Italy’s Largest Immigrant Ghetto Is Incredibly Bleak
The colored neon lights and the music pumping from the speakers rip through the silence of the countryside near Foggia, in the region of Apulia, southern Italy. I should be in the middle of nowhere but there’s actually quite a lot of traffic here: cars, motorbikes, and people coming and going. It’s around 10 PM and after almost two hours wandering in the roads around Foggia I find myself in front of what the locals call “The Big Ghetto,” or more simply the Rignano Ghetto.
The “ghetto” was spontaneously formed more than 15 years ago, after the evacuation of an abandoned sugar mill, which had served as accommodation for foreign men working in Foggia’s “slavery triangle.” Exploitation of migrants in agriculture is not particular to Apulia—it is common all over Italy, especially in the south. A 2012 report by the Flai Cgil (the Italian General Confederation of Labor’s affiliated Agro-industrial Workers’ Union), said that 700,000 regular and irregular pickers work in the fields and about 400,000 of them are recruited irregularly for very low wages.
Inside a shack
Over the last decade the Rignano “village” has expanded. The demography of the ghetto changes depending on the season and the demand for work in the tomato fields. During winter it hosts around 200 immigrants (mainly coming from French-speaking African countries), while during summer the population rises to 800. Some of its inhabitants arrived in Italy by plane 20 years ago, while those who arrived recently had to cross the desert and pay thousands of dollars to travel in rickety fishing boats across the Mediterranean, hoping they wouldn’t lose their lives like those inLampedusa recently.
Once they succeed in crossing the Mediterranean, day laborers in southern fields are forced to camp out in abandoned factories, with no money and a daily dose of violence from landowners who make enormous profits out of their work. The work conditions border on the Medieval.
I Got Kicked Out of America for Having a Guitar
As any noncitizen who’s traveled to America knows, it’s a pain in the ass to pass through customs. The border officers are suspicious of everyone with a foreign-sounding name or accent, they’ll treat you like a terrorist until you prove to them you’re not, and, as I found out last month, they really, really hate guitars. At least, I assume they do, because I can’t think of any other reason they would have held me up for hours, given me a full-body search, and kicked me out of their country, when all I wanted to do was tour the South and maybe play some unpaid gigs with my guitar.
I was planning on following in the footsteps of my musical idols—Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, John Lee Hooker; well-travelled men with guitars and drug addictions—by taking the Greyhound through the South and up to the West Coast before visiting my aunt in Alabama and holing up in some motel somewhere in the Mississippi Delta to record some music of my own. I’d also emailed a number of bars in the hopes of playing some open-mic nights along the way, which I assumed would be OK with the US government. On the State Department’s website, it specifically says you can visit America without a visa if you’re an amateur who’s taking part in “musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating.”
So I planned my trip without worrying about any bureaucratic red tape. Before going to the South, I’d meet my girlfriend in California. Since I live in London and she’s in Constance, Germany, we flew to the US independently, planning to meet at Los Angeles.
Talking to Berlin’s Hipster Defense Squad
Berlin is often hailed as a mecca for ex-pats and creative types fed up with New York and its stratospheric cost of living. Now, as hordes of graphic designers and writers have begun gentrifying the city, locals have started a concerted attack on members of the German capital’s young “creative class,” who are being blamed by natives for the rising property prices. Bar owners have started anti-hipster viral campaigns, and some locals have begunopenly calling for physical violence to be visited upon the invading hordes.
A group called Hipster Antifa Neukölln have formed to counter this rhetoric, using slogans such as “Tourists, hipsters, everybody is welcome—party like it’s 1945.” Speaking from Berlin, Hipster Antifa’s spokesperson Jannek, explained why his group is doing what they’re doing and why gentrification is a global phenomenon that needs to be seen in a new context.
VICE: When did Hipster Antifa Neukölln start?
Jannek: I guess it began about two years ago when anti-hipster and anti-tourist graffiti started appearing around the city. What was being written just seemed too serious to be a joke, so we decided to make a Facebook page and start a counter-offensive. We had a good idea of who was behind this, and we wanted to criticize them and make people aware of what’s going on.
What sort of graffiti?
Stuff like, “Tourists go home!” and “Kill all the hipsters!”… that sort of thing. There was so much of it. A lot of people thought it was just a joke, but then in the summer of 2011, there were a lot of anti-hipster attacks and there were more and more incidents of people getting thrown out of bars for dressing like a hipster. Some bar owners even started putting signs up in their windows saying “No Hipsters, No Tourists”, stuff like that. Things started to boil over, to get really nasty. That’s when we decided to do something about it. We just thought, ‘Berlin should not be this way.’ And we wanted to know why people were doing this. My friends all had a background in left-wing activism and anti-fascist movements, and we kind of knew that the people writing this anti-hipster graffiti were also from a leftist background. Their idea about gentrification is that it’s the fault of tourists, which is a very simple-minded explanation. So we decided to found a group to defend ourselves.
