NEWS - Archive June 2014

Headlines 27 June, 2014

Italy: Anti-gay mob throw faeces at Rome centre

A gang threw excrement at the office of a gay organization in Rome, while shouting death threats against people inside, Italian media reported on Friday.

27/6/2014- Di Gay Project (DGP) in southern Rome was attacked on Wednesday night, with the crime being reported to police on Friday, Corriere della Sera said. A mob threw excrement and other items, such as wooden boxes and vegetables, at the organization’s office, as people were rehearsing a theatre performance inside. Members of the gang, estimated to be aged between 15 and 40, also shouted threats such as “We’ll set you alight” and “you deserve to die” before running off. Responding to the attack, actress and director Maria Chiara Cucinotta vowed to “not be intimidated” and said the performers would return to rehearse this evening. “We don’t immediately have damages, physical or structural, but in our heart certainly,” she was quoted in Corriere as saying. Imma Battaglia, a politician and honourary president of DGP, said the attack was part of a broader “emergency of homophobia and security” which must be addressed at the political level, the newspaper reported. The incident comes less than three weeks since the Italian capital hosted Roma Pride, when tens of thousands of people marched through Rome in support of the gay community.
The Local - Italy


A newly-sanctified, 50-metre-tall Christian cross in the Macedonian capital is not intended to provoke religious tensions in a country with a large Muslim minority, its backer says.

26/6/2014- The towering cross in the Aerodrom municipality of Skopje, which was sanctified this week, is a cultural artefact and not meant to cause religious or ethnic offence, said Todor Petrov, the head of the World Macedonian Congress, the NGO behind its construction. “The cross is not erected to provoke and it is not an anti-Albanian or anti-Muslim symbol,” Petrov said. “On the contrary, the cross is an inseparable part of Macedonian culture and belongs to the Albanians as much as it belongs to the Macedonians, because both peoples have Christians and Muslims among them,” Petrov insisted. The cross, which stands in a predominantly ethnic Macedonian municipality of Skopje, has attracted some negative reactions from the Albanian Muslim minority in the capital. It was sanctified on Tuesday in the presence of the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Stefan, and Skopje mayor Koce Trajanovski. The majority of the country’s population are Macedonians, who are Orthodox Christians. Most of the country’s ethnic Albanians, who make up a quarter of the population, are Muslims.

The decision to approve the cross earlier this year came amid speculation on social networks that a nearby Turkish investment project to build four skyscrapers could invite an influx of Muslim buyers in the ethnically and religiously homogenous Aerodrom municipality. The building of the giant cross was announced just as the Turkish investors denied rumours that they planned to build a mosque there. Petrov, who heads an organisation that is seen as close to the main ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party, said that the new cross was only intended to beautify that part of Skopje. “Albanians should not fear of some kind of ‘inquisition’ against them because the greatness of our civilisation lies in the universality of its values. Those values are peace and love, tolerance and coexistence, which defy war and segregation,” Petrov said. The new cross, which was funded by donations, was initially planned to be 33 metres high, to represent Jesus’s age when he died. But during the construction process, it was made bigger.

It is however only the second-largest cross in the capital. There is already a 66-metre-high cross on top of Mount Vodno near the city. Called the ‘Millennium Cross’, it was erected in 2001 with the help of the government, which at the time was also controlled by the centre-right VMRO DPMNE party. Macedonia also went through a brief armed conflict in 2001 which saw ethnic Albanian rebels and security forces clash. A peace deal signed later that year prevented the conflict from turning into an all-out ethnic war. The accord offered greater rights to country's Albanians. The cross was built by donations. After being sanctified by the Macedonian Orthodox Church this week, its management was officially handed to the municipality of Aerodrom which is run by the ruling VMRO DPMNE.
Balkan Insight


French, Austrian far-right parties 'Zionist': Hungary's Jobbik

26/6/2014- The French National Front and Austrian Freedom Party were called "Zionist" by the leader of Hungary's Jobbik party Thursday, as far-right parties jostled to form blocs in the European parliament. "Jobbik does not make alliances with Zionist parties - like the French National Front and the Austrian Freedom Party, simply for financial reasons," Gabor Vona said in an interview with the Magyar Hirlap newspaper. Jobbik, who won three of Hungary's 21 seats at last month's European parliament elections, also ruled out allying with the Geert Wilders-led Dutch Party for Freedom, which he said "humiliated religion".

