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INTERNAZIONALE
Internazionale is an Italian weekly magazine founded in Rome in 1993. It has built a reputation as a magazine of reference in a country where international news is often neglected. Along with a selection of "the best articles in the international press", the magazine regularly publishes articles and opinion from globally known writers and intellectuals.
Russia-Ukraine War Begins: 24 Newspaper Front Pages
Geopolitics

Russia-Ukraine War Begins: 24 Newspaper Front Pages

Tensions culminated this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin launching a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, a move widely opposed by world leaders that made virtually every front page around the world.

"THIS IS WAR," reads the front page ofGazeta Wyborcza. Alongside the terse, all-caps headline, the Polish daily features a photo of Olena Kurilo, a teacher from Chuguev whose blood-covered face has become one of the striking images of the beginning of the Ukraine invasion.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage. Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

A day after simultaneous attacks were launched from the south, east and north of the country, by land and by air, some press outlets chose to feature images of tanks, explosions, death and destruction that hit multiple cities across Ukraine, while others focused on the man behind the so-called "special military operation": Putin.

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At a meeting of an organization working to legalize abortion in San Marino
INTERNAZIONALE

San Marino, Tiny Nation-State May Be Next To End Abortion Ban

After Ireland, another once Catholic stronghold in Europe is challenging a longstanding law that makes abortion a crime, for both women and doctors.

Some of the last remaining European countries that enforce bans on abortions have sparked massive social movements in recent years: from Poland where 150,000 demonstrated last October in Warsaw after a court ruled in favor of an almost total abortion ban to the outpouring of support in Ireland for a 2018 referendum that repealed an age-old ban —even the miniature-sized British territory of Gibraltar made international headlines after a campaign recently forced a referendum that successfully scrapped the local law that punished abortions with life imprisonment.

But hidden from view, a much quieter battle is unfolding in the sloping, sleepy streets of a medieval city-state tucked inside central Italy. San Marino, population 33,000, is one of the last places in Europe where getting an abortion on request is illegal (The others are: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco and Poland.)

A priest compared us to Nazis.

Abortions in San Marino are punished with three to six years in prison – for both the woman who requests the abortion and anyone who takes part in the operation, including doctors. The law makes no exceptions for cases of rape or fetal malformation.

That might be about to change after the Union of Sammarinese Women has gathered enough signatures to call a referendum to scrap the restrictions. Campaigners say that the country's restrictive laws are rooted in the long-running influence of the Catholic Church in the small landlocked country. Local politics "does not mirror society, while fundamentalist Catholics are over-represented in the media," Vanessa Muratori, of the women's rights union, told the Italian weekly magazine Internazionale. "A priest compared us to Nazis in World War II. But people think differently, especially among the younger generations."

Unable to have abortions in their country, women often travel to neighboring Italy, where some kinds of abortions on request have been legal since 1978, to secretly have abortions in private clinics for about €2,000. Those who can't afford it usually resort to clandestine abortions in cheaper facilities, Internazionale reports.

In many cases, the secrecy that surrounds abortions increases the social stigma and mental health toll facing women. One young woman who asked not to be named told the magazine she was advised not to say a word about it with anyone.

Women's rights groups have campaigned to scrap the ban since at least 2003, but successive attempts failed to gain the backing of the country's political forces and foundered. Now the referendum, which still must be assigned an election day, could expand Europe's growing list of pro-choice nations — no matter the size.

Migrants protest in the migrant reception center of Torre Maura where there are some coronavirus infected cases
INTERNAZIONALE
Annalisa Camilli

Invisible Horrors Of Italy's Migrant Detention Centers

A young detainee's suicide is drawing attention to the otherwise invisible plight of people locked up in decrepit, pre-deportation facilities known as CPRs.

Accused of stealing a smartphone, Moussa Balde was savagely beaten in Ventimiglia, near the French border, by three Italians with plastic pipes and bars. But after just a brief hospital visit, the 23-year-old man from Guinea was transferred to what is known in Italy as a CPR, a detention center for people awaiting deportation. Now he's dead.

Balde's death is the sixth in a CPR since 2019, and it is is raising serious questions about conditions in the facilities, especially given the circumstances that led up to his detention. The attack that preceded it took place outside a supermarket, and was recorded by a passerby who can be heard in the video shouting: "They're killing him, they're killing him."

