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encountering kurdish refugees Arrow vol 5 no 2 contents
About borderlands volume 5 number 2, 2006


Refugees reception and the construction of identities:
encountering Kurdish refugees in Italy

Raffaela Puggioni
St. John's University, Rome



1. As noted in Alastair Ager's analysis (1999: 17) - which draws on the work of Bracken et al. (1997) - two main approaches to refugee studies have emerged, approaches which theorise refugee experience from completely different angles. While modern discourse is concerned with problem-solving perspectives, and especially with a 'responsibility to act' (Bracken et al. 1997: 435-436, quoted in Ager 1999: 17); post-modern discourse is concerned to problematise prevailing world order, and to include alternatives voices and narrative. Post-modern theorising thus supports analyses where 'a responsibility to otherness' (ibid.) is central, a responsibility which presupposes both an engagement with the other, and a more inclusive self/other encounter. International Relations (IR) critical scholars have precisely embarked on this latter perspective, in open contrast with the IR mainstream, and are overwhelmingly preoccupied with problem-solving approaches as related to questions of sovereignty, global refugee crises, border controls, humanitarian emergencies and economic burdens, to name only a few. IR critical literature has, among others, problematized the construction of refugee identity as passive, silent, and depoliticised (Soguk 1999; Nyers 1999; Rajaram 2002 ), and uncovered the interconnection between the existence of (refugee) camps and post-9/11 politics of control (Edkins 2000; Bigo 2002; Perera 2002; Huysmans et al. 2006), as inspired by the work of Giorgio Agamben (1998; 2003).            

2. Despite recent developments in approaching refugee experiences, sovereignty - or its 'perverse perseverance' (Burke 2002) - and refugees' powerlessness seem to dominate the debate, a debate in which civil society and refugees themselves seem to play only a marginal role in contesting dominant politics of exclusion. Moving away from IR orthodoxy, and from questions of refugees' protection in a world of states, the following pages will look at local refugee reception as organised in the Italian province of Catanzaro in 1998, in response to the landing of the cargo-boat Ararat, transporting more than eight hundred asylum seekers, mainly Kurds from Turkey. What the article aims to demonstrate is that the way in which theoretical and legal aspects are posed within the IR discipline - and especially the emphasis on the official politico-legal decisions - do not allow for the emergence of refugees' voices and experiences nor that of the role of common people in the reception process. They allow, rather, for a construction of refugee reception as either inclusive or exclusive, a reception in which asylum seekers are required to obey and conform silently, without any possibility to speak up. Special attention will be, thus, given to refugees' self-understanding of their 'refugee-ness'; to the encounter between the citizens (Italians) and the non-citizens (Kurdish refugees) as emerged in everyday reception practices; and ultimately to 'the ethical relation ... [and] responsibility to the other' as established and constantly negotiated within everyday experience (Campbell and Shapiro 1999: x). What the present article will explore and question is: what is going to happen if we depart from state-centric analyses and look at the way in which reception is provided locally? How do local members establish the rules of reception? What role does national identity play in shaping reception policies? What if local communities do not identify themselves as primarily political? To what extent does such a lack of political identification play a role in developing responses that depart from national politics? What role might collective experiences - i.e. memories of mass emigration - play in shaping inclusive encounters? And, last but not least, how do refugees themselves respond to and participate in the reception project?

3. The following pages will suggest that in Italy, a specific culture of humanitarian assistance, a high level of regionalism, inadequate local resources, and more importantly the complete absence of a national politics of asylum, have all contributed to the emergence of a subjective and localised interpretation and implementation of asylum provisions. The absence of a national system of reception - organised only since 2001 - has, thus, determined the emergence of a politics of protection that is strongly localised (as only a few municipalities have organised some assistance), selective (not all refugees have obtained the very same treatment), and temporally situated (the assistance was limited in time, independently of the effective needs). An analysis of Italian reception responses in favour of Kurdish refugees will thus attempt to illustrate the importance of departing from official politico-legal narrative and to engage with local reception processes. However, the analysis on locality is not seen in relation to global flows (see Appadurai 1996), which goes beyond the scope of this analysis. The focus on what happens locally is, rather, connected to an interest in understanding the way in which the encounter between common people and asylum-seekers is developed, and especially what role national/local identity plays in shaping such encounter. Finally, it is here, locally, where refugees start to fully perceive that their condition of displacement does not arrive to an end once a safe country is reached, and it is still here where they realise that the dreamed Europe is not the Europe just reached.

