Ubiquitous racism

A look at the institutional racism of migration policy in Italy and Europe in the wake of another tragic drowning of migrants.

Submitted by StrugglesInItaly on June 21, 2013

Every year, seasons flow one into another. As smooth flourishing spring gives way to hot sultry summer, people on the other side of the Mediterranean get ready to leave for Europe. Every year, warm weather brings calmer seas and the repeated pattern of emergencies. Newspaper headlines try to intrigue readers about this inexplicable seasonal event; they try to explain why people die every year seeking to get to Fortress Europe, and how they die – by drowning.

The latest news is of 95 immigrants rescued by the Italian Coast Guard while clinging to a tuna cage. Survivors told rescue workers that seven people had drowned after they had tried to scramble on board the trawler when the crew cut the line to the cage. Witnesses said the victims had been pushed back into the sea.

Last weekend around 1000 people, mainly from Libya and Tunisia, arrived in Sicily and Calabria. Most of them are Egyptian, Tunisian and Eritrean.

The flood of migrants has left the CIE, immigrant detention centre, in Lampedusa packed well beyond capacity. Built to accommodate a maximum of 300 people, the centre is now full to bursting with 855 people, and no transfers are currently planned.

Who is to blame for this shameful state of affairs? Italian newspapers usually report the news as a matter of fact: this kind of thing happens. Sometimes the blame is laid at the door of thoughtless boat skippers who do not take enough fuel, who sail in bad weather conditions or who have an old boat. Sometimes even immigrants themselves are blamed, with newspapers suggesting that nature is punishing them for their unlawful behaviour of illegal immigration. Only very rarely is a greater cause of death singled out: institutional racism.

“Institutional racism is the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.” – The Macpherson report

To have a racist institution you don’t need a racist officer or an explicit racist ideology, you just need to look at the effects of the policies, procedures and operations of an institution. In a narrow sense there’s systematic racism where social structure reflect prejudices. A law halting the North African refugee emergency without providing refugees with shelter or basic aid and forcing them to resort to crime is institutional racism. An immigration law which takes away migrant workers’ constitutional rights is an act of institutional racism. A citizenship law based on ius sanguinis (right of birth) is a clear example of institutional racism when applied in a country with a high immigration rate and a strict, work-linked, immigration law.

The survivors of the tuna cage incident will have to demonstrate they were subject to violence, discrimination or threat to their life in their country of origin, otherwise they will be sent immediately to a CIE, according to the law. Systematic discrimination against a social group, based on their nationality or ethnicity, and denying them the right to free movement, is institutional racism.

An emergency that occurs every year is not an emergency, but the result of an institution’s policies, procedures and operations, “a collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.”

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