A bid by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen to set up a eurosceptic grouping in the parliament - which would bring extra EU financing and other advantages - fell short of garnering enough support by Tuesday's deadline. After the parliament's first session on July 1 however a group can be formed at any time, and Le Pen, who earlier ruled out any alliance with extremist parties like Greece's Golden Dawn and Jobbik, vowed Wednesday to form a bloc by the end of the year. In an interview with the Budapest Times newspaper earlier this year Jobbik's Marton Gyongyosi called Le Pen and Wilders "liberal" and "Islamophobic" and said their anti-immigration stance had "Zionist support from Israel".
The Local - France


France: Far-right mayor cuts free lunches for poor kids

A National Front mayor who gave himself a sizable payrise this year has come under fire for cutting off free lunches for the town’s poorest children. It’s the latest in a string of controversies for France’s newly elected far-right mayors.

26/6/2014- In order to save money in the heavily indebted town of Pontet in southern France, the far-right National Front mayor has pushed through a plan that forces the city’s least well off students to start paying for lunch at school. It’s part of Mayor Joris Hébrard’s plan to chip away at the €50 million debt the town has wracked up, but it’s outraged an opposition UMP councillor who points out the free lunches only cost the city €30,000 per year, or just 0.05 percent of the town’s €47 million annual budget. The controversy has also blown up because one of Hébrard’s first moves when he entered office this spring was to set his monthly salary at roughly €3,000, or €1,000 higher than his predecessor. He was among a string of 11 National Front mayors swept into office in France's local elections in March.

After being bombarded by the press Hébrard apparently wasn't available for interview on Thursday, but his Chief of Staff Xavier Magnin told The Local the controversy was being manufactured by an unscrupulous media. “They (local residents) are not like you, that’s to say they aren’t talking to us about the mayor’s salary. They say ‘Bravo Mr. Mayor. We’re fed up that it’s always the same ones who take advantage,’” Magnin said. “We took a look at the files of people getting free lunches and many of them were doctored with false attestations. People are fed up with people cheating.” Magnin added the mayor has set about putting the town’s fiscal house in order by making a succession of small cuts, which he believes will add up to a significant reduction in spending. And he doesn’t think the new price of the meals is an excessive financial burden.

The 65 poorest children in the town of nearly 17,000 will have to start paying €1.57 per day for the meals which cost €3.15 to the students who pay full price. “Zero euros it’s not expensive for a meal,” Magin said. “€1.50, it’s not too expensive either in the school cafeteria.” However a member of the opposition centre-right UMP party pointed out the Mayor’s pay raise could have bought quite a few meals. “Sir, you have increased your salary by 44 percent, or a little over €1,000 per month, that represents more than 600 meals per month for the poor children of Pontet,” Councillor Claude Toutain said on Wednesday before the vote to approve the mayor’s policy.

Ending the free meals has also drawn the ire of a collective of six rights groups, including SOS Racism, which issued the following harsh words: “Beyond being a racist and anti-Semitic party, the National Front has just proven once again its will to create a society of discrimination and contrary to the ideas of equality.” Interestingly, what happens in France’s school cafeteria’s has been of high interest to the National Front. Around the March elections party leader Marine Le Pen noted its members would end the serving of non-pork options in cafeterias. The uproar about the meals has become a national news story in a country where some have cheered on and others been appalled by the string of controversial policies of the new far-right mayors.

