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RIGHTS: Italy Builds Its Own Separation Wall

Stefania Milan

PADUA, Sep 5 2006 (IPS) - ‘Stop the Wall’, say the posters on the three-metre high metal panels that have come up to isolate the migrant estate on Anelli Road from their surroundings in Padua.

The posters might just have worked. By the end of this month the wall in this industrialised city in the north of Italy will have reached a length of 80 metres. But it will go that far and no more.

It is not very long wall as it stands, but it is enough to separate the run-down buildings of the migrants from housing estates, shopping centres and office blocks. The wall has come up on one side of the estate; it is still only fenced in on the other three.

The four-floor green buildings within are home to about 700 migrants, mainly from Morocco and Nigeria. The entrance to the estate is a checkpoint constantly monitored by the police.

“Nobody wants to rent a flat to black people,” Nigerian Alphonsus Iroh who lives in the migrant estate told IPS. “It is difficult to get a house outside Anelli Road.”

He lives in a 28-square-metre flat on the estate with his wife and their two children. Rent ranges from 500 to 1000 euros (640 to 1280 dollars) a month, far above market rent for such places.

On a typical afternoon last week, about 80 people sat grilling meat in the courtyard, listening to loud music. About ten police officers watched them from a distance.

The estate is neither pretty nor comfortable. Most flats have no heating. Names have been scratched on the dark red walls on the staircases. Rubbish lies in every corner.

Anelli Road has come to be known as the ‘Padua Bronx’, “the symbol of segregation of migrants, of drugs and prostitution,” said Daniela Ruffini who is responsible for migrant policies in the centre-left local administration.

The estate has also seen Bronx-like violence. A fight between rival criminal groups at the estate at the end of July made neighbours angrier than ever, and strengthened demands to raise a wall.

“We are just replacing a fence that was taken down by drug dealers,” Ruffini told IPS. “The request came from the neighbours and the police, since most drug dealers avoid controls by escaping through the neighbourhood.”

The old fence was a simple metallic grid. The new barrier, higher and thicker, is facing overheated comparisons to the Israeli fence in Jerusalem, and even Guantanamo. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung called it a reminder of the Berlin wall.

The new barrier might stay, but the separation it has brought is due to end.

Civil society groups have protested outside the estate and asked authorities to take down the wall. It “disregards the dignity of the residents,” says the leftwing group Global Project.

The wall is a “dangerous model for other cities,” the group said in a statement. “It can only reinforce the racism already present in the area.”

The association Razzismo Stop (Stop Racism) that provides material and legal aid to the migrants, threatened to “remove the wall with a series of actions from below.”

But some of the inhabitants of the estate welcome the new wall for now. “It is wonderful. This way drug dealers cannot come and go all the time, there is more control,” Iroh said. But Iroh also accuses the police of “not doing enough to protect those who are not part of the drug trafficking.”

The estate is due to close down next year. Three of the six buildings on the estate were evacuated in 2005, and 327 people were relocated by the local administration. A fourth building will be cleared out in October, and the last two by the end of 2007.

“The objective is to take down this ghetto that for us is a shame,” Ruffini said. “Padua has more than 19,000 legal migrants, well integrated in the society. Here there are still those who could not find an alternative, and we are working to give them one.”

Padua has a population of 205,000. One in three of the new born in city hospitals is now of foreign origin, according to local authorities. The province has a migrant population of 70,000. Most find work in local factories.

“The migrants in Anelli road and the neighbours are both facing threats from groups of criminals who can hide easily in such a degraded area,” Ruffini said. “The municipality is working hard to relocate these people, but the legislation does not help.”

The current migration law, the Bossi-Fini law as it is called after the name of two former ministers, was approved in 2004 by the earlier right-wing government led by Silvio Berlusconi. The law lets in only migrants with a job contract, restricts their stay to two years and makes clandestine stay a crime.

“It is a law on control and exploitation of the work force, not on the integration of those people who come here to work,” Ruffini said. “It is an offence to human dignity.”

Migrants in Italy represent 4.8 percent of the total population of 56 million, according to the aid group Caritas. Most (59 percent) live in the industrialised north.

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