Italian politics of protection: an overview

4. Before a close scrutiny of the local responses in Catanzaro in 1998, a preliminary overview of Italian politics of reception - and protection - is essential for a deeper understanding of the inclusive mechanisms developed on that occasion. An analysis of asylum literature - not particularly well developed - suggests that very little has always been done, and that the few asylum provisions have rarely been adequately enforced (Delle Donne 1995; Schuster 2000; Morris 2002; Kora 2003). As argued elsewhere, the traditional absence of migration and asylum policies, a relatively easy access to the territory, a wide-spread informal economic (not to be confused with the criminal underworld), and a well-organised privato sociale (social-private sector), have all determined the emergence of a private system of reception (Puggioni 2005). Like some other Mediterranean countries, a crucial role in overcoming institutional vacuum has been played by local people, NGOs, Catholic Church and migrants' networks, all of which have generally helped and assisted those in need outside the official routes.

5. Since 1973, after a century-long history of mass emigration, the country for the first time registered some migration influxes. Up to present days, four main politics to migration have prevailed, with important repercussions on asylum:  

i. politics of a laissez-faire (1973-1989);

ii. politics of transit (1990-1997);

iii. politics of control (1998-2002);

iv. politics of repression (2002 up-to-date).

The proposed dates should not, however, be seen as clear-cut. Save the first period, they correspond to the introduction of new immigration legislations and a re-evaluation of prevailing norms, though questions of implementation, interpretation and bureaucratic slowness have prevented the emergence of common (national) practices. Up to 1989, a politics of laissez-faire dominated, in the sense that a politics of migration was completely missing, and the question of border controls was de facto non-existent. The entry into the territory was easy, and generally unnoticed. The inadequacy of the few migration regulations and the impressive diffusion of an underground economy have allowed immigrants to live and work in the country for quite some years, without possessing a regular permit (See Reyneri 1998). As noted in Pugliese, '[a]lmost all the immigrants, before the regularisations, have entered Italy without following the rules, because there were no rules' (Il Manifesto, 10/05/2002).

6. During the second phase (1990-1997), the migratory phenomenon started to be perceived differently, though many of the prevailing practices did not register substantial changes. The Martelli Law (1990), for the first time, recognised the need for border controls, reinforcement and modernization of the police at the borders, establishment of migration quotas and expulsion measures (Martelli 1990). It was in the Martelli Law that some provisions on asylum were initially introduced, though a wide gap between legal provisions and everyday praxis prevented its full application (see Puggioni 2005). Moreover, no reference to temporary protection was included, and ad hoc measures were adopted for refugees fleeing Albania, Somalia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia. The key assumption - that Italy was a country of emigration and transit - remained unquestioned, as demonstrated by the introduction of the so-called decree of expulsion (decreto di espulsione). The decree simply ordered anyone found without a regular permit to leave the country spontaneously within fifteen days, during which freedom of movement was guaranteed. Despite the declared intention to control migration influxes, legal provisions and common practices suggest otherwise (see ICS 2000; Sciortino 1999; Quassoli 1999). A politics of transit was prevalent: i.e. Italy is one of the routes through which migrants, and would-be refugees, could easily entry and transit before reaching their final and desired destination (see Galieni and Patente 2002), and the introduction of the decree of expulsion allowed them to do so. In Italy, irregular immigration thus represented, a 'mass phenomenon' (Sciortino 2000: 7), and the status of the so-called clandestini was regularly legalised thanks to sanatorie (amnesties), six since 1982.

7. The politics of transit was slowly replaced by a politics of control, following the entry into force of the Dublin Convention [1] (01/09/1997), the Schengen Acquis [2] (26/10/1997), and a new immigration law, known as the Turco-Napolitano Law (40/1998). Although the shift was quite visible in the political discourse and in the legislation, local practices, save some exceptions, took much longer. The politics adopted during those years was quite ambivalent. While on the one hand, a discourse of rights and duty for immigrants was dominant, on the other, a politics of closed-doors started to operate, including the increased patrolling of Italian coastlines, the progressive stipulation of cooperation agreements with neighbouring countries, and the establishment of reception and detention centres. The most innovative provision of the legislation was, probably, the introduction of automatic 'temporary protection occasion of conflicts, natural disasters or other particularly serious events within countries not belonging to the European Union' (article 18(1)). In brief, some positive signals in favour of migrants emerged, though nothing was done for refugees, whose entry and transit started to become institutionally visible only at the very end of 1997, once the so-called Kurdish crisis exploded. However, this was mainly due to the pressure received from Schengen partners than to Italian asylum politics.

8. The present phase, dominated by a politics of repression and suspicion, is the result of the new politics introduced by the previous right-wing government, which hopefully will soon be modified by the new elected Parliament. The repressive character of the Bossi-Fini Act (2002) - confirmed by the Italian Supreme Court ( Corte di Cassazione, judgement no. 3162, 31/01/2003) [3] - is well demonstrated by the way in which the patrolling of the coastlines is carried out; the number of ' clandestini' rejected at the borders; the number of detainees held in camps; the stipulation of re-admission agreements; the new camps recently created in Libya; the dominant discourse which equates criminals to clandestini; and the zero-tolerance politics. Finally, within a political framework dominated by repression, whose rationale is 'no clandestini at all costs', rescue operations along the Mediterranean Sea carried out by non-officials have resulted in some legal procedures and the accusation of smuggling, especially against Italian fishermen and NGOs as the case of the Cap Anamur (see Puggioni 2006b: 185-6).