Here is a running tally of some of the other controversies kicked up so far by the new far-right mayors.
No anti-slavery ceremony: The National Front mayor of Villers-Cotterêts in Northern France riled up local activists when he announced the town would not hold a commemoration for the abolition of slavery. Mayor Franck Briffault rejected the “continual self-inflicted guilt” of the event which has been held every year since 2007.
Mayors get pay hikes: One of the first orders of business for two National Front mayors in the south of France was to give themselves a pay rise. Mayor Philippe de La Grange in the town of Luc en Provence is paying himself €2,404.42 a month, which is about 15 percent more than his predecessor. The mayor of Coglin, Marc-Etienne Lansade, also saw fit to bump his pay by nearly 15 percent.

Mosque opposition: Muslims in two National Front-led towns are incensed by their local mayor’s efforts to quash two religious projects. Mayor Cyril Nauth in Parisian suburb Mantes-La-Ville has declared himself “hostile” to a planned Islamic prayer room, which was approved by his Socialist party predecessor. The mayor in the Riviera town of Fréjus, David Rachline ran on his opposition to a mosque there which is already under construction. He’s called for a referendum on the matter.
European flag disappears: The anti-EU sentiments of the National Front have also popped up in symbolic ways. On orders of Fréjus, Mayor David Rachline the gold star-adorned European flag was removed from the front of Town Hall.

Human rights group evicted: Human rights activists got the boot from their city-owned offices after new National Front mayor Steeve Briois was elected in northern France. The Hénin-Beaumont mayor said the League of Human Rights, which opposed his candidacy, had become “politicized” and thus was no longer legally entitled to public subsidies.
No halal lunches: Anger (and support) ricocheted on Twitter after National Front-backed Mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard announced “there would be no halal meals in municipal cafeterias,” echoing a statement from party head Marine Le Pen. But it later emerged schools in Béziers don’t offer halal meals, rather it has non-pork options for Jewish and Muslim pupils.

Drops in taxes and salaries: Some mayors have also announced cuts to the local residence tax (taxe d'habitation), but have not said how they plan to make up for the lost revenue. The northern city of Hénin-Beaumont will see a 10 percent tax cut and a “vast savings plan.” Smaller cuts are on the table in Villers-Cotterêts and Beaucaire, which also saw a “symbolic” cut town in councillors’ pay.
Kids’ curfew: Under 13s will be forbidden from being outside alone at night in the town of Béziers under a municipal decree from National Front-backed Mayor Robert Ménard. The summertime prohibition targets certains areas, including higher-crime, lower-income zones referred to as “sensitive neighborhoods” in French.
The Local - France


French court approves extradition for suspect in Jewish Museum attack

26/6/2014- A French court on Thursday approved the extradition to Belgium of the French suspect in a May 24 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels that left four people dead. Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, has been held in police custody on anti-terror laws on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and possession of weapons in relation to the attack since being arrested in the southern city of Marseille on May 30. Nemmouche had originally refused extradition, then later agreed to it provided that Belgium would not send him to a third country for trial. His lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep, has said that Nemmouche was concerned that he would be sent to Israel, given that two of the victims of the attack were Israeli.

Prosecutors say Nemmouche was a repeat offender in France, having been convicted on counts of armed robbery, assault and vandalism, among other crimes, and spent most of 2013 in Syria fighting with Islamist rebels. European governments are increasingly worried that citizens going to fight in Syria will import Islamist militancy on their return. The attack by a man who opened fire with a Kalashnikov rifle killed an Israeli couple and a French woman. A Belgian man also shot and injured in the attack died on June 6. When arrested at a Marseille bus terminal, Nemmouche was carrying a Kalashnikov, another gun and ammunition similar to that used in the shooting, prosecutors said. Pepiezep said Nemmouche told police he had stolen them from a car in Brussels.

Nemmouche has three days to appeal the decision. If he does, the Versailles appeals court will have 40 days to rule on whether or not to extradite him. If he does not, he will be extradited at the end of that period. "He will most likely appeal the decision," said Pepiezep. "He has not received a guarantee from Belgium that he would not be extradited to a third country." An extradition within EU member states takes on average 16 days if the suspect agrees to it, according to the European Commission. An appeal was likely only to delay rather than block his transfer to Brussels, legal sources said.