I Almost Died Traveling from Somalia to Lampedusa
Hassan Ali is a 23-year-old Somali who survived gun battles and poverty in his youth in his native country before deciding in 2009 to embark on Tahrib, the perilous journey from Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thousands of Somalis make this trip every year, and this month it made headlines after a boat caught fire and capsized on October 3, killing over 300 would-be immigrants. Eight days later, a different vessel capsized in an accident that claimed at least 34 lives. Here, Hassan speaks about his troubled life before the trip and the horrors he experienced en route to Europe.
The cannibalism didn’t start until our second boat journey, from Libya to Lampedusa. We had already been traveling for ten days; people were dying and there was no food. I actually saw one guy cutting a piece of flesh from another man’s body.
I’m still one of the lucky ones.
I grew up in Beled Hawo, near the Kenyan border. I love my city but life there wasn’t very happy for me. I lived in a flat with my parents, a younger sister, and two older brothers. When I was ten years old the inter-clan fighting began. One afternoon while I was in the mosque, a fierce gunfight erupted outside. There were bullets flying everywhere. I was all alone in there and I didn’t know what to do, I was just looking around trying to find a way out and all the while bullets were echoing off every side of the mosque. I eventually found a way out and ran towards my home, but just before I got in the door two guys with AK-47s started firing at me. I ducked, ran inside, and fell into my parents’ arms. After five hours the fighting finally stopped. But I knew then that my future wasn’t in Beled Hawo.
The Swedish Police Are Keeping Tabs on Roma Immigrants
Yesterday, it was announced that the Swedish police keeps a registry that contains detailed information about 4,029 people of Roma descent. According to the newspaperDagens Nyheter, more than half of the people on the registry have no criminal record, and there were 1,000 children on the list who are too young to have even committed a crime—some as young as two years old. All of which would seem to imply that when the Swedish police were compiling the list, they were creating a small but perfectly lazy and borderline-racist monitoring network.
Lawyers told the Dagens Nyheter that the database breaks several laws, including the European Convention on Human Rights, police data laws, and the law against general police surveillance registries. Anna Troberg, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, was quick to express her outrage, tweeting: “I wake up to the news of the police cataloguing Romani. This makes me enraged to all fucking hell.”
A few hours after the registry’s existence was reported, demonstrators took to the streets to give the police a piece of their mind. I ventured out to see what they had to say.
More than 200 infuriated human rights activists, anti-racists, and concerned citizens turned up at a public square in Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest city. As often happens at protests, angry speeches were made. One person took to the mic to remind the crowd that, “this was how the Holocaust started,” which seemed somehow both a bit rash and actually quite accurate.
Uganda Is Taking Israel’s Unwanted Asylum Seekers to Get Cheaper Weapons
Earlier this month, it was reported that Israel was trying to swap Africans for arms. Or, more specifically, broker a deal with a number of unspecified African countries that would see thousands of African refugees included in lucrative deals for Israeli weapons and military training. If you take back these annoying, resources-sapping asylum seekers, the Israelis seemed to be saying, you can buy our guns for cheap.
The Israeli government is currently detaining thousands of African asylum seekers in desert prisons on the Egyptian border. Many of them now face being shipped off, against their will, to whichever African country will take them. Seemingly no thought has been paid to sending asylum seekers back to oppressive regimes they may have been fleeing in the first place.
It seems that a deal has now been struck, as late last week Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that he would start the process of deporting migrants to Uganda.
The Israeli government already have strong relations with their Ugandan counterparts, with Israel currently “working to introduce sophisticated agro-technology" to the country. But it is newer support to Uganda’s military—weapons, training, fighter jets, and possibly drones—that many suspect to be behind the country’s decision to import asylum seekers from Israel.
"We’re hoping to operate in the coming weeks and months in a way that will make another exit for infiltrators in the country,” Sa’ar explained, “while trying to reach agreements with more countries.”
Coming to America
In the first episode of season two of Young Americans, director Lance Bangs and his crew meet up with young people from coast to coast to discuss their multicultural roots.
Watch the episode
Deportee Purgatory – Tijuana’s El Bordo Is Home to Thousands of Heroin Addicted Mexican Deportees
Each year, more than 30 million people flow between the US and Mexico through the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land-border crossing in the world. Situated between San Diego and Tijuana, at one time the area around San Ysidro was a prime spot to cross illegally into the US. But in 1994, Operation Gatekeeper expanded the border wall and increased the number of checkpoints. With the more recent addition of unmanned drone patrols along the border, Tijuana has become one of the most fortified border points in the Americas. Border crossers have been forced to turn to alternative sites of crossing, such as the Sonoran Desert, where hundreds of people die each year.
