Im obviously delighted. Its one battle we have won! exclaimed Irma Tobias Perez from the Philippines, one of the four non-voting immigrant councillors elected to the Rome city government last spring.
The battle had flared up over the case of 56-year-old Aurea Morales Dimararan, without family in Rome, a domestic help in the city for 20 years and in a coma in a local hospital after a sudden collapse from a cerebral haemorrhage. Yet the current Italian law had denied either of her two offspring in the Philippines the right to travel to Rome to be at her bedside.
The obstacle was the Italian consul in Manila, Martin Brook, who had adamantly ruled: Unfortunately, the Bossi-Fini (immigration law) does not take humanitarian grounds into account. He proved deaf to appeals from both the Philippine ambassador in Rome, Philippe Huillier, and Romes mayor, Walter Veltroni.
Then Perez got to work. She bombarded Manila with the appeals documented, mobilised the Rome council and even got a question tabled in the national parliament. Finally, Gianfranco Fini, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister, phoned Manila himself, and Aureas son, 29-year-old Arben, and her daughter Armin, 24, landed in Italy within hours.
That Bossi-Fini law is inhumane, 50-year-old Perez told Wanted in Rome. It should be scrapped, though it wont be until theres a change of government. Under the law, the position of immigrants in Italy has worsened considerably. Theres now more black labour than ever. Without an employer, youre expelled. What if the elderly person youre looking after suddenly dies?
The victory over Dimararan highlights the to many surprising fact that within a year of their election, Romes immigrant councillors, despite their own initial disillusionment, are already leaving their mark through other little triumphs. The councillor for Europe, the Romanian Gabriel Ionut Rusu, for instance, persuaded the town council to adopt a motion promoted by the Comunit di S. Egidio religious community proposing Italian citizenship for children born of immigrants in Italy, who already total 440,000 (under the present law, only offspring of two Italian parents are Italian).
If Moroccos Aziz Darif, the voice of Africa in the council, is a typical example, the four councillors are winning attention through sheer dynamism. Things are happening. Look. Only months ago, we never dreamt we would get into this place, he said, sweeping an arm around the smart and spacious 7th-floor office in Via Barberini 95 provided for the four by the council. We havent got internet or printers yet, but were sure all things will eventually change. His fellow councillor sharing his office, Peruvian Santos Taboada Zapata, spokesman for the Americas, nodded and smiled broadly.
Darif, 41, seemed to be the leading light among the four, if only as consensual head of a so-called Rome group for local citizenship, a pressure group already campaigning for non-European immigrants to vote in the 2006 elections for Romes 20 municipalities. The mayor himself has gone into print to throw in his lot with what he has called the immigrants civic battle. Rome he wrote has always been a cosmopolitan city and today it is imperative that it continues the tradition...Democracy is not a privilege, but for all.
The whole city council, from both left and right, was said to back the idea too, but its activation, both Darif and Perez explained, would apparently require a change in the Italian constitution.
Another hurdle they acknowledged was that the immigrant communities in Rome themselves still did not appreciate the power the right to vote would eventually confer upon them.
But otherwise, so far weve merely cheated our electors, rued Darif. We promised them this and that. But what have we been able to get moving? Nothing. Weve been to see Marcello Cardona, the head of the new immigration office, three times about the huge delays over work permits. But the situation has simply got worse. People are sleeping on the ground all night just to get in.
What we also intend to fight for is that the children of immigrants be taught the language of their parents countries. They cant be allowed to forget their own culture. I want courses in Arabic for my kids, for instance.
As for the new councillors own positions, the council still had not issued them with the badly-needed credentials that would allow them to take time off work to attend council meetings. Darif works at Romes mosque as an interpreter and guide. Ive got to be there otherwise I can be sacked like anybody else. So at present, if Veltroni calls a meeting, often I cant attend.
And up to Christmas, the councillors had still not seen a cent from the council, despite seemingly big out-of-pocket expenses. Approval for a payment of e50 for each sitting had finally come through, but that was e20 less than the e70 requested. Payments though, were still blocked, and whether they will ever be backdated remains to be seen.
What the councillors have by now made known is that they have a voice and know how to make it heard. So nobody has heard the last of them.
Ufficio dei consiglieri aggiunti: Via Barberini 95, tel. 064814146.