, 23 november 2021

Richard Braude: ‘As long as the violent border control continues, we will remain committed to those resisting it’

Some people who arrive on the Italian island of Sicily via rickety boats receive an asylum permit, but the vast majority end up in the tough shadow society of undocumented migrant workers. And then there are those who – sometimes unjustly – end up in prison. Volunteers from the Italian human rights organisation Porco Rosso assist these and other people in need. Richard Braude , social support worker, explains:
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Lots to fight against

‘Discrimination, exploitation, obstacles to accessing social and legal assistance: refugees and migrants that arrive here have a lot to fight against. Anyone who is in need can visit our office on Wednesday afternoons. People come in with questions about documents or hospital visits, or with requests for help with translation, for example.’

Acute problems

‘Besides holding the weekly drop-in, we are concerned with developments in the city of Palermo and the local area. For example, we’ve noticed that women and children have problems accessing hostels for asylum seekers and end up in very unstable living conditions. And right now we’re focusing on the situation surrounding the olive harvest.’

Premium olive oil

‘Discriminatory policies at a national level, as well as structural problems in the agricultural sector, mean migrants fall prey to exploitation and cheap labour. That premium, authentic Italian olive oil you find in many kitchens? There’s a good chance it was made under appalling conditions by the hundreds of people who live around the olive fields in self-built shacks, just a few kilometres from half-deserted rural Italian villages full of empty houses.’

Long-term solution

‘We visit the temporary camps to educate migrants about their rights and employment opportunities. Recently, a tent camp in Campobello di Mazara burned down almost completely. Some NGOs and trade unions brought new clothes and items for the homeless migrants, which was a nice gesture. But instead of donating, let’s make sure these shanty towns no longer have to exist. Once the olives are picked, the tomatoes will have to be harvested and the problem will repeat itself elsewhere.’

Experts by experience

‘A great development is that more and more experts by experience are joining our organisation. One of them is 32-year-old Cheikh from Senegal. After he arrived in Italy in 2016, he was arrested for piloting the boat that left from Libya. In recent years, Italian police have arrested thousands of migrants because, as the “captain” of a boat, they are legally considered to be people smugglers. Although they are often just migrants like any other, they sometimes end up in jail for years or even decades.’

Report

‘Cheikh’s experience was the start of our research report From Sea to Prison. It describes how the legal system is putting hundreds of migrants through pointless, unfair trials. Unfortunately, Italy – like other European countries – often prioritises criminalising migration over investing in protection and opening up legal channels of access. But deals between Europe and Turkey or between Italy and Libya do not reduce the number of refugees or stop exploitation; they simply make the journey more dangerous.’

Future plans

‘At Porco Rosso, we hope that our legal advocacy for refugees and migrants will no longer be needed in the future because the problems and injustice they face will have stopped. After that, we can focus again on what we were originally founded to do: use culture to connect people in the region. But unfortunately, as long as Italy and Europe maintain their violent and sometimes illegal border security strategy, we will continue to stand in solidarity with those who are resisting it and trying to build a better life here in Europe.’