Activists hung up a banner in memory of Musa Balde, a young migrant originally from Gambia — Photo: Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press/ZUMA

The video made it possible to identify the attackers and charge them with bodily injuries. Balde was admitted to the nearby Bordighera hospital, but after being discharged he was not treated for his injuries. Instead he was transferred to a CPR in Turin and placed in solitary confinement.

The young man's residence permit had expired and he faced a deportation order. The activist group No CPR, claims that Balde was denied adequate care, and his lawyer, Gianluca Vitale, insists that Balde's last thoughts were of distress.

"I can't stay locked up here anymore," Balde told Vitale. "How long will it be until they let me out? Why was I locked up?"

Two days later he died by suicide after he tied a sheet around his neck.

Useless and inadequate

The face and story of Moussa Balde are told through a video shot in 2017 by the local news site Sanremonews in one of the reception facilities in Imperia that welcomed him after he arrived from Libya in 2016. He had escaped from a difficult situation in his country, he explained, and wanted to study and find a job. Balde supported AS Roma and had finished middle school in Italy.

His suicide is only the flashpoint of the faults of a prison system that has had severe structural problems since its creation in 1998.

Administrative detention is above all a mechanism to create social marginality

The head of Italy's authority for the rights of detainees or people deprived of personal liberty, Mauro Palma, made a series of visits to the country's CPRs for one year between 2019 and 2020 and wrote an assessment of the conditions inside them. In the report, Palma highlighted the uselessness and inadequacy of these detention centers, noting, among other things, that less than 50% of those held there were actually deported last year. Nevertheless, the detainees suffered considerably, being deprived of personal liberty without having committed any crime.

"Administrative detention is above all a mechanism to create social marginality, confinement and to temporarily remove from the sight of the community people that the authorities don't want to be there but are unable, at the same time, to deport," reads the report, which also highlights that the old buildings have structural problems that have not been dealt with in the years.

Between June 2019 and December 2020, five other migrants died while in administrative detention in Italian CPRs.

Serious shortcomings have been found in the centers: The privacy of migrants is not respected, the bathrooms lack doors, police officers attend medical examinations, migrants can be denied writing materials and furnishing, spaces for exercise or communal areas are closed or out of order, health facilities are out of order or in unacceptable conditions, the heating does not work, the migrants' phones are seized on their arrival.

The pandemic has made conditions of the centers even worse, in part because repatriation flights have been suspended, making detention even more pointless for those held in the centers.

"Last May, to protect the health of migrants and local communities, the UN asked the international community to suspend forced deportations," reads an investigation into CPRs run by the Italian website Frontierenews. "But Italy continued to lock foreign citizens in prison-like structures designed to detain and deport irregular migrants. Isolated from society and in precarious physical and mental health, foreign citizens imprisoned in CPRs even lack the protections reserved for prisoners of the prison system. Riots, self-harm and assaults are frequent and there is little transparency about the individuals who manage the centers."

Out of sight, out of mind

Moussa Balde's suicide is not an unexpected event, explains Massimo Veglio, a lawyer with the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI) who has been dealing with conditions within the Turin CPR for years. "Deaths in these centers are frequent, and the conditions in the Turin CPR have degraded over the last year, not only due to the pandemic," he says.

The structure is particularly inhospitable and the Turin prosecutor often requests solitary confinement for its guests.

"The Turin CPR is the only one in Italy with a specific section for solitary confinement: There are 12 cells. We call them "chicken coops,"" Veglio says.

The management of solitary confinement measures is left to the arbitrariness of those in charge of the CPR

The rooms are bare, with essential furniture is lead-sealed to the ground and no windows. There's a courtyard that measures only a few square meters, is surrounded by iron bars and closed above by a roof. Natural light is poor. The view is limited.

"People remain in this place without a legal status, unlike in prison," the lawyer says. "The administration of a CPR is not required to write a formal report explaining why it put someone in solitary confinement and is under no obligation to indicate the duration of the measure, which can be extended arbitrarily. Furthermore, the detainee has no right to appeal against it. So, the management of solitary confinement measures is left to the arbitrariness of those in charge of the CPR."

Another person died in the Turin CPR in 2019. In that case too it was someone thought to have mental health problems who had been kept in solitary confinement for five months. "In solitary confinement, there is no right even to ask for out-of-cell time, which is allowed in prison," Veglio explains.

