03 August 2011

Ponte Galeria, Italy: Work will set you free

After the revolt, the expulsions. The forced repatriation machine of the center for identification and expulsion (CIE) of Rome, in Ponte Galeria, has started up again at full speed after the riots that devastated the CIE the night between Friday and Saturday . The first to pick up the bill were 17 Egyptians. Saturday morning they were transferred to solitary confinement in a section of the women’s area. And Sunday afternoon they were loaded onto a plane to Cairo. Their absence will be felt. They will be missed by their families (they all have cousins ​​in Rome and one of them is expecting a child by his Romanian partner with whom he was living). And they will be missed by their employers. Yes, because apart from a young man from Mansura, who landed at Lampedusa from Libya a month ago, all the others worked as porters in the CAR, the food center of Rome. This is the main point of wholesale of fruit and vegetables throughout the capital, 45,000 square meters of exhibition at the city gates, in Guidonia Montecelio where thousands of people work, including hundreds of porters kept without a contract by their employers. Just like the 16 Egyptians that Italy has just expelled. Young men who from the moment they landed in Sicily, four or five years ago, began to work diligently, leaning for support on cousins ​​in Rome. Loading and unloading, night shifts, overtime. Never a criminal record, people all ‘home and work.’ Until the day of the police raid at the general markets.

It was last July 27. The Police of Rome call them ‘targeted controls to contrast illegal employment and illegal immigration’. And the main Italian newspaper (Corriere della Sera) merely copied and pasted the press release of the State Police, reporting sentences such as: ‘The people reported to the police made their way to the food centre in search of insecure employment, with duties of loading / unloading and transportation of goods’. As if it were a crime. However, nobody ever tells us what happens to those workers.

The report on the police raids in the general markets of Rome on Corriere.it

In 2011 the controls intensified. Hundreds of porters ended up in the police headquarters. Mustafa is one of them. In his thirties, also Egyptian, and also a native of Gharbiyya on the Nile delta, like the 16 others expelled on Sunday. Mustafa worked at the general markets at the Fruttital stall, which is a leading Italian company in the importation of exotic fruits from South America. Regular contract, pay slips. Everything in order. But only in appearance. Yes, because when the police headquarters in Rome cross-checked the details of his request for a residence permit with the history of his fingerprints, they traced back to his 2004 landing in Sicily, and the first expulsion document of 2006. And they withdrew his residence permit. The rest happened last June 8.

It was nine o'clock in the morning. Mustafa had just finished the night shift and was returning home. The new house, in Guidonia Montecelio, where he had moved eight days earlier, rented. The police was outside, he showed his Egyptian passport. On it he still had his Schengen visa printed. Yes, because it is true that Mustafa landed in Sicily in 2004. But then after four years of work he found a person willing to give him a contract and in 2008 he returned to Egypt by plane, showed up at the Italian Embassy and obtained a visa to regularly enter with the decree on immigration quotas. Which is the path of most of those who now have their documents in order. You arrive without documents, work without a contract, return to your country and come back with a Visa on your passport and the contract.

Mustafa’s adventure in Italy is now at the end of the line. The Egyptian embassy is without a shadow of a doubt the most efficient in the identification of its citizens for returns. And barring unforeseen circumstances, there is no doubt that Mustafa will be forced to return to Gharbiyya. But he continues to hope for the contrary. And he has asked his brother, who lives in Rome with six other cousins, to pay him the rent of the month of July for his home in Guidonia. In it are all his things, and he wouldn’t want to be evicted because of rent arrears.

And because in the CIE, with the new law, he may be there for up to 18 months. He, who has never been to prison, and for whom the only criminal precedent is for driving without a license. It's been only two and a half months since his entrance, but he can’t take it anymore. From the first day in prison, he continues to insist on not taking psychotropic drugs, as instead most people in Ponte Galeria do. He doesn’t want to mess his brain up, as he says, but this way it’s more difficult. Especially now that Ramadan has started. The sacred month that every good Muslim awaits for the whole year. Sweets, presents, parties, time spent with family. In 2011 there will be none of these. He will spend Ramadan behind iron bars, eating overcooked pasta served on disposable plates in the canteen. In Egypt they had taught him that work sets you free, but in Italy he has just discovered that the opposite is true.

translated by Camilla Gamba