Tuesday, February 14, 2012
African problem runs deeper than American attitudes of discrimination
Friday, February 10
Although yesterday I pointed out a parallel between U.S. racial relations in the 1950s and 60s and Italian attitudes of today, the roots of the situation here are much different. First of all, the blacks in Italy all came here by choice, with a majority sneaking in illegally. They are resented by the Italians for a variety of reasons: They take away jobs, they put a financial strain on the social, medical and education systems, and they change the culture and tone of a society that is hugely dependent on its cultural appeal for its number one industry of tourism. Seventy-five percent of Italians also think that immigrants are responsible for an increase in crime in the country, according to a 2000 census survey.
I find all this out in conversations with Jeremiah, a Nigerian member of our church here, and Steve, the pastor, as well as from on-line sources. Jeremiah has been here for seven years, without documentation and without a regular job. He has a wife in Nigeria whom he supports by selling cheap products on the streets and picking up the infrequent odd job. In order to obtain a permesso di soggiorno, he needs someone who will guarantee his support and health care while he is in the country, and none of his Nigerian friends are wealthy enough to do this.
Nigerians like Jeremiah are caught in a Catch 22-like situation, Steve says. “They can’t get a job because they don't have work permits. And they can't get work permits because they don't have jobs.”
To get a work permit, immigrants have to find someone who will stand up and say, “I need this man for this job because he has a special set of skills.” That very rarely happens, and so Jeremiah lives perpetually in poverty. Some Africans in his situation give up and go back home, but he remains, hoping that one day his situation will improve.
Italy cannot possibly afford the extra military protection needed to guard its coastlines from the flood of illegal immigrants. While Italian citizens cry out for the government to find a solution, it seems that for others, the unofficial policy is “We can't stop them from coming, but we can make it so miserable here that they won't want to stay.”