Police standing in front of a group of activists — Photo: noaicpr/Instagram

"People can't use phones, since all the phones are seized in the center," the lawyer, who organized a recent protest outside the Turin prefecture, goes on to say. "In fact, it is a maximum-security prison with inmates that have committed no crime."

At the moment, about 100 people are locked up in the city's detention center. Among other things, they only have access to poor medical assistance. There is only one doctor available for six hours a day.

"And yet, it seems that this problem does not interest anyone and that it's acceptable in Italy that someone who has not committed any crimes is locked up in such a structure without any right to communicate with the outside world," Veglio concludes. "Right now, what happens inside these centers is completely invisible."

A group of refugees sleeping outside of Silo, an abandonned car park. In Trieste, Italy
INTERNAZIONALE
Giovanni De Mauro*

Italy, The Immigrants Among Us

Over the past decade, as Italy has become one of Europe's prime destinations for immigrants, stereotypes spread about those arriving from foreign lands. It's a story that has come full circle.

-Essay-

ROME — They carry disease. They live in overcrowded neighborhoods. Their evenings are spent listening to the sweet sounds of their music, but in filthy courtyards with rotting air. Their houses are small and rundown, where dozens of people share no more than two or three rooms. They come in waves, bothering people and attracting far too much attention.

Sure we know they may have escaped bad governments, bloody wars, poverty. But they've arrived with strange superstitions and we've seen how they exploit their children, sending them on the streets to beg and forcing them to hand over whatever they make at the end of the day.

Their presence compromises our living standards and undermines the very quality of the nation.

And yet it's true that when they do their agricultural work, they're quite good. They are lean and muscular, capable of withstanding prolonged physical effort. They have a certain dexterity and a developed artistic sense. Their women are valued for their domestic virtues. Thanks to their sense of family, they are very generous with relatives who have stayed back in the home country.

Still, their presence ultimately compromises our living standards and undermines the very quality of the nation. They share so little with a country that must seem to them the paradise of well-being.

Yes, Italians think they know the lives of immigrants coming to our country. But these very words you've just read were used in the international press between the 19th century and today to describe millions of those who had emigrated abroad from Italy. We have collected articles about these Italian immigrants in a book, In Cerca di Fortuna.

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A woman on the Foro Italico in Palermo, Italy
INTERNAZIONALE
Jacopo Lentini

The Solitude Of Sicily's Tunisian Wives And Widows

Most Tunisian men in the Sicilian port town of Mazara del Vallo work in the fishing industry. But while they're out at sea, their wives stay home, where the rules of tradition leave little room for integration.

MAZARA DEL VALLO — In her home in this historic fishing port in western Sicily, Habiba Harrazi prepares three different types of makroud, the typical sweets of Tunisia. "Dates, chickpea flour and sorghum," she explains to those who want to place an order.

Cooking used to be a pastime, but since her husband, Salem Alilou, died in 2018, it became much more than that. Her son is a college student in Siena, and Habiba's monthly income consists of her 500-euro survivor pension. And so, to make ends meet, she cooks. "I also embroider clothes for weddings," she says in her blue and white tiled living room, which overlooks the street.

Originally from Mahdia, a coastal city 200 kilometers southeast of Tunis, Habiba Harrazi, 63, is the oldest of her neighbors. Raised in a family closely tied to the customs of the Tunisian tradition, she inspires authority.

"It was my father who introduced me to Salem, telling me he was the man he had chosen for me," she explains. "Salem came to the meeting directly with the engagement ring. Within three months we got married and he took me to Mazara in 1980."

Habiba's home has become a meeting point for the Tunisian women of Mazara del Vallo, and at least 10 of them are also fishermen's widows. Among Mazara's Tunisian men, roughly four out of five work in the fishing industry. Deaths and injuries are common, according to Italy's Institute for the Insurance for Injuries on the Job.

The Mediterranean's unstable political situation makes things riskier still. Just last month, 18 fishermen working in Italy, including six Tunisians, were arrested by the so-called Libyan coast guard, which follows the order of strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of eastern Libya.

Be it injuries or war, the dangers leave Mazara's women in limbo, in particular because, as local sociologist and journalist Francesco Mezzapelle explains, the Tunisian wives don't integrate. "They came to Mazara only to join their husbands," he says.

Once this bond has disappeared, Mezzapelle explains, the initial reaction of the widows is to close themselves off even more. "The men they married are the only link they have with the city, even if they are always absent because they are at sea," the sociologist says.