9. For the purpose of the present analysis, the 1990s prevalent policies and practices are the most relevant for us, as they raise important questions. In a country where immigration/asylum rules were non-existent, where entry and exit were relatively easy, and where no public system of reception was established, on what ground - political and/or ethical - was the encounter with asylum seekers shaped? Who established reception practices? And finally, given the general apathy of the public sector, how did the private one respond to immigrants and refugees? A preliminary and brief explanation of the asylum procedure is needed, as it clarifies why self-help strategies were generally perceived as the norm and state intervention the exception, and thus why the sole adoption of a top-down approach to integration is, in the Italian case, insufficient.

Asylum: a protection fiction

10. As argued elsewhere, throughout the 1990s asylum seekers, as other Italian marginalized groups, were generally perceived as people in need of help and assistance and not as people for whom specific rights had to be granted. It was, thus, the task of the private sector (common people, NGO, charities and the Catholic network) to take care of their needs. Such an understanding encouraged the emergence of a system in which their presence, transit and outflows were institutionally irrelevant, and where state intervention was visible only during reception 'crisis': i.e. once private initiatives were unable to overcome public vacuum (Puggioni 2005: 321-27).

11. Three key moments characterised the asylum procedure: 1) a verbal request of asylum was formulated at the local Questura (police headquarter); 2) a written application was submitted, together with the request of financial support (34,000 lire, circa 17 euros, per day for up to 45 days); and 3) a hearing before the Central Commission in Rome - which evaluated the application - was convened. The main problem was the implementation of such an easy procedure, and especially the waiting time for each phase. The asylum application - crucial for receiving a temporary (and legal) permit of stay - and the financial support could take between a few days and several months. No permit of stay meant no public responses: no accommodation, no assistance, and no financial support. The average waiting time before the hearing was even longer, between six and twelve months (see ICS 2000). Moreover, as emerged during an interview with a member of the Central Commission, the percentage of people who did not appear at the hearing was extremely high. As well documented in the Dossier Nausicaa - the first comprehensive dossier on asylum in Italy - the high number of "disappearance" was mainly due to the following factors: 1) probably only one-third of the incoming refugees tended to remain in the country; 2) asylum-seekers tended to move from one geographical area to another according to local survival strategies, and the notification of the hearing was not always delivered at the right address; 3) travel expenses for reaching Rome for the hearing were not covered; 4) legal assistance was de facto inexistent (ICS 2000).

12. The information provided in the Dossier is especially important as it includes a detailed analysis of local reception policies. In particular, the Dossier proposes a typology of reception according to the impact, interest and responses to migration/refugee influxes within each geographical area, as following:

•  regions of entry (Apulia, Calabria, Sicily and Friuli Venezia Giulia) (ibid: 21-39);

•  regions of exit (Trentino Alto Adige and Liguria) (ibid: 40-45);

•  regions of permanence (Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany) (ibid: 46-55);

•  metropolitan areas (Rome and Milan) (ibid: 56-66).

The impressive level of regionalism in implementing, or even ignoring, asylum provisions was further confirmed, both during my field-work carried out in Rome and in the province of Catanzaro between April and July 2001, and during an interview, in November 2001, with an official of the Ministry of the Interior - Dublin Unit, according to whom:  

asylum-seekers, possessing a legal permit of sojourn, are under the competence of local institutions. And here, an abyss is opened: 8,000 municipalities with 8,000 levels of interests to the issue. There are municipalities which offer something and there are as well municipalities which offer nothing. There are municipalities that encourage processes of integration and there are, conversely, municipalities unable to offer any kind of assistance.

13. Within a context where asylum protection was de facto non-existent, save in those municipalities which wanted to do otherwise, the entry and transit of Kurdish refugees has been crucial precisely for breaking previous politics and practices and making them institutionally visible (see Puggioni 2005). Up to November 1997, protection meant mainly temporary protection for humanitarian refugees, while statutory refugees were generally ignored and left to their self-help strategies. However, the sudden shift was due especially to the pressure received from some Schengen partners - such as Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands - which compelled Italy to implement the Dublin Convention, and introduce stricter (Schengen) border controls. What the vast majority of the Kurds wanted at that time was both invisibility and visibility. While on the one hand, many of them, especially those who decided to stay in Italy, wanted to bring the political case of the Kurdish people to the forefront of the political debate, which happened especially after the permanence in Italy of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan (see Commissioni Riunite I-III 1998); on the other hand, they aimed to be left free to enter and transit the peninsula as done previously during the whole of the 1990s.