France: Le Pen 'Anti-Semitic' Family Feud Deepens

Source: Reuters
French National Front Falters in European Push.

24/6/2014- Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front admitted defeat on Tuesday after failing to win wide enough support to form a political group in European Parliament, dousing her ambition to lead an alliance of nationalists against Brussels. Concurrently, a damaging public feud between Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie worsened as the 86-year-old FN founder said his daughter was wrong to have avoided alliances with other far-right parties “considered more or less beyond the pale”. Le Pen’s anti-EU, anti-immigrant party caused a sensation in EU elections in May when it topped the poll in France with 24.95 percent, beating both President Francois Hollande’s Socialists and the center-right UMP opposition.

Before the vote, Le Pen told Reuters a major objective was to form a group in parliament, which would have secured at least 20 million euros ($27.2 million) in funds, staff and speaking time. Le Pen said after the vote that she had “no doubt” the National Front would soon be able to do so. But hours before Tuesday night’s deadline, she was two countries short of the required representation from seven nations - highlighting the far-right populists’ difficulties in agreeing among themselves. “We have no group, for the time being in any case,” National Front vice-president Florian Philippot told Reuters. “But our deputies, who are more numerous than any other party in the French delegation, will be there to defend France under any circumstances, with or without a group.”

Compounding Le Pen’s embarrassment, she was outmaneuvered by the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage, who had refused to enter an alliance with her due to what he called the National Front’s legacy of anti-Semitism. Farage formed a Eurosceptic parliamentary group last week with 48 lawmakers after poaching a National Front defector whom Le Pen had tried to unseat after she advocated giving non-EU foreigners the right to vote in local elections. The Front said in a statement it had missed the deadline due to its refusal to join forces with parties whose members had “incompatible” values, but it still saw a chance of forming a group before parliament’s inaugural session on July 1. That is still technically possible, although it would be too late to vie for influential posts such as a vice-presidency of the parliament and committee chairs.

Le Pen, who said she had enough deputies for a group and the backing of five national parties, lost her key partner in Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders after she held talks with a far-right Polish nationalist party. Wilders pulled the plug in opposition to an alliance he called “a bridge too far” with Poland’s KNP party, whose leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke has said that women are less intelligent than men and should not vote, and that there was no proof Nazi leader Adolf Hitler knew of the extermination of the Jews. “The Freedom Party wants to form a parliamentary group but not at any price,” Wilders told Reuters. He pledged to continue cooperating with other like-minded parties from Austria, Belgium and Italy as well as with the National Front.

Spat with Le Pen senior
In a new setback for Marine Le Pen’s efforts to “de-toxify” the image of a party still seen by many voters as racist, her father weighed in by saying that unlike her, he would not have shied away from controversial alliances. “It seems some people are considered more or less beyond the pale judged by criteria which are not ones I would use,” Le Pen, who is still FN honorary president, told Sud Radio. Jean-Marie Le Pen already fell out with his daughter in recent weeks after using a term linked to the French word ‘oven’ when talking about a Jewish singer. Critics and Jewish groups said his remark was an implicit reference to Nazi death camps.

The National Front quickly stopped hosting Jean-Marie Le Pen’s blog and his daughter disowned the comment. But the public spat revived the party’s reputation for internal feuds and anti-Semitic undercurrents. Whether her European Parliament setback will affect Marine Le Pen’s rise in France is far from certain. Both the ruling Socialists and the center-right UMP are damaged by rifts over policy and tainted by financial scandals. “It’s better to be part of a group in parliament and after Le Pen’s performance in the election she could have been expected to form one,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political analyst specialized in the far-right. “But let’s be clear: having or not having a group in parliament has zero effect on the National Front’s agenda, which is to perform strongly in (2015) regional elections once again and qualify Marine Le Pen for round two of the (2017) presidential election.”
The Forward


France: Anti-Semitic Assault and Stabbing in Paris Library

20 assailants beat up Jewish students and stab them in French capital as anti-Semitism continues to peak.