Ali Jmar's house​

Mazara del Vallo is a town like no other in Italy. A short walk from the city center will take you from Baroque buildings to the casbah, the old Arab town that sprawled around the fortified citadel. It is a maze of short alleys and courtyards that sprung up after the Arabs conquered Mazara and Sicily after 827 AD. Today, this part of Mazara del Vallo still has strong Tunisian vibes, and a substantial Tunisian community — most of the town's 3,000 Tunisians live here.

Near Largo Mahdia, a couple argues in Arabic in front of their house. A Mazarese on a bike interrupts the conversation to complain about the noise they made the night before: "We must stop with this loud music at all hours!"

In the heart of the alleys, along via Pilazza, Ali Jmar's house is a must for tourists. Paolo Ayed, a local guide, explains to a group from northern Italy the origin of the red and blue decorations that everyone wants to photograph.

Mazara del Vallo is a town like no other in Italy.

"Ali's wife didn't tolerate him smoking indoors and he didn't want to be on the balcony. So Ali made the ground floor his refuge, decorating it in his way," Ayed explains. "From the inside, he moved on to decorate the outside. As a former fisherman, he managed to be a craftsman."

The Tunisians arrived in Italy in the late 1960s, and many settled in Mazara where the fishing industry was booming. They arrived thanks to the relations maintained with the Sicilians who emigrated to Tunisia from the second half of the 19th century and returned to their homeland after Tunisian independence in 1956.

Until the 1980s, Tunisian immigrants were almost exclusively men — then women arrived through family reunification policies. Today, women make up 40% of the community. After the earthquake of 1981, many buildings of the Casbah, damaged and abandoned, were occupied by the Tunisians who settled in the neighborhood.

The same year an elementary school opened where Arabic and French were spoken. "It was born at the behest of the Tunisian government, which intended to help its citizens abroad, in anticipation of a project to encourage the return of emigrants which then failed," explains Antonino Cusumano, president of the Euro-Arab Institute of Mazara del Vallo.

Salah Omri, the school teacher, proudly explains that "the Tunisian government still wants to make its presence felt." In reality, in poor condition and with only 18 students, the school is what remains of a vanished idea, the symbol of an integration that was never fully realized.

Rules of tradition

Like Habiba Harrazi, 50-year-old Zahira Hamza is also from Mahdia. She lost her husband, Rachid, to cancer. He'd spent 30 years working on fishing boats. "In 23 years of marriage, we only spent five years together," she says. "I didn't imagine life would be like this — I didn't know that being a fisherman meant being at sea all the time."

On one occasion, because of his work, Rachid Hamza was even kidnaped in a case that sounds a lot like the Libya stalemate. In 1996, Rachid was arrested by the Libyan coast guard while he was on board a fishing boat in international waters — which Tripoli considered Libyan territorial waters — and was imprisoned in Misrata.

A part of Mazara del Vallo still has strong Tunisian vibes, and a substantial Tunisian community — Photo: Herbert Frank

Rachid Hamza was released after six months. Today the 18 seafarers arrested on Sept. 1 have been waiting for more than a month to learn their fate. The eastern Libya militias accuse the fishermen of trying to smuggle drugs and said they would release them only after Italy releases four Libyans who were sentenced to 30 years in prison after they were found guilty for the deaths of nearly 50 migrants on Aug. 15, 2005. Libyans call them the "four footballers," and say they were just trying to seek their fortune in Europe.

Unemployed and with four children to support, Zahira Hamza lives with the small amount of savings that her husband left her, while waiting to get a survivor's pension, which is not always easy. It is a slow and tortuous procedure through Italian and Tunisian red tape.

In addition to economic problems, Zahira has to deal with the judgments she feels weighing on herself. "Some would say that now I'm happy to take my husband's money, but I miss him," she says.

When one of the young daughters asked her to take a bike ride, she forbade it, even on Habiba's advice, because it was not suitable for the period of mourning. "I was always waiting for Rachid to come back to make the decisions together," she says.

Now her life is guided by her friend's advice and the rules of tradition. For the first time, she has to decide for herself what to do and discuss with the family in Tunisia about the children, the house and the type of job to look for. "I try to tell her how to be a widow with dignity," explains Habiba.

This is common among Mazara's widows. "Some women live in the shadow of their husband," says Samia Ksibi, a cultural mediator of the San Vito non-profit foundation in Mazara del Vallo.

