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Italian immigration law has left the future unclear for hundreds of Moroccans living in a squalid shantytown.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Ahmed from Casablanca poses for a picture. “If nobody talks about us,” he said, “nobody is going to help us.”
A muddy path snakes behind the lot into the migrants’ hidden world: a shantytown of more than 800 men — no women or families — that has been here since the 1990s.
Built as a produce market, the cinderblock complex hosts hundreds of men who live without electricity, gas, sewage or garbage collection. The stench of urine travels with the wind. Stray dogs stick their nose inside mounds of garbage that pile up at every corner. Cats are the preferred pets — they kill mice.
“It’s a full humanitarian crisis,” said Alfonsina De Felice, a recently-elected Campania Region Councilwoman who teaches labor law at Naples University.
“We need to approach the case as if there had been a catastrophe, a war or a natural disaster,” said De Felice, who led the first coordinated effort to provide humanitarian assistance to the San Nicola Varco workers.
It began with the installation of 30 showers and 30 chemical bathrooms. Before, the men shared one faucet that supplied cold, undrinkable water.
This humanitarian approach has given De Felice a legal way to dodge Italy’s strict immigration law, at least temporarily.
De Felice has involved the United Nations through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which sponsored a repatriation option for the Moroccans. Those who decided to leave received a one-time payment of about $2,200 — one third given on their departure from Italy and the rest upon their arrival in Morocco.
“We sent back around 50 people,” said IOM Program Officer Fatiha Chakir. Seventy others have asked to be repatriated, “but it’s too late,” Chakir said.
Italy’s new immigration law will be fully implemented this month, theoretically prompting the arrest and deportation of hundreds of thousands undocumented immigrants — anyone who doesn’t hold a job contract. The government says the law is intended to increase security. The opposition calls it aggressive and unrealistic.
“If the Minister of Interior gave us more time we could send back more people,” Chakir said.
On the other hand, most San Nicola Varco occupants chose not to apply.
The stakes are high for those who sign up to become migrants — so high that many immigrants prefer to lie about their conditions than tell family how they live.
“Whoever invented the $2,000 thing to go back to Morocco has no feelings,” said Aziz, a 33-year-old construction worker who lived in San Nicola Varco for six months.
“Going back to Morocco without money is a serious shame,” he said. “Your siblings look down on you, your neighbors talk shit about you and you are simply a loser for your entire community.”
The local humanitarian aid program will end on Dec. 31.
Since Italy’s recent immigration law doesn’t include any avenue for day laborers to become legal, it is unclear whether the Italian police will deport San Nicola Varco occupants in 2010 or the humanitarian community will fight to keep them in Italy.