Rome’s Débâcle

Rome, September 22nd. Yesterday, the Police headquarter of Rome suspended the procedure for the recognition of international protection of the immigrants until the 21st of October, due to the overload of requests to be disposed. Despite the measure being temporary, serious consequences might follow. In the frame of an already dramatic context – defined by the lack of appropriate internal policies – the suspension of the asylum right in the Capital makes the current migrants situation even worse.

“Hospitality” on the Roman soil

The prefecture of Rome disposes the procedure that foreign citizens or stateless people coming from other countries have to follow in order to request the asylum right and therefore obtain “the status of refugees”. According to the Refugee Convention of 1951 – which “defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them”, as the UNHCR’s website states – whoever has been forced to flee its country because of persecution, war or violence, has the right to ask for international protection. However, apparently the district of Rome pretends to follow protocol while not having the resources to face the migrant crisis – as the recent disposition demonstrates. As a result, thousands of people who fled from massacres and oppression are now left to fend for themselves.

Baobab experience

 Due to such reasons, in June 2015 the multicultural Baobab center, founded in 2004 and located in Rome, Via Cupa 5 – between Verano Square and Tiburtina station – officially became a shelter for migrants and refugees, a meeting point for different cultures led by private citizens. Regrettably, the project suffered a seatback when in December 2015 the local municipal administration closed the center and readdressed migrants to other destinations throughout the area. As Baobab volunteers explain, the Eritrean cultural center hosted more than 35.000 migrants between May and December 2015. Most of them came from North Eastern Africa – the so-called Horn of Africa, where Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia are located. When the center was shut down – in spite of what the commissioner Tronca, at that time formally replacing the mayor, promised – no alternative centers were provided to host the immigrants. The only open center was the one located in the Eastern area of city and run by the Red Cross, which can host a maximum of 80 people: an incredibly diminutive amount considering the immense number of refugee requests. So, as the boat landings carried on in Sicily, migrants conveyed in Rome kept going to Baobab. Volunteers, supported by a discrete amount of donations, transformed the recently closed center in a self-managed activity of support. When, at some point, they actually began to pitch tents, some of them were evacuated for “streets decorum’s reasons”. Today, Baobab continues to take care of migrants. Unfortunately, without any help from the administration of the city, the center can’t provide more than it already does. The living conditions – not even close to what Europe defines “hospitality” – include people sleeping in huts, eating and drinking on the street, washing their tooth behind the threes and using chemical toilets placed on sidewalks. Medical assistance, mostly offered by single volunteers and MEDU (Doctors for Human Rights Italy), whose doctors usually visit the center twice a week, is still not adequate to face health problems caused by poor hygienic conditions.

“It took seven months to arrive to Sicily”

In Via Cupa, where volunteers supply the deficiencies of the Capital’s reception system, most of the immigrants are underage male youths who fled their homes and lost their families. Often not aware of what they’re going to face, they escape wars, dictatorships and terrorism to crown the new, definitely overrated, European dream. So they attempt to cross deserts, at times dying of hunger and thirst, and then the Mediterranean Sea – which became the world’s deadliest migrant crossing. The level of safety and ease of reaching the destination depends on the amount of money paid. In fact, migrants rely on smugglers, profit-seeking criminals who usually abuse them. As the UNODC (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime) reports, “it is estimated that the smuggling of migrants generates around $6.75 billion a year” for criminals operating in East, North and West Africa. At Baobab, one of the many young men coming from Eritrea tells how he arrived in Rome and how he has to be soon redirected to some place else. Without even knowing exactly where, how, or when. “It took seven months” – he says – to arrive in Sicily, where he got fingerprinted. And now “I guess they will send us to another country”.

Rediscovering the meaning of xenia

The aura of insecurity and precariousness surrounding migrants in Rome brings to reconsider the idea of “hospitality”. In Ancient Greece, the concept was expressed by the word “xenia”, used to describe “the virtue of showing generosity or courtesy to strangers of any condition and creating a genial relationship between host and guest”. Strangers were in fact believed to be gods in disguise, with the capacity of conferring rewards. Moreover, xenia required to respect certain principles in order to avoid negative consequences. Let us consider that, according to legend, the Trojan War began because of a violation of xenia: when the Trojan Prince Paris abducted the Queen of Sparta, Helen, he was a guest of her husband, King Menelaus. In light of the above, it seems – once again – agents of the Present should learn from the Past to finally come to terms with the fact that hosting someone involves certain responsibilities. Therefore, the duty toward refugees does not end as they enter the country, it persists in maintaining these human beings in acceptable conditions.