14. In general, four big influxes, mainly of Kurds, signalled a break in the Italian approach to asylum, followed by a public and political debate:

•  796 (of whom 550 were Turkish Kurds) disembarked at Santa Maria di Leuca (Lecce), on the coast of Apulia, on 2 November 1997 (Il Manifesto, 05/11/1997; Il Corriere della Sera, 06/11/1997);

•  374 Turkish and Iraqi Kurds reached Monasterace on the coast of Calabria, on 19 November ( Il Corriere della Sera , 20/11/1997);

•  837 disembarked from the cargo-boat Ararat near Badolato on the Calabrian coast, on 27 December 1997;

•  and 386 reached the coast of Apulia at the very beginning of 1998 (Questura of Lecce 1998).

Only in Badolato, and some other municipalities in that province, has there been an attempt to respond positively to their arrival "en masse". For all the others, decrees of expulsion were the norm, save in Monasterace, where no process of identification took place. However, in the vast majority of the cases, the decree of expulsion was what they wanted. According to their information - not yet aware of the Dublin Convention (CIR 1998) - based on Italian traditional practices, the decree was seen as the legal instrument to reach northern Europe. Moreover, given the complete absence of any guarantees of reception in the country, the many attempts of the Italian Refugee Council to make them to apply did not succeed, and the hunger strikes organised was both a protest against the Italian system and against the new European provisions.

15. Given the prevailing practices, the key issue was not simply whether the Kurds were requesting asylum in the country, but more importantly whether they had any real intention to remain in Italy. The concern of the government was to demonstrate how it was responding to the Kurdish influxes and, above all, that Italy was no longer utilised as a mere territory of transit. But, in order to achieve that political objective, the government needed the collaboration of the Kurds, a collaboration that has been obtained only in the region of Calabria - though only temporarily. Although it might appear a paradox, given the fluidity of entry and exit in Italy, the Kurds had a key role to play in the reception process and especially in refraining to move abroad soon after the asylum request. Given the absence of a politics of control and reception, which could not be developed overnight, the participation of the Kurds, local administration and the privato sociale was essential for any positive outcome. Finally, public and political debate (see Commissioni Riunite I-III 1998) has an important impact in propagating messages of solidarity and help, although these did not prevail against the forced repatriation of Albanians, which coincided with the (visible) influxes of Kurds in November 1997 (see Il Corriere della Sera, 30/11/1997a; 30/11/1997b; 30/11/1997c; 05/12/1997; 06/12/1997). However, despite the positive messages, no serious attempt to offer accurate analyses of Italian reception, the constant transit of refugees towards northern countries, and the traditional misuse of the decree of expulsion has been put forward. Even the many articles that were advocating that reception of the Kurds was a duty, left aside any serious debate on the very meaning of reception, which could not solely signify easy admission into the Italian territory (see Il Corriere della Sera, 04/11/1997; 10/11/1997; 29/12/1997; 16/11/1997; Il Manifesto , 05/11/1997).

Encountering the Kurds

16. During 1997, in the Calabrian region, the landing of cargo-boats carrying would-be refugees was not an unknown phenomenon, though in terms of numbers the disembarkation from the Ararat, 27th December 1997, was certainly the most conspicuous. Up to December, Calabria was considered a region of entry where would-be refugees would stay for a few days, just the time for recovering from a long and terrifying journey and for obtaining a decree of expulsion. Their short permanence was covered under 'emergency' provisions, and handled by the local prefecture - under the Ministry of the Interior - and not by the municipalities, whose involvement was rarely, if at all, advocated. As a member of the administration of Badolato put it during an interview: 'as we know, these are mainly places of transit. Perhaps, those who remain are those who do not know where to go. ... Mostly, these are people who aim to reach other localities ... Germany, north Italy'.  

17. As previously mentioned, on this occasion national and local responses were completely different. Because of the pressure from some Schengen countries, the local prefecture in Catanzaro received the order to keep the Kurds in the country, though no reception plan was elaborated. The option of making 'virtual' requests of asylum - i.e. making them to apply, well aware that soon after they were going abroad - was excluded. Given the high number, and the non-existence of housing infrastructures or reception centres, refugees were initially dispersed in four municipalities, each closed off to the others: Soverato, Badolato Marina, Gagliato and Lamezia Terme. It was especially the mayor of Badolato, Gerardo Mannello, and the then-prefect of Catanzaro, Vincenzo Gallitto, who started to consider seriously the possibility of making the Kurds integrate into the reality of Badolato. However, an important role in creating those very possibilities has been played by the central government, local administration and people as well as by the national and international press. Initially, it appeared that a serious process of inclusion could have been easily developed, despite the non-existence of adequate asylum provisions, the scarcity of jobs, and the lack of experience in refugee reception. The remarkable involvement of the local population as a whole, the historical Calabrian tradition of welcoming, and the willingness to make the Kurds become part of that local reality seemed sufficient to guarantee the success of the project of their social and economic inclusion. And it was this positive and optimistic picture that national and international press constantly diffused, transforming the unknown town of Badolato - renamed the 'Italian Kurdistan' - (Gesualdo 2000: 196) into a point of attraction.