"When they become widows, their status among compatriots changes. The community tends to pity them, identifying them just as widows," she explains. "Sometimes they despise each other because they think they can't get by on their own. But over time they turn out to be better than their husbands at managing every aspect of life, redeeming themselves. Paradoxically, in their new condition, they acquire greater autonomy, perhaps even taking a driving license."

As Zahira herself explains: "I try not to be just "Rachid's wife" anymore — just Zahira. I'm preparing to stay clear of people who tell me what to do with my life."

Paying respects

Across the sea, in the port of Tunis, the customs officer on duty must have been surprised when, on Aug. 1, a young woman arrived holding a bouquet of flowers.

"When they become widows, their status among compatriots changes."

The woman, 22-year-old Chedlia, was born and lives in Mazara del Vallo. She speaks Arabic but does not read it, which is common among second-generation Tunisians. With her mother, Fatima, she made the trip to visit her father in Bizerte, 65 kilometers north of the Tunisian capital.

"The flowers are for my father," she told the official when asked to explain.

Bechir Lazrak, originally from Bizerte, was the latest victim among Tunisian fishermen in Italy. On June 14, the 57-year-old fell from the Maleno fishing boat that was moored in the port of Cagliari and died of cardiac arrest. That same morning, Chedlia had called him to tell him of the date of her graduation in Palermo, and her father had promised he would be back for the occasion. Less than two hours later, the owner of the Maleno boat showed up at her house to report the incident.

"I am 99% Mazarese, like all of my friends," says Chedlia. "But through mourning, I rediscovered my Tunisian origins."

She explains that up to middle school she was ashamed of her foreign-sounding name because classmates would mock her for it, so she went by "Lucia."

"I have always been an observant Muslim, but now I am even more so," she explains.

The mother, Fatima, only works occasionally and her late husband's savings — he earned around 700 euros a month — have almost dried up. She finds comfort in her confidence in her daughter. Unlike her mother, Chedlia is more integrated into Italian society and has all the tools to understand where to go from here. Right now, though, the young women is focused not on her studies, but on trying to find a new balance to her identity.

Chedlia does not know how she'll feel upon returning to Italy. For the time being, she's ok with having brought the flowers to her father and having graduated in political science. "What should I do in Mazara now that he is gone?" she says. "It seems to me as though he might still return from the sea."

A mural to honor Duarte by famous street artist Ozmo in the historic center of Paliano, Italy.
INTERNAZIONALE
Oiza Q. Obasuyi

Systemic Racism, Italian Style

Simply condemning the recent racist violence in Italy falls short in confronting a colonial past and an 'unconscious' racism that permeates European countries like Italy.

ROME — During the night between September 5 and 6, Willy Monteiro Duarte, a 21-year-old was beaten to death just outside Rome. The killers didn't seem to have much of a reason: Monteiro Duarte, who was born in Rome to parents from the African island nation of Cape Verde, was trying to stop a brawl that originally had nothing to do with him.

At least two of the killers were known to gravitate around neo-fascist groups, and pundits immediately spoke of a racist and fascist attack. "Look at this," they said. "This is what racism is in Italy."

But it is reductive to think that Italy"s racism is only a problem concerning the perpetrators of the umpteenth beating, or certain politicians who use xenophobia as a propaganda model.

Here, structural racism is approved and perpetuated even by the "least suspicious' people. A certain "unconscious' and "good-natured" racism is widespread among ordinary Italians and accepted even by those who think they have no stereotypes or prejudices.

When we talk about racism and politics, it's important to look back on the past and move away from a Eurocentric version of history. In 1950, Aimé Césaire, the Martinican-French writer and one of the most important postcolonial intellectuals, was already accusing white bourgeois Europeans of hypocrisy. In his Discourse on Colonialism, he denounced that racism and colonialism were widely accepted in the "enlightened," humanist and Christian Europe, and were simply trivialized with every new colonial campaign organized in the name of Western progress.

"What the European bourgeois does not forgive of Hitler is not the crime as such, but the crime against man; It is not the humiliation of man per se, but the crime against the white man, the fact of having applied colonial methods to Europe hitherto reserved for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India and the niggers sic of Africa," he wrote.

Césaire uses Nazism in Europe to discuss colonialism. Without diminishing the deadly scope of the Nazi dictatorship, he argued that until that moment, no one had noted how Nazi methods had been widely accepted when used against peoples subjugated to Western imperialism.

