Milan mayor Sala: Refugee situation “unbearable”

Sala writes open letter: government must change policy.

Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala has told the Italian government that it must urgently change its policy on housing refugees because the city is no longer able to cope.

In an open letter to leading daily La Repubblica on 19 September Sala said how a ceaseless flow of Africans, Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis – as many as 500 or 600 per day, one third of them minors – is bringing Milan’s resources for housing them to its knees. Flowing northwards towards the “promised lands” of Germany, Scandinavia or Britain, the flood is dammed in northern Italy as the Swiss, French and Austrian borders are closed.

The situation is spawning organised criminal gangs extorting the migrants’ meagre remaining funds to smuggle them across the northern border.

Refugees from the war-torn Middle East and desperately poor sub-Saharan Africa are being housed in schools, gymnasiums, freight yards and oratories. Soon the indoor sport arena PalaSharp and a former military barracks will be taken over by humanitarian associations helping the migrants. The base camp for workers at last year’s Expo Milano 2015 was to be used, but the Lombardy regional government offered the prefab housing instead to victims of last month’s earthquake in central Italy.

Now the responsibility can no longer fall on the shoulders of “the few municipalities dealing with it at the limit of their capabilities,” wrote Sala. “The government ... should launch a new and workable integration policy, planned and adequately financed to help the thousands of refugees blocked in our city, and in other parts of the country, to find a way out of their provisional status.”

Immigration is not a “burning match to be passed from hand to hand,” wrote Sala. “It’s a gigantic question needing a radical gear-change at the national level ... because otherwise egoism and fear will take over, providing millions more votes to all kinds of populists.”

While underlining the duty to welcome the migrants, Sala demanded government action to stop the situation “continuing to weigh like an ever heavier millstone on the city’s shoulders.” We need a workable national plan to set out a fair distribution of refugees across the country, he stated, and this must start with regional quotas.

The full text of Sala’s open letter, in Italian, is on the La Repubblica website.

Lombardi regional president Roberto Maroni announced that he, too, had made concrete suggestions for managing the flow of refugees, worked out together with his opposite numbers in Liguria and Veneto regions, and had handed their joint proposals to prime minister Matteo Renzi.