Italian Protestants on immigration and racial violence

Rome, 30 May 2008 (NEV) – “A wrong and dangerous path”, this is the opinion of Pastor Maria Bonafede, Moderator of the Tavola Valdese (executive board of the Methodist and Waldensian Churches in Italy), referring to the Italian government’s planned actions on the Roma people. “As Christians, but also as citizens of a democratic state, we express all our concern for the measures that have been announced by the new government. These measures penalize an entire community, they feed social prejudice and arouse real hate campaigns against a population that in European history has already been hit by tragedies of racial persecution and extermination camps. The establishment of legal guarantees does not pass through pogroms; it passes through the application, even severe, of the existing norms and for a plan of integration and social inclusion of thousands of Roma people that do not steal or commit criminal actions. As citizens we must stress that the laws must be equal for everyone, for Italians like the Roma people. But as Christians we must affirm and witness that even the Roma people are our neighbors”, concluded Bonafede.
Pastor Domenico Maselli, President of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), also said he was very concerned and perplexed about the new manoeuvres against illegal immigration. “Some of the hypotheses that have been going around are absurd and ineffective” declared Maselli, maintaining that the hunt for boats filled with possible migrants outside Italian territorial waters is impracticable. “Besides, the eventuality of making illegal immigration a criminal offence would risk filling up our prisons without solving the problem of returning them to their homelands. We feel that any measure that discourages legal immigration would end up by aggravating the phenomenon of illegal immigration run by the mafias. In reality we believe that it would be necessary to ease the process of entrance into the country of those in search of work on the condition that they would be sent back if work was not found within set time limits. It concerns us moreover that eventual limitations posed on the entrance of families of regular immigrants would end up reducing the possibility for finding work of persons equipped for fundamental social services, like that of home care, who cannot certainly be hired without the direct knowledge of the people involved and without the necessary guarantees. In closing, in the moment in which international politics feels a greater need for cohesion in the European Union it does not seem opportune, besides being unjust, to create initiatives for limiting the entrance of citizens of EU member States”.
In a letter sent to the Minister of Interior, Roberto Maroni, Doris Peschke, Secretary General of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), gave a sharp “no” to the special measures taken for immigrants by the Italian government. “We maintain that every person deserves dignity and equality before the law”, says the letter, which was also sent to the attention of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. The CCME expresses its concern for an indiscriminate repressive action against the Romanian and Roma communities, justified on the basis of some serious incidents of the past few months. The letter continues: “If a person is found a criminal – as may or may not be the case for the young Roma woman in Naples cited a week ago – has to be determined by the competent courts in European countries, also in Italy. It cannot be tolerated that a group of people takes the law into their hands and raids a whole settlement and destroys their homes. We would have expected a very clear positions against the looting rather than a general discourse on ‘illegal migration’. Of course we are aware that Italy has received a high number of Romanian immigrants over the past years, among them also a number of Roma. There may be criminals among them, but that does not make all of them criminal. There may be some who have entered illegally, and yet, they are persons with fundamental rights. They may have committed an offence, for which a fine may be appropriate. However, the current discussion on restricting migration laws and increasing penalties and administrative detention is in our view disproportionate. Particularly, as this discourse generally alleges that every Romanian and Roma is a potential criminal”.
Great concern about the climate of violence that arose in the Italian society was expressed by Pastor Holger Milkau, Dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy (CELI). He stated that “in the face of dramatic violence like the killing of a 14 year old girl in Sicily and a youth at Verona, we can no longer tolerate indifference, nor can we limit ourselves to acknowledging our inability to act in the face of the loss of every sense of humanity and morality. As Lutherans we feel it is our duty to reaffirm and witness the value and the dignity of life in each and every man and woman, created in the image and likeness of God. At the same time we condemn the irresponsibility and the light manner in which ‘monsters’ are created on whom we can unleash our fears and our social uneasiness. today it’s the Roma people’s turn against whom was unleashed a dangerous and unjust hate campaign that does not make any difference between the great majority of the honest persons and a criminal minority. For this, as the Lutheran Church, above all for the youth, we intend to commit ourselves with always greater energy to the witness and promotion of a culture for life and trust, in which all can identify themselves, feel gratified and loved in a Christian way.”
“The violence of a band of youth against their peers; torture, rape, homicide; the violence against the Roma, the fires, the evacuations and the deportations”: Pastor Anna Maffei, President of the Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Italy (UCEBI) says she is “shocked” by all this news. She tells of “an endemic social disease, blind and acute with the involvement of the public institutions. Search and seizure, mass arrests, ‘cleanup’ of the State, human beings treated like garbage; all has led to a climate of ‘zero tolerance’, making illegal immigration a criminal offence: a monstruosity even to have thought of it! Security is the new idol to which all is sacrificed: democratic principles are set aside, the rights of individuals downtrodden, injustices and violence are justified. We feel secure when we force the enemy away, eliminate him. The enemy takes the names of those useful to those who manoeuvre: they are terrorists, they are non-members of the European Union, they are Romanians and Gypsies, they are Muslims, they are…”
“I do not fear the words of the violent, but the silence of the honest”. By recalling this citation of Martin Luther King, Anna Maffei concludes: “The people are made up of citizens. The crowd, the people, go where those who manoeuvre them wants them to go. The ‘crucify him’ of the Gospel story of the assassination of Jesus serves as a perennial warning. We Protestants believe in the truth that makes us free. For this we must abolish widespread prejudice and take on the burden of giving a critical and plural information. We must seek to understand the reality that surrounds us in all its complexity. It is the time to believe in the creative strength of nonviolence and seek every possible alliance to affirm the biblical principle of equality and the rights of each and everyone to life, to the future”.