Italy government

The Italian government has promised to put ‘Italians’ first, but its policy is also hurting Italians

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ROME – The building is seven stories high, not far from the main train station, surrounded by cheap motels. Formerly, it was the bureaucratic headquarters of a government pension fund. Now it’s an illegal home for 450 people who sleep in the old offices, share bathroom cleaning duties and take turns guarding the main entrance, ready to push a button. alarm if and when the authorities show up and order them to leave. .

Some of those in the building are newly arrived immigrants – the targets of a law and order crackdown by Italy’s populist government.

Others, however, might have expected support from a government that promised to give priority to “Italians”.

“I’m an Italian,” said Maurizio Zanga, 62, a licensed garbage collector who lives on the seventh floor next to a family of Somalis. “But I’m not one of the first. I am one of the last.

If the Italian government offers a test case of what happens when populists come to power, the threat to clean up illegally occupied buildings shows how the country’s defense measures can also harm citizens.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – leader of the far-right League party – said all squatter buildings in Rome would be cleared, “none excluded”. The Salvini Decree, as its signature policy is known, is a sweeping security measure adopted by the government in November and presented as a tool to push back migration. It also increases penalties for squatters, regardless of their nationality or legal status, who can now face heavier fines and up to four years in prison.

In December, when authorities in Rome cleared a particularly dilapidated building, Salvini showed up at the site and released a four-hour video of the operation. He posted on Facebook that the squatters were “mostly migrants”. The video footage included an interview with a man who said he was from Gambia and would be sleeping rough that night.

“Send them back to Africa,” one poster wrote below.

“Well done, Matteo,” said another.

But the prevalence of squatters in Rome is a testament not only to a five-year influx of people from the Middle East and Africa, but also to a generation of economic stagnation – and a failed government. after another to provide a safety net.

With a shortage of public housing, in a city plagued by economic misfortune and mismanagement, 10,000 to 11,000 people live in squatters in abandoned factories, office buildings and other properties, the data shows. from the city.

Fabrizio Nizi, a housing activist, estimates that 30-40% of squatters in Rome are Italians. Some lost their jobs before retirement age and could not find new positions. Others struggled to fully enter the labor market. Some have applied for social housing, but the city is facing a blockage and new units are not being built.

“People wait up to 10 years for a house,” Nizi said. “You have to wait for someone to die.”

Rome has not taken an official position on squatters, but a city spokesperson said “many squatted buildings put the safety of their own squatters at risk. The goal is to provide a dignified alternative.

Some of the buildings are in a terrible state – no windows, garbage everywhere. The old retirement building, however, looks more like a tidy social housing complex, but without heating. Nameplates of former bureaucrats remain posted outside offices. But some of the occupants decorated their doors with stickers and artwork. Residents organize theatrical performances. Handwritten signs provide rules for “civil coexistence.” The complex is run by residents with the help of Action, a housing activist group.

Experts say authorities are unlikely to forcibly clear all squatter buildings, as Salvini promised. Still, Salvini managed to raise anxiety everywhere.

“Day and night, my children suffer just thinking about it,” says Gianfranco Meneghetti, 53, living on the seventh floor of the pension building.

Meneghetti was born in Ethiopia but is an Italian citizen. Her eldest son, who is 15, sometimes asks what the family would do after the eviction.

“I can’t say anything to reassure him,” Meneghetti said.

Residents of the retirement building said Salvini’s threats also reinforced an us versus them mentality. People said they noticed changes in people on the outside, or even in themselves. Some of the Italian squatters began to complain about the noise and smells of cooking emitted by families from other countries, or how Ramadan forces building meeting times to change, or how foreigners fought for low-paid cleaning and caretaking work.

Sabina Aristarco, 53, an Italian who lives on the first floor, said she met employers who only wanted Africans.

“We would have to put on blinders so as not to see the migration problems,” she says.

At the same time, she also saw the benefits of migration. His closest friends in the building weren’t Italian. Her partner was from Tanzania. She saw how people everywhere — those fluent in Italian and those just learning — could bicker but then settle differences at weekly construction meetings.

During these events, it was Zanga who often played the role of mediator – intervening in others’ arguments with the gruff, avuncular demeanor of the union boss he once was.

He was established in his career with a waste management company when it was announced in January 2016 that he no longer had a job. He asked his wife and son to go to Colombia, his wife’s country of origin, where they had family to help them. Zanga tried to stay afloat. Unemployment benefits started, but payments decreased month by month until they reached zero. At the beginning of 2017, he could no longer pay his rent. By mid-2017, authorities were at his doorstep with an eviction notice. He sold a Sony television for around $100 to pay for a moving van. Then, with his last possessions – a bed, a robot vacuum cleaner, an artwork depicting a Tibetan bridge that he says helps him relax – he showed up on the seventh floor. He told almost none of his family and friends what was happening to him.

“I had a normal life. Books, furniture,” he said, with money to spend on pizza nights with friends. “Here I closed myself.”

Zanga said falling to the bottom of the ladder made him gradually re-evaluate his point of view. Until several years ago, he says, he was a “false democrat”, someone whose opinions had not yet been tested by hardship. Sometimes he curses himself about some of the strangers living around him, who tend to be younger and have larger, noisier families.

“I got a bit of an ass here. Sometimes I feel like saying, ‘Go back to your own country,’” Zanga said. “And then I say to myself, what. . . you say ?”

But Zanga still doesn’t grasp the goal of completely eliminating the squatters. If he is expelled, where would he go? Under a bridge? Another squatter? For him, there is no country to return to.

“If we got kicked out tomorrow, you still haven’t solved the problem,” Zanga said. “Without a doubt the [government] reduces the spaces for humanity. Those who have a normal social life are inside the fortress. And those who are poor are on the outside.

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