24/6/2014- The wave of anti-Semitic violence continues to rock French Jewry, as a gang of 20 attackers on Monday reportedly assaulted visibly Jewish students wearing kippot (yarmulkes) at a local library in the capital city of Paris. The assailants, described by reports as being of North African descent and therefore likely Muslim immigrants, approached the Jewish students from two directions in the library, pouncing on them and beating them until they were bloody. The Jewish students ran from the scene, and in the process two students were stabbed, leaving them with light wounds. Security personnel at the library got involved and called up the police, who were able to arrest several of the attackers and bring them in for investigation.

The attack comes after a rally in Paris supporting the three Israel teens who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists two weeks ago came under attack last Thursday. The anti-Semitic attackers hurled flares at the rally, scattering the participants; several of the attackers were arrested. The recent attacks are just the latest in a long string of escalating anti-Semitic violence. Two Saturdays ago, attackers reportedly approached a Paris synagogue in the city's 20th District armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and a handgun. According to reports they began aiming their guns at bystanders and the building itself and pretended to open fire, but fled the scene when they saw armed French police officers guarding the synagogue. Reports say they escaped on a scooter.

The Saturday prior to that, two visibly Jewish teenagers wearing kippot report being sprayed with tear gas in Sarcelles, a northern suburb of Paris, by North African assailants. A week before that, two other Jewish teenagers, aged 14 and 15, narrowly escaped an axe-wielding man of Arab appearance in another Paris suburb. Jewish Agency Executive Director Natan Sharansky spoke to Arutz Sheva on Monday about French aliyah (immigration to Israel), discussing the many factors driving the steep rise in aliyah recently, including the wave of anti-Semitic violence. That rise in aliyah is such that a full 1% of the French Jewish community is expected to move to Israel by the end of 2014.
Arutz Sheva


Sweden: Church fights neo-Nazis with picnic and bells

A Swedish neo-Nazi party will be attending Almedalen this week - prompting representatives from across the political spectrum to protest with a multicultural picnic while the local church bells chime.

25/6/2014- Once a year the political parties of Sweden gather on the island of Gotland for a week of conferences and debates, during the prestigious Almedalen Week (Almedalsveckan). This year that includes the neo-Nazi Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas parti, SVP). The party has planned a meeting on Saturday, June 29th, the first day of Almedalen Week. And not everyone appreciates their presence. Upon hearing of the neo-Nazis' plans, a few people decided to hold a demonstration "for compassion" at the exact same time. On Saturday a multicultural picnic will be held at Östergravar outside the city of Visby, and the church bells will ring. "It's not a demonstration against anything," Mats Hermansson of the Visby cathedral parish told news agency TT. "It's a demonstration for diversity, love, and democracy, and for everyone's equal worth."

At a recent planning meeting for the picnic, representatives from most parties were present, from the Left Party to the Moderate Party. Hermansson said that the church bells will ring during the neo-Nazi meeting for two reasons. "The first is that the cathedral is exultantly happy to stand up for diversity. The second is that the bells ring when danger is imminent. Forces which threaten society and humanity are speaking out today in the public sphere." Church bells in Jönköping rang on May 1st for the first time since World War II, warning of a neo-Nazi demonstration in the city. The church's actions were both praised and reported to the police.
The Local - Sweden


Oireachtas committe told 18 out of 28 states have no far-right representation

25/6/2014- Media coverage of the European elections overstated the emergence of a “broad sweep of far-right parties rising across Europe”, a Trinity College Dublin professor has claimed. Prof Gail McElroy told the Oireachtas Committee on EU Affairs that impressions of newly elected MEPs taking up positions “at the doors of the European Parliament” had been overstated. She said while there had been a rise “to some extent in Eurosceptic views and far-right parties”, the fact remained that 18 of the 28 member states had “no far-right representation” in the parliament.

