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Refugee crisis: FROM THE HUMANITARIAN BLACKMAIL OVER FOOD TO TODAY'S VIOLENCE
3,6.16
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Permanent NoBorders Monitoring Post in Ventimiglia - May 24, 2016
Presidio Permanente No Borders - Ventimiglia·Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"The mayor of Ventimiglia withdraws the order on the provision of food and drinks

When Ventimiglia's mayor Enrico Ioculano issued a mayoral order forbidding the provision of food and drinks to migrants who were in transit in the town's territory last July, various voices were heard criticising what in effect amounted to a criminal offence of solidarity. While the self-managed kitchen at the border monitoring post continued working at full speed, the only people who bore the brunt of this measure were some Islamic associations from Nice which went to distribute food to the people in the station every evening.

The order had two main objectives: to discourage solidarity towards the people who were travelling and to designate the Italian Red Cross as the only body responsible for managing the emergency. In the camp, its effects were the opposite: the self-managed kitchen's capacity was increased and the migrants decided not to accept any more food from the same organisation which was cooperating with deportations from Ponte San Luigi to the reception centre in the station.

After the camp was evicted, the Red Cross became of central importance again, and only a handful of racists who were bothered by the "foreign" presence in town remained to attack the role it was playing. In December, the so-called "hotspot approach" started being implemented in Ventimiglia as well. Considering that the identification centres in southern Italy were not managing to contain the flows of people who were arriving, it had to become possible to carry out identifications everywhere, even through blackmail or the use of force. The reception centre in the station turned into a hotspot, access for migrants was linked to identification, to fingerprinting and to submission of an asylum application on Italian territory. This is how the humanitarian blackmail by the police chief and prefect materialised, with connivance by the Red Cross, and the order issued by Ioculano which most people had forgotten about, acquired a degree of importance again in the border management mechanism.

Thus, for migrants arriving in Ventimiglia this winter, the situation was as follows: if you want to eat and have a place to sleep you must allow yourself to be identified, otherwise you will simply be left in the street, and hungry. Obviously, only a few people gave in to this blackmail; having reached Ventimiglia, in order to continue their journey they did not want to be trapped by the Dublin procedure. Hence, from December to date, lots of people have slept in the streets without any support in terms of nourishment beyond the small amounts distributed by Caritas on a daily basis. Thus, the people acting in solidarity on the ground decided to support this dignified choice and began distributing food and blankets both in the station and on the beach. These dangerous activities were immediately noted by the press, which whipped up a case around it. The authorities, as some newspaper headlines stated, remained compact in their condemnation of these serious violations of the orders from the local authority. The city police chief's office [questura] continued to identify anyone who approached the migrants acting in ways that showed their solidarity.

In the meantime, the calls by mayor Ioculano for the Italian Red Cross' centre to be closed and for the problem to be solved "upstream" multiplied. If the humanitarian blackmail did not suffice to dissuade migrants from reaching Ventimiglia and attempt to cross the border, then force had to be used. No one was saying it, but this was the underlying message. The solidarity shown to migrants continued and the shared meals became an occasion for meetings and protest.

When [interior minister] Alfano arrived in the city, a plan to empty Ventimiglia from the presence of migrants was announced. During the last month, acts of violence and deportations have multiplied, yet migrants continued arriving and trying to cross the border. Two weeks ago a makeshift camp was set up under a bridge, an ugly, isolated, place without any water nor electricity. The Alfano plan had officially failed and the local institutions were left confused. The people on the ground became active again, blankets and food arrived, and a few days ago a camp kitchen was set up and immediately managed directly by the migrants themselves.

Finally, on 23 May, Ioculano withdrew his order on food because it "has not been of any use" and "in any case, it is not respected". This is where we interrupt our account and it is probably the right time to reflect on the merits of this measure and on the social opposition it has aroused.

Acknowledged as useless by its author, the order which forbade the distribution of food and drinks has represented a racist and inhumane mechanism. It was born to discourage people acting in solidarity and to further confirm the Italian Red Cross' role, but the order then became functional for the humanitarian blackmail which supported the enactment of the so-called "hotspot approach". When both these objectives failed, all that was left was mere violence. We are now in a new phase, and we have the impression that the issue of food will no longer be as relevant. Perhaps Ioculano, who contradicted himself tens of times in these months, knows this and wants to clean up his image and conscience again in view of worse times to come. For those who oppose the border, the choice not to consider the order to have any value could have been taken for granted. The novelty was that lots of people from the territory made a stand which embarrassed the local administration up to the point that it withdrew the measure. In these days, the camp in via Tenda is receiving a level of solidarity which could not have been taken for granted. Lots of people are bringing essential goods and we hope it continues this way. In the meantime, the humanitarian mechanisms are broken by self-management in the camp itself, where people cook and eat together, without the need for there to be any "distribution". The Red Cross came here a couple of times and had to reluctantly observe that its intervention was not needed.

Now that this sorry game of role plays around a basic necessity is over, attention must be returned to the real problem: the confinement regime for people who are travelling and the violence which this gives rise to. Over two hundred people are blocked in Ventimiglia and not a day goes by without us receiving news that there have been new identifications, refusals of entry and acts of violence.

Making the border unmanageable, just like the municipal order on food has been rendered useless, is the goal that many of us continue to give ourselves.

Extend solidarity, for a world without borders!

Some people acting in solidarity in Ventimiglia alongside those who travel, against every border."


[Unofficial translation by Statewatch]

The original (in Italian)
"Dal ricatto umanitario sul cibo alle violenze di oggi", is available on the Presidio NoBorders Ventimiglia's Facebook page.

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