06 March 2011

Tareq’s birthday

On 15 March, Tareq turns five. And he’s really hoping that for his birthday daddy will come home. He’s not seen him for two months now. ‘But where is daddy, Tareq?’ I ask him. ‘In Avezzano’ (a city not far form Rome), he answers timidly, only to run and hide behind the stairs, chased by his little cousin Sara who corrects him with a tone of a little know-it-all. ‘That’s not true! He’s gone to Morocco!’ After the initial laughs, in the sitting room of the Abaziad family, there is a moment of awkwardness. No one has told the children what has really happened yet. It’s just that some things are difficult to explain to small children. How do you, for example, tell a child that in 2011 there is a law in Italy which prohibits a father from living with his own son if he does not have a paper called ‘residency permit’. And that without that piece of paper the police will come to your house, beat on the door, yell and load you in their car like in the movies to take you to a sort of prison far away from your family and your city. No, better not to upset the children, and let them play as if nothing were out of order, on the lawns of this small town in Abruzzo.

We are in Gioia dei Marsi, in the province of L’Aquila. A few houses in the foothills, two thousand souls, a few young people and a growing number of immigrant families, attracted to this region by the agricultural economy of the Fucino plain. The men end up in the fields cutting fennels and picking lettuce. The women in the facilities for washing vegetables. This is where the family of Kabbour, Tareq’s father, live. I met Kabbour in the centre for identification and expulsion of Modena, where he has been imprisoned for two months, awaiting repatriation to Morocco. Today is Sunday 6 March, and we have come up here to see things more clearly. Because in Gioia live his parents, uncles, four sisters, nephews, his wife, his ex partner and his son Tareq. And they’ve been living here forever. Kabbour arrived here when he was a child of 11, and everyone in town knows him. Hi sisters, his nephews and his son were even born in Italy. Yes, because Kabbour’s family was the first Moroccan family to move to Gioia dei Marsi, back in 1995. The first to arrive was Tareq’s grandfather, Kabbour’s father, Mr Abdelkerim who arrived in Abruzzo in 1989, at the age of 33. Four years later he was joined by his wife and three sons.

‘That was the lawn where the children used to play when they were little’ – Mr Abdelkerim tells me pointing to an overgrown field. ‘We would make teams- me, Kabbour, Leila and Miriam, two against two.’ And under his white moustache, a smile spreads amongst the wrinkles of a face marked by hardships. Twenty-two years of hard, back-braking work in the fields and of going round the town festivals in the region with his stall during his days off. Twenty-two years of contributions paid to the Italian government and of savings he invested buying a house here in Gioia dei Marsi, where his children have grown up. ‘That was the elementary school where the girls studied, and that’s the middle school that Kabbour went to.’

After a few years in the fields with his father, Kabbour took up commerce. He had a stall and a regular permit as a market vendor. In the basement of the house there is still the warehouse for storing merchandise. Boxes full of watches, earrings, wallets, belts, toys. Business was good, until one day they caught him with extremely dangerous burned films and music CDs. The same ones sold in thousands of cities throughout Italy, but which in Avezzano arose a significant degree of social alarm, seeing as how Kabbour was found guilty of violation of copyright and given a six-month sentence, reduced to forty days thanks to the 2006 amnesty.

Of that criminal precedent Kabbour probably even forgot with the passing of time. Until, however, it was brought up again, years later, to revoke his residency permit with an ordinance of July 2010. In addition to that sentence, they even brought up a conviction for burglary, a foolish act of ten years earlier, when Kabbour and four of his friends each took away a track suit from a clothing store in Avezzano. On the basis of that ordinance, the prefecture of L’Aquila actually judges him to be an element of ‘social danger’ for which they invoke his immediate removal from the Italian territory. The son of a family who counts three generations here in Italy: father, children and grandchildren. The police even sent a police car to take him from his home at seven in the morning of 10 January, as if he were a super-fugitive. And the following day he was behind bars in the centre for expulsions in Modena. From which he calls Tareq every day telling him not to worry, that he’ll be home soon.

But why this sudden fury against Kabbour? Even his lawyer, C. Terra, wonders this, and admits: ‘I’ve spoken to the commissariat, and against Kabbour there is a certain prejudice.’ In other Italian cities, it is well known that police force people without documents to collaborate in anti-drugs investigations naming names of their fellow countrymen involved in trafficking networks. To whoever collaborates they promise a life free from id checks and document controls, and for those who refuse, instead there is the threat of a police report and expulsion. And in Gioia? No, because word in town has it that once in a while the police would come to take Kabbour from his house at night and would take him to the commissariat. What did they talk about? And what had they been talking about the time he ended up in hospital after the blows he received in the commissariat? Are we sure he’s the only one who must be expelled from the country?

translated by Camilla Gamba