Migrant Lives

Italy's Abandoned Grandchildren Of African Colonization

Immigrants demand their rights in Rome.
Immigrants demand their rights in Rome.
Flavia Amabile

ROME — These are the kinds of lives that appear like ships at the mercy of a storm, where salvation will seem like a surprise — if it actually arrives. These are the stories of Eritreans with Italian roots trying, sometimes with the most desperate means, to make it to Italy.

First, the history. Italy took colonial authority over Eritrea in 1890, and, according to the Italian census of 1939, the capital city of Asmara had a population of 98,000, of whom 53,000 were Italians. Among the colonizing troops and administers, some Italian men took the local women as their servants, and no small number of children were born out of wedlock. Typically, when such unintended "accidents" occurred, the women were unceremoniously abandoned. Nobody has been able to quantify how many children were born under these circumstances.

But what we know now is that Eritrea is a poor country ruled by a military dictatorship — and ever more people are trying to emigrate. This includes a group with a particular connection to Italy, such as brothers Emanuele and Angelo, who were born to a mother whose Italian father had disavowed her.

Their grandmother gave their mother to an orphanage because she would never be able to live openly in the capital with the child who was born under such circumstances.

Their mother grew up, got married and had four children, including Emanuele and Angelo, today 29 and 26 years old, respectively.

After years of mandatory service in the Eritrean military, the brothers managed to get the go-ahead to request their Italian citizenships, even though their mother's own application had been repeatedly denied. But after their new Italian passports arrived, it was followed by an ultimatum from the Eritrean government: Because they had chosen to leave the army, they also had to go within 45 days.

One sister left behind

It wasn't easy to start new lives in a completely different country, where they knew no one and nothing — not even a few words of the language. Since then it has been three long years of humiliation in public offices as they try to explain that they are, in fact, Italian, with full rights to health care, to a social security number and permanent residence.

Eritrea 1936 (photo — Fiore Barbato)

They are also fighting for refugee status because they were forced to flee their country, much like other Eritreans who have landed on Italian shores after making dangerous crossings of the desert and the Mediterranean, often landing on the small island of Lampedusa.

Today, though living safely and legally in Italy, Emanuele and Angelo are still in the middle of their journey. They're no longer Eritrean, but they're not quite Italian either — as is written on their identity cards. They don't have access to public housing, or to the grants that would allow them attend university. They get by however they can, living in one of Rome's many abandoned tenements, unable to find steady work. A year ago, one of their sisters joined them, and all three worry about their last sister left in Eritrea, the only one who still hasn't managed to obtain Italian citizenship, though she too is legally entitled to it.

Emanuele and Angelo also worry about all the other children abandoned by Italy who remain in Eritrea. Nobody has officially counted them, but there are thousands of people forced to suffer violence and injustice or, in the best-case scenario, spend their lives in the army. Emanuele and Angelo are asking Italy not to look the other way.

"We don't want anything from the state, we’re somehow getting by and are surviving," says Emanuele. "But we only ask that you wake up and help all those who are of Italian descent to get the citizenship they are entitled to and get them here."

Community of Sant’Egidio, the Rome-based Catholic aid and human rights organization, has called for a revision of the norms of family reunification that, under current law, is only possible between parents and children. "The degree of kinship and possibility of private sponsorship offered by family members, relatives and non-profit organizations, associations and agencies active in the fields of migration and asylum should be extended and facilitated," says Daniela Pompei, head of Immigration Services at Sant’Egidio. "In this way, we would allow those who are sponsored to be authorized to enter the country."

Their second proposal could be even more far-reaching: the opening of European offices for asylum and immigration in the countries from which many immigrants flock. "This follows the U.S. model," continues Pompei, "and would open a channel through which refugees don’t have to put their lives at the hands of traffickers and dangerous boats. It would also allow them to seek protection in the European embassies already in their countries."

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Society

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.


Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?


The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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