About 40 percent of Mexican immigrants deported from the US are sent back through Tijuana. Many of the deported border crossers have established a makeshift shantytown inside a dry, concrete riverbed where the Tijuana River once flowed—called El Bordo.
In years past, local nonprofits and shelters offered humanitarian aid to immigrants attempting to cross into the US, but today they primarily care for the deportees who have been booted back to Mexico. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) reported a record 409,849 immigrants deported from the States in 2012, and a recent report published by Social Scientists on Immigration Policy states that, based on the current rates of deportation, more than two million people will have been deported by the Obama administration by 2014, more than under any president in American history.
El Bordo roughly translates as “the border” or, more grimly, “the ditch.” In the 1960s, the area around the Tijuana River was a frontier town where would-be immigrants would congregate to meet polleros (“human smugglers”), who would transport them into the US for a fee.
Micaela Saucedo runs the Casa Refugio Elvira shelter, located a block away from the dry river, and has assisted border crossers and deportees for more than 30 years. “In the 60s, it was very easy to cross. In those years, it was a different world.” Micaela led me to a public square where several hundred homeless deportees were milling about, waiting for the free meal that local humanitarian organizations dish out every day. “The deportees stay here [in Tijuana] because they think crossing again will be easy,” Micaela said, “but they don’t realize that the border is now completely secured. It’s very hard to cross.”
Later Micaela gave me a tour of El Bordo—an inhospitable concrete embankment filled with a sea of tents. The elegant Las Americas mall in San Diego is visible just over the border fence.
“Gallo!” Micaela shouted. A man emerged from a hole, crowing like a rooster. Delfino Lopez, a.k.a. El Gallo, a man in his early 30s who wore a hat with a fighting cock embroidered on it, is one of the estimated 3,000 people who reside in El Bordo year-round. Like many of his fellow inhabitants, Gallo previously resided in the US. He crossed the border illegally in 2005 and worked in construction for six years, sending most of his money to his wife and kids in Puebla.
Kat Stacks Is a Real American Hero
Portrait of Kat Stacks courtesy of FVP ART GALLERY
A former prostitute turned loudmouth rap groupie seems like an unlikely poster child for the immigration movement in the US. But not only has Kat Stacks become a symbol for DREAMers—undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and are fighting to stay—her story is so American, it should be printed on the flag.
For those who don’t read rap-gossip blogs, here’s the Kat Stacks story: Born Andrea Herrera, she came to the US from Venezuela when she was eight years old, and, like so many immigrants, ended up overstaying her temporary visa and became an undocumented immigrant. But instead of studying hard and graduating from the top of her class—like most of those who represent the public face of DREAMers— Herrera was sexually abused as a child and was forced into a life of prostitution at the tender age of 14.
She spent the next few years turning tricks and even gave birth to her pimp’s child. Eventually, she began hanging out with—and having sex with—rappers, and by the age of 20, with the help of YouTube and WorldStarHipHop.com, she was known by millions on the internet as an annoying, shit-talking rap groupie who put rappers on “blast” and more than once got beat up on camera in retaliation for her antics.
In 2010, she had a falling out with a promoter in Nashville who claims she took her money without going to the event she was hired for. In retaliation, something happened to her plane ticket, and after airport authorities did a background check on Herrera, they arrested her on an immigration charge. “How was I supposed to know she was flying dirty?” the promoter said at the time. “That just goes to show you karma is a bitch.”
The immigration judge who considered her case saw her online persona and decided that there was absolutely no way America could benefit by keeping a foul-mouthed Superhead wannabe who once bragged about having sex with Lil Wayne for $1,200. “The Court finds that the Respondent’s behavior as an online persona is a significant negative equity,” the judge said in his decision to deport her.
The AP Style Guide Finally Deported the Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’
Yesterday, the Associated Press declared that the phrase illegal immigrant was no longer kosher, which is a big deal, since when the AP changes its style guide, newspapers around the country go along with it. Naturally, many people (mostly conservatives) responded to the tiny tweak with howls—and tweets—of derision.
The AP’s reasoning for this fairly mild mandate is that illegal shouldn’t be a descriptor for a person; indeed, “No person is illegal” is a common pro-immigration slogan. “Illegal should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally,” Kathleen Carroll, a senior vice president and executive editor at the AP, wrote to explain the decision. So you can say, “Chen illegally overstayed his visa and lived illegally in the United States,” but Chen himself is not an illegal immigrant. Nor is he an undocumented worker, or an illegal alien, terms which have already fallen out of AP favor.
Though there are meaty—if often abstract and geeky—debates to be had over language, from the legacy of the N word to rigidly enforced political correctness on college campuses. So far, this war of words has been filled with self-righteous, obnoxious carping about terminology, which is far less helpful than discussing whether it’s wrong for poor people to cross an imaginary line in search of better lives. But at the same time, this conscious word-choice change points at the bigger issue of why 11 million people who live and work in the US are treated as an invading army by so many of their fellows.