5/22/2019
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The Italian mayor standing up for asylum seekers, despite a government crackdown


Sunday March 3, 2019
BY BEN LEWIS



Moves by Italy’s populist government to close asylum centres across the country - through the Salvini Decree - has prompted a backlash from refugee advocates.

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In the hills north of Rome lies Castelnuovo di Porto, a quiet commuter town of 8,000.

Until recently, the picturesque commune was home to Italy’s second largest migrant reception centre. In January, it was shut down.



The town of  Castelnuovo di Porto was home to Italy’s second largest migrant reception centre until it was shut down in January.

The town of Castelnuovo di Porto was home to Italy’s second largest migrant reception centre until it was shut down in January.Source: SBS

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Some migrants were transferred to smaller facilities hundreds of kilometres away, while others left for Rome to live on the streets.

Muna Ali Mohamoud was one of those evicted.

She arrived in Italy two years ago after an arduous journey from Somalia. Her two children remain in Africa, being cared for by her family.

"I came to Italy to get peace and a better life," she told SBS News.

Castelnuovo di Porto' s mayor, Riccardo Travaglini, is a fierce critic of the populist government’s migrant crackdown, even asking Muna to live with his family.

"She showed up outside the gate of the centre, saying to me, ‘Ricardo, they’ve thrown me out, I don’t know where to go," he said.

“For this reason, I welcomed her into my home.”

Muna, 25, says she was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I can say he saved my life. I felt very, very happy, at that time I didn’t know where I should go and what I had to do, so I can say he saved me from a very difficult situation.”

But many migrants aren’t so fortunate.

What happened in Castelnuovo di Porto is still occurring around Italy.

Legislation was passed in December abolishing humanitarian protection for those not eligible for refugee status.

In Sicily, Europe’s largest asylum centre is in the process of being shut down.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is behind the push, claiming the Castelnuovo di Porto migrant centre alone cost $10 million a year to operate.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is behind the recent push back against immigrants.



Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is behind the recent push back against immigrants.Source:AAP

Some local residents say they feel Italians have been left to carry an unfair share of the migrant burden.

“Look, in certain ways I would say he is right,” an elderly woman, who declined to give her name, said.

“In Europe, Italy is the first port of call. They should be shared in a fair way among all the countries of the European Union.”



Italian Deputy Premier and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini. Source:EPA

Mayor Travaglini says he doesn’t believe Italians are any less caring than they once were but thinks they have been misled.

“This is a country that has pretty much decided that its problem is immigrants, but it’s not that way,” he said.

“There are other problems for Italians. Corruption, illegality, tax evasion. But they have unleashed this fear in relation to ‘outsiders’ and Italians have in some ways, fallen for it.”

Muna wants to remain in her new home town.

She hopes by working hard, Italians will see her aspirations aren’t so dissimilar to theirs.

“To be honest, I don’t know what the next page holds for me, but I would like to do my best here and never give up.”



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