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adil mauro
May 08, 2024


The voice of Gabriele del Grande, interviewed by Adil Mauro

The final vote on the package of legislative reforms known as the “European Pact” was held on April 10th, 2024. “Now that it has been approved, those who ask for asylum in Europe will no longer have any effective right to full examination of the application for international protection, and may be systematically detained at the external borders of the Union”, denounces ASGI (Association for Legal Studies on Immigration).

Also a few months ago in Italy, the Meloni government signed an agreement with the Tirana authorities - according to many observers with an electoral perspective - for the creation of expensive and fundamentally useless centers for the detention of migrants on Albanian territory. An approach that is part of a broader process of externalization of borders that does not only concern our country.

The work of the journalist and writer Gabriele Del Grande fits into this scenario of constant attack on the right to asylum and movement of foreign people. Since April Del Grande has been carrying around Italy a multimedia monologue inspired by his latest book "The mobile century. History of illegal immigration in Europe". The text, published last August after a decade of field research and three years of study, aims to historicize the process of illegalization of black, Asian and Muslim immigration and clear the discussion on free movement.

Del Grande has been dealing with these issues for years. In 2006 he created Fortress Europe, the first observatory on border victims. Since then he has conducted research in around thirty countries between the two shores of the Mediterranean and the Sahel, creating numerous reportages for the Italian and international press. “The mobile century” monologue presents itself as a journey through images and words, built with the texts of the book of the same name, photos and archive videos of an entire century.

Interview with Gabriele Del Grande.

Q: What do the words "legal travel" mean to you?

A: A contradiction in terms, in the sense that legal travel shouldn't even exist. It represents the current order of things which wants to illegalize the mobility of some, thus generating the legality of the travel of others. The theme is to ask who can travel, who can't and why.

Q: How do we talk about immigration?

A: There is a lot of rhetoric about legal immigration. The great farce is the idea that there is good and bad immigration. The legal one of those who come here with good intentions to work as opposed to the illegal one of those who enter illegally, circumventing the rules and with the aim of committing crimes. This is the great narrative that is built on visa mechanisms, especially at the border, which decide which areas of the world it is legal to travel from. Basically, people considered more easily assimilable because they are closer to the idea of ​​whiteness may enter. That’s the biological criterion on which the idea of ​​transmitting citizenship is still based today. And then there are the areas of the world from which we have decided not to move anyone, except for exceptions such as the children we no longer make, who are legally authorized to join their parents, or those few workers we need only if they are in precarious conditions and ready to be sent back to where they come from when they are no longer productive. And right at the last minute we are willing to accept the perfect refugee who confirms the narrative of the democratic West that saves the world's victims... as long as they are not those in Gaza.

Q: What are the limits of public debate in Italy on these issues?

A: In terms of debate, I don't see any great openings, alas. What I try to do with "The mobile century" is to shuffle the cards and clear the debate on free movement, trying to move the topic from immigration to freedom of movement. In the so-called progressive sphere, the only theme that seems to pop up every now and then is that of humanitarian corridors as an alternative to sea crossings. But these legal channels are always linked to humanitarian discourse, as if once again the only exception to being able to cross the color line that divides the Mediterranean is to be desperate. Let us welcome them, but only if they are refugees and persecuted. Therefore we authorize in small doses and with a dropper the arrival of some Syrians, some Yemenis, some Sudanese through the humanitarian corridors. On these issues there is a historical delay, on the right as well as on the left. In the identitarian-sovereign world as in the progressive world of “open ports” there is still this illusion of a white Europe that no longer exists and the idea that mobility from certain areas of the world represents the exception. There is indeed a difficulty in admitting the right to move freely in the world of everyone and not just of some. Another issue that we will have to deal with is in fact that of the working class and middle classes coming from the Afro-Asian area who, to date, with the visa mechanism are cut off and still travel, but illegally. Today's question is not so much "open or close borders?" but whether or not to legalize the mobility of people who cross those borders anyway.

Q: Is what you have called "visa apartheid" on more than one occasion also a class issue?

A: Yes, certainly. It is also an issue related to racial discourse. First of all, there is a map of countries that have a travel ban and cannot enter Europe without a visa. We are basically talking about Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Central America. In these countries there is a classist discourse whereby the travel of the elite and the children of the bourgeoisie is authorized in the embassy, ​​while the travel of the poor and the middle class is prohibited. After which "the law was made, the deception was made", in the sense that there is a crazy corruption ring in the embassies and the visas are somehow managed to be obtained anyway. To date, let's say, 90% of annual entries into Europe from non-European space occur legally from airports with visas. And the issue of the so-called "fake tourists" who remain (overstayers) at the end of the three months, then request asylum to get in order. There are also those who buy a fake work contract to get in with the migration flows or make false documents for a family reunion. The prohibitions are one thing, the practice and ease with which certain provisions can be circumvented are another.

Q: Often the double standard is also in the words: we expats, the other immigrants.

A: In general, what is missing is a critical vision on these issues. What I see, in addition to the communication circus that simply relaunches the declarations of the politician of the moment, is the attempt to tell the stories of those who set off on the journey. It's a shame that this work often gives way to a pietistic, victimizing and infantilizing gaze. The story is always that of the victim, the poor thing, the perfect refugee. However, what is missing is the gaze capable of subverting that narrative, that is, of seeing those boys as young rebels who represent many grains of sand destined to blow up the powerful gears of the border device. Paradoxically, reversing the narrative on these issues would allow us to explain the stories of all those who get on the boats, therefore not only of the family fleeing the war but also of the teenager from Tangier or Tunis who comes in search of America. And it would also allow us to bring our stories closer to theirs. In the end we are all young precarious workers looking for dignity and redemption. But to reverse perspective and gaze we need upstream reasoning, asking ourselves what the border is, what it is for and what privileges it maintains.

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