18. Local initiatives for their future integration involved as well the Kurds themselves. A little more than a month after the arrival of the Ararat , the Italian Refugee Council, in co-ordination with local administration, prepared a questionnaire in order to assess how many Kurds intended to remain in the area and what labour skills they possessed. Despite the prevalent depopulation, due to the scarcity of job opportunities, the census responses suggested that most Kurds intended to remain in loco and, more importantly, that thanks to their skills many would easily integrate into the local economy, and help, at the very same time, its re-flourishment. The willingness of many Kurds to remain in Calabria seemed further confirmed by the enthusiasm they expressed for having arrived into an area that, with its peculiar landscapes, resembled Kurdistan (see Torre di Babele 1998).

19. Probably the most 'revolutionary' idea came from the mayor of Badolato, who had the idea, as a first answer of reception, to accommodate some twenty Kurdish families in the many abandoned houses in the municipality of Badolato Superiore, quite a reasonable number given its population of approximately 500 people, mainly elderly. However, before proceeding with any personal initiative, the mayor called a public meeting of all the citizens of Badolato in order to illustrate his project, which received full consensus. While some twenty families [4] - those more in need - soon moved in Badolato Superiore, the vast majority remained in the reception centres until the Central Commission evaluated their asylum request, save those who decided to 'escape' and re-unite with their extended family abroad.

20. What was unique was the personal involvement of the local administration, population and charitable organisations, an involvement that manifested a strong sense of 'responsibility' and of 'ethical relations' with the Kurds, the 'needy others'. The existence of such relations has been clearly exposed in a few respects. Firstly, despite the fact that the Kurds reached a depressed and scarcely populated area, a duty of reception was strongly manifested, a duty that per se implied the absence of hostility toward the 'newcomers'. The vivid remembrance of the forced emigration experienced, directly or indirectly, by the vast majority of the local population enormously influenced and shaped their attitude of openness and affection toward the Kurds. Secondly, on different occasions the Kurds participated in and shared with the local population moments of common celebrations, as for instance New Year's Eve (four days after their arrival), and again at the end of March on the occasion of the Newroz , the Kurdish New Year's Eve. Thirdly, important efforts to create a dialogue with the Kurds were made, despite the many difficulties in communicating and in understanding cultural differences. Finally, a great number of volunteers organised day-and-night shifts inside the centres where the Kurds were accommodated, and provided constant help and assistance, to the point of using their own money, and organising small parties, particularly in the centre in Gagliato when they perceived that some women needed moral support, or even goodbye parties for those who wanted to leave the centres, even if not authorised to do so. The volunteers in the centres were mainly part of the Catholic network, which always demonstrated to be on the side of the Kurds and not always on the side of legality. Moreover, the impressive ability of the volunteers to manage to communicate affection and sympathy helped to establish and maintain good relations even after some years and even if the vast majority of them is currently leaving abroad.

21. Given the exceptional reception that local administrations were prepared to provide, and the impressive support of local people and the voluntary sector, the normal asylum procedure was completely modified and new mechanisms beyond legal provisions were developed in order to make the Kurds become part of that social and economic framework. The 45-day financial support was not delivered, the asylum applications were not sent to the Central Commission in Rome, and the Kurdish asylum seekers were not abandoned to themselves. Because of the local willingness to create a serious project of reception, new mechanisms were invented . Contrary to prevailing norms, as noted by an official of the local Prefecture, during the first six months all the daily expenses were covered under the legal provision of 'emergency'. Moreover, in order to guarantee that all the asylum applications were processed quickly, the members of the Central Commission moved from Rome to Catanzaro. By the very end of June, all asylum applications were processed, and all of them received either the refugee status or an humanitarian status. And, at this point, many of the problems not tackled before exploded.

