Italians revolt against immigrant clean-up

On the eve of the upcoming Xmas holidays the mood of the citizens of Coccaglio in Italy is far from festive because its mayor has launched an operation, codenamed “White Christmas”, aimed at evicting illegal immigrants.

Recently, the people of the small town in Northern Italy heard from their mayor that Christmas 2009 will be “white” which, according to him, means one free of illegal immigrants.

Some fear it is a crackdown against all non-native Italians.

“In the beginning the mayor made it clear that all immigrants, illegal or legal, would have to leave the city,” immigrant Mustafa Farr told RT. “But when that bombshell dropped, journalists from all over the world arrived in Coccaglio to report on the initiative. The mayor edged off and said it was not ethnic cleansing; it was only aimed at [illegal immigrants]. But this is a lie.”

Mustafa is from Senegal. He is in Italy officially, but says the deadline to show his papers in order to comply with the new rules was impossibly tight, especially during the festive period.

And he is worried for his friends, many of who lost their jobs in the recession. He says the new rules do not give them time to look for a new one.

“Ten years ago it wasn't that difficult to find a job, even if you did not have an education,” remembers immigrant Mbaye Gueye. “But now with this crisis Italians don't lack working hands, so it's easy to lose a job and hard to find one. Especially in my case, as I cannot write.”

“Operation White Christmas” is more than just an on-the-spot ID check. Letters have been sent to Italian residents telling them to report illegal immigrants or anyone hiding them.

For a town where a quarter of the population is non-native, this could prove a problem. Many Coccaglio families employ foreigners.

“Everybody is against this action,” claims immigrant Samih, adding, “Most of the immigrants here work on building sites or in hospitals. Yes, many do not have their papers in order, but they do not harm anyone. The people of Coccaglio are very kind and hospitable, but now there is panic among them too.”

The mayor says anger is being stirred by his political opponents who are missing the point. He insists it is not a witch-hunt, but a helping hand.

Mayor Franco Claretti believes that “There is no place for illegals in Italy [because] they cannot work, they do not get social services and cannot integrate into society,” and, as Claretti added, “They are easy victims for exploitation, cheap workhorses. They work for shadow firms and are often involved in criminal activities.”

When Claretti launched the operation, 3,000 people from across Italy descended on Coccaglio to protest, comparing the mayor to Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. Some of the locals say they are even ready to protect those accused.

Residents are prepared to give shelter to all immigrants on Christmas night, regardless of whether their visas are in order. They say they are stocked up with enough wood to keep the fires burning.

Marco Dotti from “28 MAY” Social Centre put it simply by saying that “Italy would not exist as a country without immigrants. Historically, people from all over the world came here, stayed, assimilated, and some left. They brought a variety of cultures to this country. Italians as a pure nation – there is no such thing.”

Italian nationalists have seized on the impromptu census and say checks have revealed many who no longer have the right to be in Italy. For around 2,000 people in Coccaglio, the season of goodwill does not extend to them.

Checking IDs for illegal immigrants in the European Union is nothing new. However, in Italy, the timing is the real issue. The immigrants are not prepared to leave their homes on Christmas Eve, and the Italians themselves are not willing to play sheriff on the day.

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