Moroccan vendor praised by anti-immigrant party

A Moroccan engineering student graduated this week in Turin, funding his education by selling tissues and lighters on the streets. His efforts have been praised by the usually anti-immigrant Northern League party, which has called for the town hall to give him an award.

Moroccan vendor praised by anti-immigrant party
A vendor in Italy. Photo: Dave Collier/Flickr

“Mine is a story similar to many others,” 26-year-old Rachid Khadiri Abdelmoula told La Repubblica. He arrived in Turin in 1998, after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and travelling overland to Italy.

“I wanted to follow the example of my brothers who helped the family from here,” he told the newspaper, joining them in the north-western Italian city. Abdelmoula’s brothers insisted he continued studying, a task he juggled while working – like many immigrants across the country – as a street vendor.

After fifteen years in Italy, Abdelmoula graduated this week from the Polytechnic University of Turin.

Praise for his achievement has come from an unlikely corner, as Turin’s Northern League leader Fabrizio Ricca hailed Abdelmoula’s graduation as a symbol of “integration”.

“Rachid is an example of good will, of commitment,” Ricca said, quoted in La Repubblica. The Northern League politician also asked city mayor Piero Fassino to award Abdelmoula the city’s civil seal, the newspaper reported.

In praising the graduate, Ricca defended the Northern League for its stance on immigration. “The league is not against immigration, but it is in favour of immigration that allows an honest and keen person to find their space…it is against indiscriminate immigration, through which the bad behaviour of some ends up looking like the traits of many,” he said.

The right wing party has long had a negative approach to immigration. In July the Northern League slammed the Vatican for its “religious preaching”, after Pope Francis called for greater tolerance of immigrants.

The same month Northern League MP Roberto Calderoli sparked outrage when he described Congolese-born Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister, as an “orangutan”. Despite calls for his resignation from across the political spectrum, Calderoli is still in politics.

In August Matteo Salvini, a Northern League MEP, said Kyenge should go and work in Egypt after she suggested the country’s political crisis would prompt a wave of immigration to Italy. 

However, Ricca’s comments in Piedmont – the ‘best’ region for immigrant integration in Italy – suggest a more tolerant approach.

In Turin, Abdelmoula has already earned one degree since arriving from Morocco and is now set to continue juggling work and study. “My dream is to find a part time job in an engineering studio and in the meantime continue studying at university for a specialized degree,” he told La Repubblica.

“But at the moment, I will continue to ‘be the Moroccan’, selling my merchandise on the street.” 

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.