si è dissolta prima che il piano diventasse progetti concreti, con qualche eccezione. Il comune di Bristol ha allestito due aree sosta per Travellers all’interno dei suoi programmi di edilizia popolare per una cinquantina di famiglie per un costo totale di tre milioni di sterline. Quando è arrivato il governo conservatore il piano dei laburisti è stato relegato in un cassetto. Niente di personale e certamente non si tratta di razzismo, hanno più volte ripetuto i politici conservatori. Bisogna dare più potere di scelta alle municipalità, non si possono imporre interventi del genere dall’alto è la giustificazione che echeggia il programma ‘localista’ del nuovo governo.

C’è però anche un’altra parte del programma di governo che i rappresentati istituzionali hanno astutamente omesso di richiamare durante gli accessi dibattiti che hanno preceduto lo sgombero, cioè quella che prometteva la riforma radicale della normativa sull’urbanistica e di attuare una devolution della materia per dare ai cittadini (e agli imprediori edilizi) maggiore libertà di edificare, rivedendo anche le norme che riguardano la protezione delle cinture verdi (green belt) che circondano le aree urbane. Strano che nessun conservatore si sia ricordato di questa decennale battaglia durante la vicenda Dale Farm. Infatti, la colpa imperdonabile compiuta dai Travellers è stata proprio quella di aver costruito su terreni di loro proprietà ma non edificabili perchè all’interno della green belt di Basildon.

Infine, vale la pena ricodare che i conservatori hanno un’enorme responsabilità per aver creato i presupposti che hanno portato agli abusi edilizi di Dale Farm. Nel 1994 fu infatti proprio il governo conservatore di John Major ad abolire il Caravan Sites Act del 1968 che imponeva ai comuni di predisporre aree per la sosta dei viaggianti e destinava fondi nazionali a tali progetti, incoraggiando inoltre i Travellers ad acquistare pezzi di terra da adibire alla sosta (sul modello della Thatcher che aveva messo in vendita il patrimonio di case popolari pochi anni prima), e i comuni ad essere più flessibili nella valutazione delle richieste per permessi edilizi dei Travellers visto il loro oggettivo svantaggio. Il primo insediamento a Dale Farm è parte di questa storia, così come il suo successivo allargamento. Purtroppo però il comune di Basildon, sebbene conservatore, non ha mantenuto la sua parte di promessa.

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On EU citizenship and Roma mobility

This post was published also on The COMPAS blog

Given the limited results achieved to date by the EU and EU member states in addressing the multiple exclusion of the Romani people in Europe, it is time to rethink some of the assumptions on which past initiatives have been built. Here I would like to suggest, very briefly, three possible ways and directions for reframing the current debate on the Roma in Europe.

1. The EU and the Romani communities
In a recent article, trying to answer the question ‘why have the Roma become a target and a scapegoat in France today?’ the French sociologist Éric Fassin reminded us that the ‘object of phobia is not to be mistaken for its source’ and that the ‘explanation of politics is of political nature’.  These remarks suggest that in order to understand what is happening in the EU today in relation to Romani communities we may need to turn our gaze away from the Roma and try, instead, to first focus on the broader picture: that is on the EU, an institutional and political construction that has undergone two decades of transition, enlargement and institutional, economic and social restructuring and is currently under incredible pressure as a result of the financial and bank crisis and then try to locate the Roma within these processes.

The Roma are a testing ground for the EU project, not an exception, but a founding part of the EU despite the lack of adequate institutional representation. The current attempt to curb their mobility (as well as their right to establish themselves in another member state) challenges one of the very pillars of the European Union and calls into question, at a time of major structural tensions, the capacity of the EU to fully embrace its mandate vis-à-vis mounting nationalist demands of member states.

2. Poverty and anti-Gypsyism
As I have shown with my colleague Nidhi Trehan in Romani Politics in Contemporary Europe: poverty, ethnic mobilization and the neoliberal order (Palgrave, 2009) apart from structural tensions resulting from the quick economic transformation, the transition towards capitalism has also been characterised by a search for foundational myths to re-define the relationship between state and nation after the fall of Communist ideology. In such a context, nationalist movements have acquired strength and, alongside them, so have numerous far-right racist and xenophobic groups that have managed to etch out increasingly large spaces in the political life of most European countries. This overall slide to the right, exacerbated by the existing confusion in the social-democratic camp, has turned the Roma, a minority without significant political representation, into a preferred target for racist campaigns that at times culminate in overt displays of violence.

However, in contemporary Europe, racism against Roma does not only concern some extremist fringe elements. Indeed, Eurobarometer surveys underline just how widespread prejudice and stereotypes about this minority are. Interestingly, despite this widespread intolerance towards the Roma in Europe, terms such as anti-Gypsyism and Romaphobia have only in the mid-2000s entered EU’s political vocabulary.

3. Anti-Gypsyism and modernity
The history of Romani communities in Europe is dramatically marked by episodes of mass persecution, violence and discrimination perpetuated by both institutional and non-institutional agents. The mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Roma systematically carried out by the Nazi regime before and during World War II was the tragic culmination of a series of events, rather than an isolated episode. The construction of the Romani communities as a ‘race of criminals’ genetically inclined to crime, was a central component of the ideological apparatus that provided a ‘justification’ for the genocide of European Roma.

To understand the contemporary spread of anti-Gypsyism in a neoliberal Europe and the link between the racial criminalization of the Roma and discriminatory policy and practice, we should bear in mind that anti-Gypsyism is not a new phenomenon; nonetheless, in its current configuration, it is strongly intertwined with the transformations that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union, the consolidation of liberal democracies and neoliberal economic principles in the European Union, and linked to the process of pauperisation that many Romani communities are undergoing.

Overall, a new critical approach should emerge that addresses the root causes of Roma exclusion (which include an understanding of the history of exclusion and its broader place in the history of Europe) and places the successful participation of the Roma to the European polity at the core of the EU project where they belong.

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Welcome to Europe

Migrant holding centre at the Greece/Turkey border, Der Standard, Austria

Read the article (in German) at http://derstandard.at/1297820074621/Asyl-Bilder-der-griechischen-Tragoedie

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