“No Longer Refugees, But Citizens:” Libyan Refugees Demonstrate in Reggio Emilia

“No Longer Refugees, But Citizens:” Libyan Refugees Demonstrate in Reggio Emilia

A few hundreds of asylum seekers from Libya demonstrated in the northern-eastern town of Reggio Emilia, where they currently live. They were demanding resident status and, consequently, access to social services before their temporary permits expire. Their struggle to be considered "citizens" and no longer "refugees" casts light on the shortfalls of the Italian policies on refugees, too often looked as an "emergency" rather than a matter of social inclusion and justice.

On Sunday, December 16, a group of migrants fleeing Libya demonstrated in the streets of Reggio Emilia, the city where they are currently living. Several associations called for the rally, including Associations Città Migrante, GA3, Emergency Reggio Emilia and Laboratorio Aq16. The migrants reminded everyone that the City of Reggio Emilia has not, to date, granted residency to asylum seekers from Libya; as their banner read, they want to be “no longer refugees, but citizens”.

In the wake of Gaddafi’s overthrow, around 20,000 people fled Libya and arrived in Italy, a country with a population of 60 million. Such numbers are hardly an “emergency”, the ridiculously inaccurate description used in the media and political discourse.

Following the Italian civil protection agency’s North Africa emergency plan, the asylum seekers were distributed across the country, according to agreements with the regions, provinces and municipalities, and according to each area’s population density. In the past year and a half, the Province of Reggio Emilia has received 200 migrants.

Most of the asylum seekers are not Libyan nationals: they originally fled other countries such as Somalia, Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Sudan, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Burkina Faso, but they were living and working in Libya at the time of the revolution.

On December 31, the civil protection agency’s welcome program will expire. The asylum seekers then risk losing their legal status, thus facing the possibility of deportation and detention, according to Italian law on immigration. Despite repeated requests, temporary visas are only now starting to be issued, and at such a slow pace that it is likely that not all asylum seekers will be receive one by the end of the year.

Other municipalities (such as Parma, Piacenza, Rimini and Ravenna) have granted residency to the asylum seekers but this possibility has not even been discussed by the city of Reggio Emilia. Resident status would allow the migrants to access local social services, a first step on their journey towards inclusion.

On December 20, another demonstration will be held outside the Region of Emilia Romagna’s building in Bologna, to demand that the refugees from Libya are no longer “managed” as an emergency but are assisted through an inclusion strategy which involves all appropriate institutions.

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Dec 19 2012 21:28


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