"Unconscious' racism is a cultural phenomenon.

Césaire explained that after World War II in the West, the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt would describe in 1963, the indifference towards those who were oppressed and killed for their origins or religions, was widespread. Think of racism in science and the categorization of races, taught in the most prestigious European universities for decades. Think of 1948, when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all while hundreds of millions of people still lived under the colonial hegemony of formally democratic countries.

Willy Monteiro Duarte​"s mother and sister attending a torchlight procession as a tribute to Willy —Photo: Rocco Spaziani

These historical passages are key to understanding the present. It is easy to reduce present-day racism to creeping fascism. It is easy to talk about the "danger posed by right-wing movements' and how important it is to stem them. But while far-right parties, movements and supporters play a crucial role in fueling xenophobia and violence, structural racism does not coincide with episodes of racially motivated violence and the political parties shrieking for ports to remain closed.

Just think of the silent consent of European governments — all democratic — to the camps of Moria, in Greece, where migrants of all ages and origins are imprisoned, and human rights denied. Or the policies to build more and more barriers, "abysses of separation between those who enjoy the exercise of rights — property, circulation, sovereignty — and those who have no right to have rights," in the words of the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe. Or, again, think of the exploitation of migrant men and women who live in limbo in Italy because immigration laws marginalize people of foreign origin. And finally, think of Italy's and the EU's agreements with Libya, in which European taxpayers finance, train and equip militias to keep migrants on dry land at any cost — even if it entails severe human rights violations.

"Unconscious' racism is a cultural phenomenon. Without a serious questioning of it — without disassembling it and showing its core parts — it is often less visible. It can be difficult to grasp even for those who think they are "anti-racist" because they have absorbed prejudices and distorted perceptions towards other nationalities or ethnicities.

For example, telling a non-white person, perhaps born and raised in Italy, "how well you speak Italian" — as if it was an unusual, unexpected event — is not comparable to racially motivated aggression. But it still inflicts a wound.

The same goes for those who, during a trip to Africa, are photographed posing as a savior, perhaps with children whose privacy is regularly violated for a few likes on Instagram. Africa is still the victim of a media bombardment, of a one-way narrative that describes it as unable to recover on its own and perpetually in need of help, especially from the West. While international cooperation and volunteering — if done correctly — are important, there are times when the white savior complex emerges.

Lastly, some think they are anti-racist but become defensive when a person who is part of a minority tries to tell them how their attitude stems from a racist heritage. It happened with Luigi Di Maio's tanning jokes: the Italian foreign minister came back very tanned from his summer holidays and shared blackface memes on social media, in which his face was superimposed on photos of Black people, including Michael Jordan or members of The Cosby Show. What made people laugh, more than Di Maio, was the color of his skin, seen as a caricature.

These self-proclaimed anti-racists get angry when people tell them that the dictionary definition of racism is very narrow and that you can have problematic behaviors without realizing it. In the words of the activist, writer and performer Alesa Herero: "Whiteness is this imperious structure founded on deeply internalized dynamics of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, classism and paternalism. For centuries it has been the norm, based on which people could define what is different."

These are the aspects that make racism structural and systemic in Italy, Europe and the West. Unlike what is often said, the discrimination and violence we witness every day are not the results of ignorance. They are a way of conceiving society based on inequalities, marginalization and discrimination to protect the privileges of a few. To stop them, we need to deconstruct racism on a political, social and cultural level.

A migrant family left without shelter on the Greek island of Lesbos
INTERNAZIONALE
Annalisa Camilli

Moria Voices: Where To Next After Migrant Camp Fire In Greece?

Testimony from Afghan and Somali migrants, as well as locals on Greek island of Lesbos, where Europe's largest migrant camp has burned to the ground, leaving 13,000 migrants without shelter.

LESBOS — "We are not animals," shouts a boy, as a policeman orders him to step back. Nearby a group of men pull a cart loaded with suitcases, and a little girl who had fallen asleep on the pile of bags. They have been on the road for three days and ask the officer where they should go. "We are hungry," says one in English. "Let us at least go to the village to buy some milk for our children. People may start dying here."

Thousands of people are huddled along the road that connects the city of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, with Moria, the largest refugee camp in Europe, which was destroyed by a fire during the night between Sep. 8 and 9. Police in riot gear prevent refugees from reaching the city, and have even fired tear gas at the refugees. A column of black smoke from a second fire continues to rise from what remains of Moria, and for hours a fire brigade helicopter flies low over the heads of the displaced. The late summer days are windy and weighed down by a sultry heat.