Of interest to Ireland as a “bailout country” was that in only one of the bailout countries did the far right do well and that is “obviously the Golden Dawn in Greece”. Prof McElroy said the numbers of far-right MEPs had risen from about 35 to 52 while the two main parties in the European Parliament “are still the two main parties”. “Will the European Parliament be very different?” she asked. “Possibly not.” Irish Times journalist Suzanne Lynch told the committee the results might not affect the parliament as significantly as they impact national governments. She instanced the UK, where the rise of Ukip had seen a hardening of the position of the Conservatives.

Nationalistic self
Timmy Dooley (TD) said it was imperative that the European Council began to think collectively instead of in terms of “narrow nationalistic benefits”. It was not surprising that EU citizens were turning to Eurosceptic views when their politicians and leaders displayed nationalistic self-interest, he said. Committee chairman Dominic Hannigan said both pro-European parties of the centre-right and centre-left would continue to control the European Parliament. But he said the elections posed serious questions about Europe’s response to the economic crisis and the future direction of integration.
The Irish Times.


Unprecedented numbers are risking their lives to reach Europe, and local authorities in coastal communities where they land are struggling to cope. Lizzy Davies reports from Catania.

25/6/2014- With a bandana on her head and a three-month-old baby at her feet, Azeb Brahana stands in the gardens of Catania’s train station and looks a little lost. The 25-year-old Eritrean left her country in 2012, aware, she says, that the life she wanted was not possible in a country with mandatory national service. To get here, she says, she worked for a year in Sudan and endured months in a Libyan jail, where the United Nations estimates thousands of refugees and migrants are being held in deplorable conditions. It was in prison that Brahana gave birth to her son, and it is because of him that she is determined to make it, finally, to a place of safety and stability. “Somewhere I can live with my baby, happy,” she says. Somehow, though, despite all that she has been through, that still feels like a very distant dream.

Like almost 60,000 others this year, Brahana decided to brave the Mediterranean sea in order to reach Italy, and therefore Europe. She paid people-smugglers $1,600 (£950), she says, to board a boat packed with more than 300 people. “It’s really hard with a small baby,” she says stoically of a journey that has proved deadly for thousands over the past 20 years. Her boat was intercepted by an Italian navy ship last week and all its passengers taken to safety. The question for them now is what comes next. Brahana, like many of the refugees and migrants landing in Italy, has not yet requested asylum and is not in the care of an official structure. She is waiting for the bus to Rome, where her aunt lives. And then? “I don’t know,” she admits. “I want to work. I can’t live in my country because of the government. We need help but we don’t know where from.”

According to Italian interior ministry figures given to the Guardian, 59,880 migrants and refugees have landed on the country’s coast this year – almost as many as in the whole of 2011, which holds the record. The situation is unprecedented. Sicily, which has received more than 53,000 of the new arrivals, is bearing the brunt and struggling to cope. And summer – historically the peak time for boat landings – has only just begun. “I’m very afraid that in July, August and September, the situation will grow and grow,” says Rosario Valastro, president of the Italian Red Cross in Sicily. “We have some days where we have the navy arriving in three or four different ports at the same time. My volunteers are really, really tired. I’m very afraid.”

At an EU summit this week, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is expected to raise the issue with other leaders, urging them to make a “significant investment” in the bloc’s border control agency, Frontex. Since October, in the aftermath of two disasters in which around 400 people died at sea, the Italian navy has been carrying out a €9m-a-month (£7.2m) operation in the Mediterranean aimed at intercepting rickety migrant boats before they get into trouble. Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”) is credited by the Italian government and NGOs on the ground with having saved countless lives. But Rome is determined that it should not continue to shoulder the burden alone. On Tuesday, Renzi told parliament: “A Europe that tells the Calabrian fisherman that he must use a certain technique to catch tuna but then turns its back when there are dead bodies in the sea cannot call itself civilised.”

All along the Sicilian coastline, in port towns better known for their beaches than for refugee crises, local authorities are begging for help – from Rome, certainly, but also from Brussels. What they need, says Lillo Firetto, mayor of Porto Empedocle, is a “supranational approach” to be taken in conjunction with the United Nations and the EU. Firetto, whose town has seen more than 8,000 arrivals this year, says the local council wants to provide a reception “worthy of its name” – but that is hard to do. “When, in the course of two days, 2,000 people arrive, and you’re forced to send them to sports halls or other makeshift structures, it’s obvious that this is not the kind of reception required,” he says.