22. During the first six months, it was never considered how Kurdish refugees were going to move from a condition of mere assistance to a condition of economic independence, once the refugee status was recognised. Although some projects for their economic integration started to be developed, the shift from a condition of full assistance towards one of self-reliance was not going to be an easy task, particularly given the high level of unemployment in that geographical area. According to some, the reception plan did not work because the Kurds were unwilling to remain in the country, independently of the local job opportunities, but rather wanted to simply transit the country and reach their communities abroad. As emerged during an interview with the personnel of the Italian Refugee Council, an evaluation of the way in which Kurds themselves understood and perceived the reception processes is central for a more comprehensive picture. While at the very beginning, all the everyday costs were covered, once the status of refugee was recognised, all assistance abruptly stopped. The recognition of the status implied per se that the state of 'emergency' was over, and hence that the local prefecture was no longer responsible for providing for everyday basic needs. Many refugees understood this shift as a 'betrayal'. According to the Italian Refugee Council, it is important to seriously evaluate how the widespread media coverage, and the constant visiting in loco of national and international politicians impacted negatively on the way in which refugees perceived the reception plan and the allocation of basic services. Many Kurds perceived that, at the very beginning, they were fully assisted simply because of the constant presence of national and international journalists and politicians. Once the presence of the Kurds in the area no longer represented a focus of attraction, all assistance and support immediately ceased. It is undeniable that innumerable acts of openness, support and assistance were expressed from local population. However, the radical shift in the delivery of the public services made the Kurds reconsider their permanence in loco and especially the tension between public and private initiatives. Although Kurdish refugees were entitled to receive economic support for the following five years, the decision to effectively allocate the money was in the hands of national authorities. In the event that refugees' request were positively accepted, the whole bureaucratic procedure was going to take up to a year. The task of making the Kurds understand and accept the huge gap between what is established by law and how everyday practice works was not an easy one, and it was even more difficult to clarify which institutions were (and still are) responsible for such a gap. As an immigration officer at the prefecture of Catanzaro has put it: 'the law establishes something, though you find yourself in dealing with an inefficient institution. We had lots of problems with the Kurds because they thought we were making false promises'.

23. This strong sense of 'betrayal' has been expressed during the interview with Aras, an engineer from Iraq who was the most frequently interviewed Kurd during the whole of 1998, because of his knowledge of English. Strong feelings of anger have been manifested against the Italian institutions and in general against the asylum system as established in the Dublin Convention. As matter of fact, Aras and his wife, Silivana, after having remained in Badolato for quite some time, decided to go to Sweden both because of work possibilities in loco were not those expected and because Silivana's relatives were residing there. At the time of the interview, they were living again in the province of Catanzaro, after having been sent back to Italy. Despite their refugee status, they re-applied for asylum in Sweden. Having been sent back to Italy, they decided to go back to Calabria, aware that they could rely on the support of the local population and charitable networks. Those feelings of anger expressed were mainly against Italian institutions and not against the local population, from whom they were receiving lots of support. The feeling of being institutionally abandoned was perceived even more strongly after living in Sweden for a year and experiencing a well-organised social system, and the support of Silivana's family. A completely different opinion was expressed by Josef, Sami and Aziz, all from Turkey. Despite job difficulties, none of them expressed any sense of disillusion with the little support received from local institutions. Their perception that Italians were experiencing similar difficulties in the labour market as well as the lack of any specific aspiration for a professional career, certainly played a key role in shaping their understanding of inclusion. As discussed with the personnel of the Italian Refugee Council, different reception perception, as well as different relationships with institutions and local people have all impacted on the decision of many Kurds to leave or remain in the area. Differences in perceptions and/or aspirations led some to move away from the province of Catanzaro as soon as refugee or humanitarian status was obtained without any attempt to become part of that local context, others to depart only after having experienced the difficulties of the labour market, others to look for better living possibilities after having received 'false promises', and still others to decide to remain in the area despite the many difficulties. Moreover, the decision of the vast majority of the Kurds to move away from Calabria and look for a new space to call home dramatically exposes why it is not sufficient to live in a safe place in order to perceive it as a home, nor that it is sufficient to have reached a safe area to perceive that the journey of displacement has come to an end. The perception of experiencing a condition of limbo, which naturally transforms the journey into a prolonged condition of displacement, is dramatically revealed once, as in the case of Aras and Silivana, the new living space neither represents the imagined home, nor can the imagined home be easily achieved.

24. To conclude, a close scrutiny of the main steps and peculiarities of the reception attempted in Badolato has allowed the emergence of some of the issues that need to be accounted for in developing a serious plan of reception. Local social and economic environment; current legislation and its implementation; prevailing understanding of the 'needy other'; perception of the reception processes; refugees' professional aspirations and their intention to reach their communities are all key factors that need to be assessed when considering more durable reception solutions. Another should be to, first and foremost, question the assumption that refugees passively accept whatever is offered. Finally, as well articulated by Soguk, although refugees share a common condition of displacement, the experience of 'being a refugee' represents a unique story, as

there is no intrinsic paradigmatic refugee figure to be at once recognised and registered regardless of historical contingencies. Instead, ... there are a thousand multifarious refugee experiences and a thousand refugee figures whose meanings and identities are negotiated in the processes of displacement in time and place (1999: 4).

The recognition that a 'thousand refugee figures' exist and that the contingencies of displacement are negotiated in time and place makes any generalization on refugee politics of reception and settlement more problematic. It is especially problematic within a country where asylum politics were non-existent, where local dynamism could be activated especially if some courage of moving away from prevailing indifference existed, and where national identity is not always already constructed on the contraposition between us and them. However, the absence of contraposition between the Italians and the Kurds does not imply that everyone is always welcome. As argued by an immigration officer in Catanzaro, the Kurds have been helped as no other ethnic group, and the diffusion of positive images played a crucial role in facilitating a more open attitude. And such images were the direct result of identity construction and perception. It is, thus, to the question of identities that attention needs to be paid, starting especially with IR critical literature on the construction of refugee identity.

