Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move - N° 83, September 2000
Testimony by a politician at the preparatory meeting for the Jubilee of Refugees [*]
I consider this meeting very useful, especially because of the intense testimonies that have been heard until now. I cannot hide the fact that it is rather difficult for me to speak since I must simply refer to the activities of a Christian politician regarding this important subject. The subject of refugees is a very serious problem because in the event of wars, genocide or even cruel dictatorships, the only possible form of freedom, apart from resistence, which is always difficult, has always been to take flight. To these extreme cases the increase in world hunger must be added, for which many families have no alternative other than to look for a possibility to get the food they cannot find at home in the richer countries through work. Obviously, the process of globalization now makes it easier to go from one part of the world to another.
A Christian politician’s duty is to help prepare laws that make a legitimate and regular entry possible and, on the other hand, to combat the activity of the great international mafias that often transform immigrants into slaves or use them as manual laborers for organized crime.
Our country is in a particularly difficult situation because until the 80’s, Italy was a country of emigration. As an evangelical pastor, I personally made several trips to Switzerland in the 70’s to help the Italian emigrants and to aid the religious and lay organizations that were taking care of them.
Perhaps for this reason too, from my first day in Parliament in 1994, I have been concerned with the problem of immigration in Italy and taken part in weekly meetings with the Reflection Group. This was made up of many associations, both religious and lay, in a truly ecumenical spirit. Together with Caritas, the Community of Saint Egidio, the Migrant Service of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and the Jesuit Refugee Service, there was a Jewish Association, an Adventist Association, the Migrants Service of the Federation of Evangelical Churches, ACLI, ARCI, “Senza Confine”, and often the representatives of the labor union confederations.
During the two year period 1994-1996, we tried to keep laws from being approved that would have involved rigid closure and, in the current legislature, I personally have worked as the rapporteur for Law 40 of 1998 that has regulated immigration, and with some success, although there are still obvious shortcomings.
The first is derived from the fact that the Legislative Bill on Immigration and the situation of foreigners was divided from the Bill on the Right to Asylum. While the first has been a law of the State for more than two years, the second, which was approved after a long discussion in the Senate, has been held up for more than a year in the Commission for Constitutional Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies. I am not its rapporteur, but I am a witness to Rapporteur Soda’s wish to have it approved quickly and to limit the Senate’s modifications of the text to what is strictly essential.
Unfortunately, the failure of the Bicameral Commission for reform of the second part of the Constitution has obstructed, with proposals for constitutional changes, our Commission, which is already overburdened with work. Nonetheless, the President of the Commission, Rosa Iervolino Russo, Rapporteur Soda, and all of us want to make definitive approval of the law possible within this legislature.
This approval is necessary in order to enable Italy to face the frequent international emergencies. In various parts of the world, in fact, there are many wars, real and proper cases of genocide, and great forms of discrimination that are causing more and more massive flights.
We are particularly struck by the war in Chechnya, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea and in Central-Western Africa. We are no less sensitive to the destiny of the glorious Kurdish people, divided among five States, who often do not recognize their existence, and the massacres in Indonesia where even the head cutters, whom we remember in Salgari, have reappeared.
Too often these refugees are confused by our mass media with clandestine persons looking for work. I would also like to assure Prof. Conso, the President of the CIR who is present here, of the Parliament’s wish to pass on the law on the right of asylum as soon as possible.
A new attitude should also be noted on the part of the European Union, which is drawing up a Charter of Rights that includes migrants and refugees. I have taken part in two meetings in Brussels on this subject, and I have brought back the conviction that it has now been understood that the problem should be solved in a European context. Naturally, each nation must do its part, but the countries most exposed to the migratory phenomenon, like Italy, should be spared from having to face this difficult problem alone.
A second shortcoming in the application of Law 40 has come from the delay in approving the regulation on its implementation. The government complied rapidly with its duties, such as setting the influx for the thee-year period and for the individuals years, and preparing the Single Text on immigration, including some corrections needed for the regularization of the immigrants who are so entitled. The Regulation regarding implementation, on the other hand, which was passed on by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Giorgio Napolitano, on October 2, 1998, only entered into force in December 1999. This happened because, contrary to an old procedure, the opinions required by law were not given in at the same time by the various persons consulted, but in subsequent stages, and this caused a great loss of time and made application of the new norms difficult.
I cannot be silent about the fact that while these Days for refugees and emigrants are being prepared, in Brescia some persons have been arrested, who were fasting to protest the delay in the response to requests for regularization; others are fasting right here in Rome and they ask to be able to explain their reasons during the Jubilee of Migrants. Personally, I also request the intervention and the comprehension of the authorities.
In any case, Law 40 presents some positive new features, such as the permission to stay card and forms of regular entry, the system both of sponsorship and the request for permission to stay to seek work, which could simplify the ways of entry and reduce or nullify recourse to clandestineness.
Moreover, the recent crisis in the Kosovo has shown the uselessness of article 20 which provides for emergencies of a humanitarian nature. We hope that once the Regulation is applied, the dysfunctions that have existed between the various organs of the State will also be surmounted and our country’s reception will be worthy of a civilized people.
For regular refugees and immigrants to be at home in Italy, it is necessary to guarantee the safety of the citizens by fighting against the trafficking of crime multinationals. There are no certain formulas, and the experience must be taken into consideration of those who are making efforts directly to provide for the various needs.
For this reason, legislative activity presents notable difficulties. A believer can only live the parliamentary experience as a service to be rendered to the collectivity with a deep sense of his own limitations and the awareness that over and above the juridical formulas, there are the lives of thousands of persons who are often in difficulty. Therefore, he is particularly in need of the prayers of all believers and, above all, of divine guidance.
[*]Reflection for the Meeting on Reconciliation presented by a Member of Parliament, Secretary of the Parliamentary Commission for Constitutional Affairs, and minister of the Evangelical Church of Italy.