When I was growing up in Australia, there was a lot of talk in the right wing media about the so-called ‘Aboriginal Industry’, that people were enriching themselves on the back of demands for more rights, better health care, social services, education, and so on for Aboriginal communities. As my lecturer in indigenous studies – black power activist Gary Foley – pointed out, it was true, but that very few if any of those benefiting were Aboriginal. Instead, generations of white bureaucrats, consultants, administrators, health care and social workers came and went, absorbing hundreds of millions of dollars of government funding without delivering much to the communities they were supposedly working for.
The same thing is happening with irregular migration into Europe. “The Italians are making money off us” said one of the guys we spoke to, who wants to work as a football player in Europe. “Every migrant knows this.” And not only the Italians. On every step of his journey from Gambia, he encountered an auxiliary industry making money from migrants. In Libya he was kidnapped both by the police and by criminals. The kidnappers demanded their families wire money. “If you don’t have money they shoot you in the leg” he said, and he began to rub his thigh. With his jailers it was more complicated and in the end he and a group of detainees made a prison break during Ramadan.
Then there were the people smugglers, who take around 1000€ to cram you on board a boat, choosing as captain the passenger with the most sea faring experience. When they arrive in Italy there are the sailors paid to perform sea rescues, the prison operators and then if you are released the operators of the migrant home where you live, those working in the tribunals to hear your asylum case, or whatever grounds you use to attempt to remain in Italy… It is endless.
Corruption runs deep in the provision of services to migrants. I hesitate to talk about the role of organised crime because it sets up a false dichotomy between organised crime and ‘legitimate’ official migration authorities. Nevertheless there are crime syndicates involved, with one senior figure in Rome recorded on a wiretap saying he makes more money running detention centers and migrant homes than they do from drugs.
Last night one man from Ghana said that the UN gives Italy money to take care of the migrants, but the Italians are keeping it for themselves. I haven’t verified this yet. However, from both a large number of migrants and from a meeting with the advocacy group Borderline Europe, we learned that many facilities do not even provide the €1.50 per day allowance that they are legally obliged to pay to those living in migration facilities.
Attitudes among those we spoke to ranges from anger to resignation to a quiet defiance from those who just plan to wait out this inane moment in their lives, to get their papers and leave Italy for good.