02 October 2009

Floriana, in Italy since she was 13, now at risk of expulsion

Class of 1982, Floriana has been living in Italy since 1995, when she was 13 years old. Half of her family live here. An older brother and a sister, also older, married to an Italian soldier stationed at the army base of Cesano. The only ones left in Albania are her mother, a sister and a brother. Floriana’s story is marked by one single mistake committed as a teenager. One mistake immigrants can’t afford to make- if they do, they’ll have no chance of being issued a residence permit. At the age of 14, in fact, Floriana was arrested for theft in Massa Carrara. At the time she kept bad company, a gang of Albanians who sent her to steal inside apartments. She was arrested and sentenced to two years and three months. Despite being underage, not understanding a word of Italian, and not having had adequate access to interpreters, she never said she was a minor and was sent to a prison for adults. She was released after three months and 25 days, with the obligation to sign in for another two years. Again, not having the faintest idea of the consequences that would have incurred, Floriana escaped from the residential institution that housed her and went to Rome.

At age of 18 she married an young Italian man in Rome. When she went to police headquarters to provide general information to get her residence permit, her criminal records surfaced, along with her unspent criminal conviction. She was officially a fugitive. Therefore, four year after the event, she was arrested again and taken to Rebibbia prison, where this time she served the entire two years remaining of her sentence. The period of detention made her lose her residence permit for marriage, because when they went to his house to see if she was residing with her husband, she was in prison. Ultimately, since she’s lived in Italy she has never had a valid residence permit. And she will not obtain one with an amnesty as she has a criminal record. Yet she has spent more years in Italy than she has in Albania. A detail that the law, however, disregards. As do those who apply the law. So when they stopped her at a ordinary roadblock in San Giovanni, Rome, two months ago, the police took her directly to the Centre for Identification and Expulsion of Ponte Galeria, Rome, where she is likely to be repatriated soon.

That day she was in the car with her sister and brother. They were taking her to hospital for a tonsillitis operation. It's been 71 days. With her she has an Albanian passport, issued by the Albanian Embassy in Rome, where she has therefore been identified. Floriana is afraid to return to Albania. She says that in her mother’s village in the countryside they accuse her of having dishonoured the family; some uncles and relatives have made death threats over the phone to her for having tainted the family name. She’s even afraid to go back to Tirana. Albania is a very small country, she says, all it takes is a chance encounter and the word would get around. That's why she asked for political asylum. The Committee for the recognition of refugee status held a hearing on Thursday, September 24. But the answer was negative.

But there is another reason she does not want to return: her place is here. "I don’t know no one there – she says in perfect Italian and with a marked accent from Rome – There is where I'm foreign, you know? Not here. Here I've got all my friends. Here I've got my husband. This is my home."


translated by Camilla Gamba