Over 30.000 people displaced between August and October in the Centre of Italy due to several earthquakes, whose tremors are still threatening the life of its inhabitants. Experts asserted October 30th quake has been the strongest in 35 years, registering a 6.6 on the Richter scale.
One is man-made, the other is an uncontrollable – although predictable – phenomenon; both wars and earthquakes provoke victims and/or people’s displacements and do urge a quick and effective response. Not only at emergency level though.
Italians are masters at the fine art of sewing and crafting clothes; among other creative skills. When it comes to manage massive inflows or sudden internal displacements due to environmental calamities, they applied another form of art called patchwork. It envisages the technique of sewing together different pieces of fabric. Patchwork is a beautiful metaphor, maybe a kind of hyperbole in this case to depict such a tragic situation.
The image I had in mind got closer to a ridiculously normal patch to sew a ripped garment or adorn it. When you cycle a lot and you are wearing a cheap pair of jeans, it’s most likely that your 20 euros trousers get ripped just at the seat level which means that the more you cycle, the bigger gets the hole. You didn’t want to spend money for a better and more resistant pair of jeans and certainly you don’t want to spend money on another one. So, you put a patch on it. Problem solved. Temporarily though, because you are going to cycle again on that seat with the same pair of jeans while the patched hole gets more and more fragile day by day.
The peninsula is famous for its luxury clothing brands 100% made in Italy and as much famous for its unemployment rates, low salaries and a non-existing minimum wage. Thus, we have a small percentage of the population able to afford expensive and allegedly enduring clothes and the rest who has to settle for cheaper garments, in terms of cost and material, usually fabricated abroad thanks to underpaid labor force. The news agency AdnKronos published a dispatch pointing the importation values from Bangladesh to Italy in the period of January and February in 2016 that amounted to 274 million euros. Almost 99% of this value is due to textile products, apparels and leather articles.
When we talk about construction industry and immigration management, the “made in Italy” is as trustful as a garment produced abroad and re-exported in Italy: you think is good and it’s worth the price, but actually it’s just a farce constructed by national and/or multinational companies to gain more money. An invisible patchwork that veils a profitable injustice.
If you are familiar with Italy’s geography and natural disasters, you certainly reckon the devastating earthquake of L’Aquila in 2009 which caused 309 victims. 7 years after the earthquake lawyers are still fighting in the Court to make justice, even if not only architects and contractors are involved, but those who were in charge of the projects and gave the greenlight should be under the spotlight.
The then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acted promptly, allocating 900 million euros for the project “C.A.S.E”, which provided “new towns” in record time to over 16.000 turned-homeless residents in the province of L’Aquila, Cese di Preturo. 37 people have been, and still are, investigated in relation to the new towns’ scam: inadequate material, false declaration, a fraud against the State that cost 18 million euro and last but not least, the first balcony’s collapse in 2014. Once again we chose the cheap and quick solution, rather than the enduring and safe one.
It’s not only about the materials though. L’Aquila lost its young spirit, a gone generation that decided to move to a more people-oriented kind of city, like Florence, Pisa or Bologna, leaving behind an open-air never-ending construction site that they don’t feel like home anymore. The long reconstruction process provoked a deep social and economic crack among local communities.
We do patch up the system constantly. Italians are indeed pretty good at sewing patches, at short terms and emergency situations, but they lack of credibility when it comes to long-term strategies and accomplishments.
The Civil Protection plays an important role in Italy, always at the front line to face and manage new emergencies. Its full engagement reflects the modus operandi of a society that doesn’t look any further than its own interests. I am not blaming the workers of the Civil Protection – as indeed is not always in harmony with the reception stategies imposed – but the political class that always follows the same pattern.
Speaking about immigrants and asylum seekers, the North Africa Emergency of 2011 is the perfect example to enlighten this concept. The then-government promoted a model of “protection without reception” and of “total assistance” to patch up the massive inflows, taking care of the newcomers only at emergency level (protection, health and civil assistance) and leaving small room towards integration – as the SPRAR program instead does and it is often overstepped.
Luckily enough we live in a developed country you might say; developed enough to speculate on people’s life I might argue. Despite the efforts of NGOs and the SPRAR network to offer more than a simple allocation to asylum seekers, the reception system still relies too much on the private sector creating controversy while the public administration struggles between an incredible slow bureaucracy and scarce financing. Makeshift shelters, “tend cities”, hotels and residences turned into reception centers and eternal waiting list that oblige people to live in a limbo and linger on.
Here below you can see one of many examples of improvised centres. The municipality of Bresso (Milan) has been hosting around 500 asylum seekers, the majority men, in a crumbling and obsolete “hub” which should function as a point of triage and not as a reception center where migrants settle. Milan can be considered a transitory city as it has witnessed the passage of over 75.000 asylum seekers from 2013 to 2015. However, due to the severe borders controls and a strict Dublin Regulation’s application, the Italian economic engine has to run faster and implement an enduring plan based on the principles of interculturalism. We need to embrace diversity positively, form future citizens and stop thinking of migrants as a passenger phenomenon.
We cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater though. There are people, profit and non-profit organizations, associations (etc.) that really fight for these causes, but we all need the support of a more committed political class that doesn’t follow the game of private interests.
Mine are just reflections on a model that cannot longer persist, a model that doesn’t incite to a pacific coexistence, or better “co-living”, but only dissiminates dissatisfaction.
We need to go beyond this perpetuating state of emergency and the logic of quick solutions, because in the long term all patches we have been sewing will rip up again and our boot is going to sink.