The fate of thousands of African migrants who were forced to flee Libya and Tunisia in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring and risked their lives to sail to Italy hangs in the balance as government funds set aside to deal with that emergency are due to run out at the end of this year. This means all centres housing some of the 18,000 migrants across the country will be shut down, leaving these (mostly sub-Sahara African) migrants without shelter. Although the centres which are run by cooperatives are only meant to provide temporary shelter while migrants’ asylum applications are being processed by the state, many asylum cases remain unheard, more than 18 months since the arrival of migrants into the country.
Villa Aldini in Bologna, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna is one such centre. Luciano Serio, the centre’s director held a meeting with the 45 asylum seekers under his care on Saturday to break the sad news. “This is a very delicate moment. The contract we signed with the government expires on December 31, 2012 and we don’t know whether it will be renewed,” he said. “Emilia-Romagna is one of the last regions and Villa Aldini is one of the last centres that is yet to be processed – this means the government will definitely do something for you.”
But the possibility of a government renewal of contracts is very unlikely following the revelation in an exclusive investigative report by Espresso, the weekly Italian magazine, on how refugee emergency funds have been used. “€1.3 billion: this is what the state has spent so far to assist persons who have fled from Libya and Tunisia. A flood of money without control that has been turned into business for hoteliers, cooperatives and unscrupulous swindlers”, headlined the damning report authored by Michele Sasso and Francesca Sironi.
The report criticized the handling of the emergency crisis which it claimed was carried out in a rather chaotic manner, thereby creating a series of scams and frauds. “€20, 000 was meant to have been spent on every man, woman and child that arrived in our country. But the money did not go to them”, rather it went on “enriching businessmen of every stripe, ruthless hoteliers and unscrupulous cooperatives.”
The government’s federalist approach that allowed each of the country’s 20 regions to accommodate a number of asylum seekers in proportion to its population created a rush, according to the report published last week. “There were no rules to determine who could house refugees and how they should be treated.” It became a free for all as it only takes one phone call for a building to be credited as “reception centres and then grab €1,200 per month per person.” In the process, “hundreds of empty hotel rooms, former farmhouses, uninhabited holiday houses, dilapidated apartments in suburbs” have all become “reception centres.”
In what the report dubbed as “the refugee market”, some 22 hotels in southern Italy were collecting a daily allowance of €43 for each migrant ‘guest’ at a time when the tourist demand was quite low. “Thanks to refugees, (hotel) owners still managed to finish the season with a gross profit of nearly €2 million”, the report claimed.
But all of that is sure to change come the new year when vulnerable asylum seekers could find themselves on the streets in a bitter winter unless government finds a solution. For Serio, there is hope for a government solution for his centre as he looks forward to the outcome of a meeting of senior regional government officials in early November to set “guidelines” on how to tackle what could end up becoming another emergency for the country.
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