The imagined refugee

25. IR mainstream offers a very specific representation of the refugee figure, a figure constructed in stark opposition with the (imagined) political citizen. As well elaborated in Nevzat Soguk's work, prevailing refugee theorising is articulated on the opposition between the citizen and the non-citizen, between the 'proper subject of political life' (1999: 9) and its negative opposite. The refugee is, thus, pictured as the other, the alien, the non-citizen who has lost a vital connection, in terms of representation, protection, and sense of belonging to his/her community of origin, a connection which is deemed per se irreplaceable (ibid: 18). It is because of the inscription of the refugee within the 'citizen/nation/state hierarchy' (ibid: 9), and because of the centrality of such hierarchy, that a discourse of exclusion has emerged and dominated. It is within this hierarchical order that political discourses are deemed to represent the refugee not in relation to her/himself, but solely for what s/he is not. The refugee becomes, consequently, a subject lacking a long series of qualities that are deemed to represent the conditio sine qua non for participating as a fully-fledged member within the national community. The image of refugee that emerges from this representation can only be negative, 'a lack or an aberrance' (ibid: 18) of what is deemed not only to be the norm but also essential in order to enter and share, with the members, their identity and inner way of life. Moreover, the break of the political (unbreakable) state-citizen relation causes not exclusively the transformation of the citizen into a refugee, but also the emergence of a double exclusion: 1) the exclusion of the citizen from his/her own community of origin and belonging, which transforms the citizen into a refugee; 2) the exclusion of the ex-citizen (the 'new' refugee) within an-other community. The conceptual impossibility for the refugee to be included within another community is, thus, reaffirmed thanks to a discourse constructed on the political divide citizen/non-citizen, a divide based on processes of comparison, via negation, between the citizen and the refugee. It is at this very moment, once the state-citizen relation is broken, that the existence of the refugee is perceived as 'a scandal for politics', as a 'constitutive outsider', and as an '(inter)national political production of its age' (Dillon 1999: 95, 103, 106). S/he is a scandal because of her/his lack of identification within a specific political order, an order based on the premise that the intrinsic aim of politics is the realisation of sovereign identity; s/he is a constitutive outsider because s/he can be defined neither as a 'co-national nor another national'; and s/he is the inter because s/he is located in the 'strange territory of estrangement that is located between the two' (ibid: 95, 101).

26. The imagined refugee reproduced within NGOs, (presumably) working for refugees, does not move much away from IR state-centric orientation. Refugees are helpless victims, whose lives have been transformed into an empty existence. As put in the United Nation High Commission for Refugees' (UNHCR) Journal, Refugees:  

becoming a refugee makes life desperately simple, and empty. No home, no work, no decisions to make today. ... Or the next day. ... Most hope that, one day, they may be able to rebuild their lives in a sympathetic environment. To exist again in more than name. (1993:4, quoted in Nyers, 1999: 19-20).

According to UNHCR, refugees are allowed 'to exist again', only once a condition of protection is achieved, and hence, only once the refugee legal status is granted. The principal task of the UNHCR is precisely to work in order to guarantee that the loss of the native membership is replaced by the acquisition of a new one. Within a world of states, the norm requires the state to protect its citizens, nationally and internationally, and any deviation from that norm requires the re-establishment of the status quo ante, as if unproblematically feasible (see Warner 1994). The assumption that only the acquisition of a new membership can provide protection, and that refugees aim to achieve that very goal, represents a key assumption in much of IR traditional literature (see Aleinikoff, 1995).

27. The picture that emerges from humanitarian organisations, other than the UNHCR, is certainly not more positive. Refugees are generally described in compassionate terms, both as victims of events for which they are not responsible, and as 'recipients of aid' (Harrell-Bound, 1999). The difficulty, if not impossibility, for humanitarian organisations to move beyond an understanding of refugees as helpless objects of assistance has been well elaborated in Prem K. Rajaram's 'Humanitarianism and Representations of the Refugee' (2002). Moving from an evaluation of Oxfam GB project, Rajaram demonstrates why a 'particular bureaucratised knowledge about refugees and the methodology for 'listening' to them' do not properly allow refugees' voice to emerge (ibid.: 248). Despite Oxfam willingness to listen to refugees and move beyond prevailing context of humanitarianism, what emerges is a mere reproduction of Oxfam priorities and agenda. Its being an aid and development agency does not allow for its disentanglement from its main objective: i.e. fund raising (ibid.: 249-250). This very limitation has led, quite inevitably, to the emergence of a 'depoliticised, dehistoricized and universalised figuration of the refugee as mute victim' (ibid: 248). Refugees are, thus, seen merely in terms of their 'biological corporeality', in complete disregard of their subjectivity, aspirations, and the local historical context from where their condition of displacement first originated (ibid.: 252-253).

