Migrant workers in Calabria protest after woman dies in tent city fire

Around 100 people protested in the town of San Ferdinando in south-western Italy on Monday after a fatal fire in a tent city housing hundreds of migrants.

Migrant workers in Calabria protest after woman dies in tent city fire
The encampment in Rosarno, where a fire killed one woman last weekend. Photo: Unione Sindacale di Base

The protesters marched in silence from the remains of the encampment to the town hall, according to the USB, a union that campaigns for migrant workers’ rights and which organized the demonstration.

Some of them held photos of Becky Moses, the 26-year-old Nigerian woman who died in the fire that broke out in the night between Friday and Saturday. Two other women were badly hurt and dozens of others received treatment for less serious injuries, La Repubblica reported.

According to the newspaper, Moses had only been staying in the encampment for a few days before her death. She was previously a resident in Riace, a small town on the other side of Reggio Calabria province that has rehoused refugees from all over the world as part of a widely praised resettlement programme.

However, having recently had her application for political asylum denied, Moses was obliged to leave Riace and had been sleeping instead in a tent in San Ferdinando.

Photo: Unione Sindacale di Base

The encampment, on the outskirts of San Ferdinando in an area called Rosarno, is home to around 1,000 people living in tents and shacks. Most of the residents work as labourers on local farms.

The shantytown sprang up after violence broke out between locals, migrants and police in 2010, leaving more than 50 people injured and prompting hundreds of foreign workers to flee the centre of town. Tensions have remained high in Rosarno ever since.

According to the Italian aid group Doctors for Human Rights (Medu), as many as 3,000 labourers – the majority of them with valid residence permits for Italy – live in the camp at the height of the harvest, working for minimal wages and sleeping without electricity or running water in conditions that the NGO describes as “shamefully inhumane”. It calls the tent city “one of the biggest ghettoes in Italy”.

The cause of the fire last weekend is unclear, though smaller blazes in the past have resulted from residents lighting bonfires for warmth.

As a result of Monday’s march, USB said, regional authorities have agreed to allow people living in the camp to register as local residents. Anyone whose documents were destroyed in the blaze will also be given an official certificate of loss to help them obtain replacements, the union said. 


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.