Berlusconi labels refugees a 'time bomb'

Berlusconi labels refugees a 'time bomb'

Ten thousand migrants are living in “deplorable” conditions in Italy without shelter, food and clean water, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned in a damning indictment of the country’s border practices. “Inadequate” reception policies are forcing refugees into slums, squats and abandoned buildings with limited access to basic services, the charity said. As The Independent writes in an article "Italy accused of subjecting 10,000 migrants to 'deplorable' conditions as Berlusconi labels them a time bomb", increasing marginalisation of asylum seekers and a growing prevalence of forced evictions has led to small groups of migrants living in increasingly hidden places, the charity found, exposing them to “inhumane” living conditions. 

The findings, released as part of the second edition of the charity’s Out of Sight report, reveal the torturous reality facing huge swathes of Italy’s migrant population. But the survey shows Italians are increasingly uneasy over the numbers of refugees that have reached their country’s shores by boat over the past four years. The report’s release coincides with a spike in anti-immigration rhetoric ahead of the 4 March parliamentary elections.

On Saturday, a far-right extremist was arrested on suspicion of shooting six Africans in a racially motivated attack in Macerata.

Days later, Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister whose Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party has entered a coalition with the Northern League and the smaller Brothers of Italy, promised to deport 600,000 migrants if their coalition came to power.  “These 600,000 people, we will pick them up using police, law enforcement and the military... everyone can help identify them by pointing them out, and they will be picked up,” he said, claiming immigration was a “social bomb” linked to crime.  

Northern League leader Matteo Salvini also promised “irregular” migrants would be rounded up and sent home “in 15 minutes” if he and his allies take power.

Opponents of Mr Berlusconi have been quick to point the finger, accusing him of allowing the woeful humanitarian conditions facing refugees to gain a foothold during his three terms in office. Charities accused him of peddling opportunistic propaganda.

Alberto Barbieri, director of Medici per i Diritti Umani (MEDU), an Italian medical human rights organisation, said the 81-year-old’s comments were “false, irresponsible and propagandistic”.  “In the climate of the electoral campaign, he is trying to mobilise the worst instincts and irrational fears of citizens,” he told The Independent.  “Migrants arriving in Italy are fleeing serious violence in their countries of origin and along the migratory route. Since there are no humanitarian corridors, the only way to reach Europe for migrants is to put themselves in the hands of human smugglers and traffickers.” He said 90 per cent of the migrants helped by MEDU in the last four years had been victims of torture and “degrading treatments”. “They are vulnerable people and not people ‘ready’ to commit crimes,” he said. “We certainly do not want to deny the complexity of the current migration phenomenon and the considerable difficulties in its management, but Mr Berlusconi’s statements do not help to find solutions compatible with civil coexistence and respect for human rights but rather fuelling confusion, xenophobia and racism. All this for exclusive electoral purposes.”

MSF are now calling for urgent action to be taken by the Italian government to guarantee refugees “access to basic goods and medical care throughout the period of their stay in Italy”. They are urging authorities to improve the emergency reception system and foster better social inclusion for migrants. “Instead of long-term policies that respond to the basic needs of the relatively manageable number of people now living in inhumane conditions, we increasingly witness the criminalisation of migrants and refugees and those who help them with their basic needs,” said Tommaso Fabbri, head of MSF’s projects in Italy. “European and Italian policies ought to be helping these men, women and children, not harming them. It’s time to change course.”