How long ago the summer of 1996 seems. And that holiday spent cruising the Mediterranean. Ramzi was twenty. From Tunis they left in seven. University students, middle class, no desire to ‘burn the border’ and get into trouble with customs. A few adventures with the girls on board was a more than tempting program. But instead that night in Barcelona, already drunk after yet another beer, they decided they would not return to the ship. Europe was there, all for them, ready to be courted and won over. And when they woke up hung-over from too much drinking the night before, the ship had actually left. The memory of that foolish night that changed their lives resurfaces 15 years later. This time, however, for Ramzi there is no cold beer with which to toast the follies of youth. Because in the center of identification and expulsion of Rome, alcohol is prohibited. It's been nine months since his last beer. And since the stroll down the promenade of San Remo. Nine months behind the cages of identification and expulsion centers. First Turin, then Rome. Because it is true that the maximum limit of detention in CIEs is 6 months. But if they deport you to the wrong country, it’s worse than Monopoly. Go to jail, miss a turn and start again from ‘Go’.
This is the story of Ramzi. A 35 year-old Tunisian expelled by mistake to Morocco after 5 months of imprisonment in the CIE of Turin, and sent back to Italy after 15 days in jail in Casablanca, only to end up once again in a CIE, this time in Rome. From which they started counting from zero. How to say that now, with the new law on repatriations, he risks losing another 18 months of his freedom. He, who in the CIEs spent 14 months just in the last two years.
But let's start from the beginning. Which is not the trip to Barcelona in 1996, but the first routine police document check in Italy. It's 1998, Ramzi is afraid of being deported to Tunisia, and so declares a fake name, an Iraqi name: Rami Ali. The trick works, because after a month he’s released from the temporary detention centre in Lamezia Terme.
Since then, he will always carry that double identity. Including in 2001, when he ends up in jail for drug dealing. He serves a year. And shortly after being released he is stopped, found without documents, and taken to the CIE in Turin. It’s 2003. Once again, he insists with the Iraqi name, certain that this will prevent his repatriation.
Instead, one morning at dawn, they come to drag him out of bed. It’s been 22 days since his entry into CIE. The consulate has identified him as a Moroccan citizen. Probably thinking he's yet another pretending to be Iraqi and trying to change accent. There is no time for protests, and before realising what is happening, he finds himself in the port of Genoa, on the ship headed for Tangier.
And in Morocco he goes straight to jail. The offense is the same one that Italy accused him of: illegal entry onto the national territory. The penalty is two months. Hell. Once outside all he can do is show up at the Tunisian embassy in Rabat and demand the documents to return by plane to Tunis.
Three years go by, and the desire to go back takes over. Once again it is a ship to take him to the north shore of the Mediterranean. Not a cruise ship, however, this time it’s a merchant ship. It links Tunis to Marseille. All you have to do is pay the right person and hide in the hold. Life starts over from France. It's the summer of 2006. In Nice there’s a Tunisian electrician who gives him day-to-day work. But he makes his base on the other side of the border, in San Remo, where his brother’s family lives. And in the meantime, he continues to round off his meager income by selling the hashish.
But the police has set their sights on him and keep an eye on him. A few months later comes the arrest. The sentence is heavy this time: 3 years. And at the end of the sentence, from San Vittore prison in Milan, they take him straight to the center for identification and expulsion of Gradisca, in Friuli. It is June 10th of 2009.
Rami Ali waits for the 60 days of detention to pass. When, however, he has already packed his suitcases and is ready to return to San Remo, the Italian Parliament converts into law the ‘security package’. It is August 9, 2009. The maximum period of detention in CIE passes from 60 days to 6 months. The rule is applied retroactively. Ramzi must serve 4 more months. The riots which take place in Gradisca and other Italian CIEs do not serve to change things.
From the center of Gradisca he comes out only in December. He’s a mess. He returns to San Remo to his brother. His lawyer tells him to stay calm until the next amnesty. He no longer ventures out of the city. But once again they come looking for him. It's December of the following year, 2010. That morning he’s at the cafè drinking coffee with a friend. The cop recognizes him. He knows about his criminal record and that morning he’s got the face of someone who wants to clean up the city. He tells him to follow him. One night in a police station, and the next day he’s in the CIE of Turin.
The same CIE where in 2003 he was expelled by mistake. The ghosts of the Moroccan prisons come back to haunt him. This time, Ramzi is scared. He anxiously awaits his validation hearing with the justice of the peace and obsessively repeats his real name, that he is not called Rami Ali and that he is not Iraqi. He says that once before they repatriated him from Turin to Morocco, but that it’s not his country, and that he is from Tunisia. The judge reassures him, but he does not have the face of one who’s taking him seriously.
And when, five months later, they come to take him from his cell, he immediately knows that something is wrong. It’s dawn, first they tie his wrists behind his back with sello-tape. Then they shove him in a room with three others, an old man and two boys, all three Moroccans. One of them is covered with tape from head to toe, rolled up like a sausage, because he opposed resistance, and even has a strip of tape over his mouth so he won’t be able to scream on the plane. Time to go, destination Casablanca.
For the second time, once he lands in Morocco, Ramzi is arrested for illegal immigration. This time, however, hell lasts only 15 days. The Moroccan authorities have ordered to return the parcel to the sender, as long as he pays the airfare himself. Once he’s landed at Fiumicino, the game starts all over again. Once more in a CIE. This time in Ponte Galeria. And a period of 6 to 18 months, depending on what the Senate will vote, to pass in a cage. Guilty of travelling. Harraga. Not to mention a repeat offender.
How far the summer of 1996 seems.