Sicilian towns from Catania on the eastern coast to Palermo in the north have been transforming sports halls, churches and other buildings into ad-hoc facilities. NGOs say the system, though well-meaning, has often proved chaotic. “The problem was, there wasn’t preparation for tackling these kinds of numbers,” says Alessandra Turri, of Save the Children Italy. “Not preparing the ground and approaching it as an emergency does not allow for organisation.” People have sometimes ended up sleeping in tents, she says, because there is simply no room at the inn. For those who do end up housed in one of the makeshift centres, the future is not much more certain. In the eastern port of Augusta, which has found itself playing a central role in the Mare Nostrum reception strategy not long after its local council was dissolved for mafia infiltration, a former primary school has been reopened to give basic food and shelter to some of the large numbers of unaccompanied minors who have come into port this year.

With its cracked paint, faded children's paintings, and stretched facilities, the ex-scuola Verde, as it is known, has dormitory-style bedrooms- in fact former classrooms- which can house up to 180 minors. At its busiest, however, the school is understood to have held around 267 boys. They slept on camp beds in the corridors and the changing rooms. Some of those currently resident are understood to have been living there since early May. Many of them have stories of torture and ill-treatment on their epic journeys across Africa. “They threatened you,” says Adama Bah, 16, from Gambia, recalling his time in Libya where he says he earned the money to pay smugglers for the sea crossing to Italy. “I saw many people shot in the leg or dead.” Bah wants to be a footballer when he grows up. “That’s my dream,” he says. But here in a scruffy park in Augusta, it seems remote. “I’m not happy here because I don’t know what’s happening next.”

According to Save the Children, around 5,840 unaccompanied minors have arrived on the Italian coast this year. Not all of them decide to stay in the system. At a soup kitchen opposite Catania station run by the Catholic charity Caritas, manager Valentina Calí explains that among the people who have called on its services have been “many minors who don’t want to be identified. They avoid being fingerprinted so they don’t have to request asylum in Sicily. They’re running away.” Outside a soup kitchen opposite Catania station run by the Catholic charity Carita, Teame Habte, 20, from Eritrea, is munching on some bread with some friends, who give their ages as 15 and 16. To travel to Italy, he says, he came through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya and was taken from the sea to Lampedusa. “My uncle lives in Rome,” he says. “I will work. I will do any work. I need to send money home because my family is very poor.”

NGOs on the ground say greater coordination is desperately needed in order to facilitate swift transfers to appropriate reception structures throughout Italy. “We continue to talk of an emergency about migrants … It’s not possible to talk about an “emergency” after 20 years,” says Valastro. “So we need to have a plan.” There are concerns that if the ad-hoc strategy continues and worsens through the summer, the social tensions that as yet have remained mild may be exacerbated. In Librino, a neglected part of Catania where a sports hall has been used as a temporary reception centre, the authorities moved the migrants to another hall, reportedly following concern from locals. But, surveying the scene at the Palanitta – a mass of unkempt mattresses, discarded clothes and other detritus lying between two redundant goalposts – one local is still angry. “This is what we’re left with,” he says, declining to give his name. “This is the only place where the children of this neighbourhood can come and play sport; now look at it. OK, there are going to be these boat landings. But there should be proper places for them to go. They can’t just pick a place like this and say: that one.”

When Sicily first started to see an increase in the number of arrivals last year, the local community responded well, with donations pouring in and young people working to form a kind of network of solidarity, according to Emiliano Abramo, representative of the Sant’Egidio Christian community in Catania. “Now these things are being felt less,” he says. “In many places we have a generational clash. It seems with the economic crisis there always has to be someone to be angry with. In Augusta, this is what happened. The youngsters play football with the migrants. And their parents circulate petitions to send them away.”
The Guardian


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