What remains of the slum and the detention center built in 2015 is a pile of ash, charred olive trees, the skeletons of tents and an acrid smell of coal and diesel. Inside the detention center, the heat bent the iron structures and deformed its metal sheets. It's the landscape of a bomb-out city. The day after the fire, the refugees returned in small groups to see what remained of what had been their home for months or even years. Some have tried to recover some personal items saved from the flames: gas cylinders, water bottles.

What will become of us?

Others just came to see what remains of the Moria camp, the slum-fort, a symbol of the tightening of European immigration policies since 2015. Hassan Mohammed wrapped a handkerchief around his head and mouth to protect himself from the sun and the coronavirus. "What will become of us?" he asks with a disoriented gaze, staring before the destroyed camp.

Even before the fire, Moria was certainly not a beautiful place: the shacks of the so-called olive grove had no access to running water or electricity and were surrounded by garbage. The tents, many of them handcrafted, were unsafe and inadequate, but now the situation is even more serious and the prospects uncertain.

The Moria camp left in ashes — Photo: Annalisa Camilli, Internazionale

A Somalia native, Mohammed lost his documents in the fire and fears that the asylum process may become even more complicated. For the past two days, he hasn't eaten, and was forced to sleep in a scrub field. "Volunteers distributed meals at first, but now no one has come for two days and we are hungry," he says. His concerns are also linked to the coronavirus because some Somali boys he shared his tent with tested positive for COVID-19. "They had no symptoms," he says.

Mohammed says that it was precisely the tensions linked with the health situation that triggered panic among the inhabitants of Moria, and may have led to the fire. In recent weeks, at least 35 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been put in quarantine, although the entire refugee camp had already been under lockdown for 179 days.

According to the Greek government, some residents allegedly started the fire to protest the situation in the camp during the very long lockdown. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas announced that the displaced people of Moria will not be transferred to the mainland, accusing them of having caused the fire: "Some people do not respect the country that is hosting them, it seems that they do not want to get a passport, nor a better life," he said.

The day before, some 400 unaccompanied minors were transferred to the mainland, but the government announced that all other displaced people will remain on the island, despite the camp being destroyed. They will be temporarily housed aboard three ships: two military vessels and a ferry that have yet to reach Lesbos.

The fear that the refugee camp will be rebuilt has also fueled the protests of the inhabitants of Lesbos. On September 10, they blocked all roads to access the center of the village of Moria. As they did last February, they used trucks, cars, rocks to block traffic and prevent government and non-government vehicles from reaching the refugees sleeping on the road and the destroyed detention center.

It's all been on our shoulders.

"We do not want the camp to be rebuilt," says Lefterios, one of the demonstrators at the checkpoint set up on the road that connects the town of Moria to the refugee camp. "In the last five years it has been all on our shoulders — now the time has come to evacuate the island."

Since January, a new law in Greece makes it even more difficult to obtain asylum, and the government led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis suspended transfers of asylum seekers from Greek islands to the mainland and revealed plans to build more refugee camps, making the situation even more unsustainable.

The Moria refugee camp was built in 2015 at the behest of the European Union as part of the European Agenda on Migration, which established that people arriving from Turkey by sea would remain here to only for a few days, to be identified before being brought to the mainland and relocated to other EU countries. In 2017, however, the resettlement program from Greece and Italy was suspended and the Greek islands were transformed into open-air prisons. Moria had ballooned to 13,000 people — six times more than its capacity. The pandemic merely revealed a situation that the indifference of European authorities had already brought to breaking point.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to welcome some 400 unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands. Protests have flared up across Europe to demand that the European Union help all the asylum seekers in Lesbos. However, concrete answers are slow to arrive and some fear that the transfer to the ships made available by the Greek government could fuel further protests and tensions.

Zainab Naderi, a 19-year-old Afghan, is preparing to spend her third consecutive night on the road. "We have lost hope," she says. Naderi has had a prosthetic leg since she was a child and can no longer sleep on the floor. She holds up her leg as an accusation against the authorities, who no longer care even for the most vulnerable. Next to her, sitting under an olive tree, there is another young woman with her four-year-old son. The child is lying silent and exhausted on a blanket, as the mother says softly: "He hasn't eaten in two days."