28. It is precisely this very understanding - of refugee subjectivities, aspirations, personal stories, and subjective understanding of displacement - that was not sufficiently considered in Badolato, during the elaboration of reception and settlement plans. Moreover, the prevailing assumption that citizen and refugee belong to two distinct categories of givers and receivers limited the possibilities of the encounter. In the reception case considered, both sides were trapped into some pre-established mental categories, which assigned to the other some pre-defined duties and attitudes. One key element that was missing, in the reception process, was the ability to establish an encounter where roles were not fixed and pre-determined, but in constant progress. While, on the one hand, the local population attempted to offer some reception according to their understanding of their local context and according to a specific understanding of assistance; on the other hand, Kurdish refugees did not expect to receive such a personal involvement of local people and institutions. What the Kurds from the Ararat expected was simply a pass to northern European countries, and certainly not the possibility of being integrated within that regional context. As argued by the personnel of the Italian Refugee Council, maybe, when the census was carried out, many Kurds did not have the courage to express their initial intention to re-unite with their extended family, especially after the impressive, and unexpected, interest and attention received from local people.

29. One important lesson to be learned from the Italian reception policies is precisely the need to move away from pre-established images and identities, and to embrace a critical reading of prevailing essentialist understandings of identity, via alternative narratives, as suggested in Shapiro's work (2000). The question of identity - and of its construction - is, thus, central for any deeper engagement with refugee reception policies, and for contesting the inscription of refugees (and citizens) within immanent categories. In this contest, the work of Isin and Wood, Citizenship & Identity (1999), offers important insights for articulating a reading of the political community beyond any essentialist conceptualisation of identity and sense of belonging. According to the authors, identity should be read not as presupposing some 'intrinsic and essential content', connected to a common history, language and values, but indeed as 'always contradictory, made up out of partial fragments' (1999: 17). Identity is, thus, conceptualised as 'fluid' and 'contingent': fluid in the sense that '[n]ot everyone fits neatly into categories imposed by others ' (ibid.: 56-57, emphasis added), and 'contingent' in the sense that it represents the product of 'specific chains of historical events and ideas' (ibid.: 57). The 'fluidity' of identity presupposes, as noted in Keith and Pile's edited volume, Place and the Politics of Identity, the impossibility of representing any process of identity formation (1993: 28). Any attempts to articulate identity can only be 'momentarily complete' (ibid.: 27), in the sense that only fragments of identity can be represented in a given moment and place. Because identity is always in progress, and any representation can be only momentary, the very act of capturing identity has been equated with the act of photographing a race-horse at full gallop. Likewise with identity, the image that emerges is simply a mere representation of a specific moment that, though real, fails to represent the whole process. The frozen image that is thus reproduced is but a 'moment of arbitrary closure ' (ibid.: 28, emphasis in original), a moment in which it is the subject who has the power to photograph who establishes which moment to capture, and hence which moment to freeze.

30. The question of identity also has implications in the very process of displacement and in the search for a new living space. Refugees' searching for a new home presupposes both the searching for a secure place where to live and the searching for the political and social identity that the concept of home presupposes (see Warner 1994). As elaborated in Dillon's work (1999), the dramatic and violent events that forcibly induce displacement compel refugees to question the relation between the meaning traditionally attributed to the home and the space of politics, whose (given) task is to protect and create a secure space (hence a home) for the community of citizens. In Dillon's own words, the presence of the refugee

generates a necessary re-presentation of home, that inevitably calls into question what home was really like. No one knows what home was really like, however, because the home recalled is not the home that was; and yet, also the home that was could not have been the securely domesticated home one thought it was because it proved so susceptible to radical dispersal and dissolution. The question of the home is therefore radically problematized by the unsettled, and is never resettled even when the unsettled regains a home (ibid.: 101-102).  

Hence, the search for a place to call home might result in a prolonged condition of displacement, which does not come to an end once a safe country is reached. As explored in Damiani's 'La Questione Kurda' (1999) (The Kurdish Issue), refugees do not necessarily flee with the intention of remaining for years in the country of destination, but until conditions in the country of origin become safer. It is the hope of eventually returning home safely that suspends the refugee in a prolonged condition of between-ness, a condition that is determined, on the one hand, by the strong memories of the social bonds established in his/her country of origin and, on the other, by the lack of any meaningful inclusive socio-economic-political space within the destination country (ibid.: 39). This condition of limbo, which continues to be perceived in the new country, means that

in his/her perception it seems that the journey ... is never going to finish. One leaves, but one never arrives, in the sense that the person never reaches ... an acceptable change of his/her own living condition, a form of inclusion, which implies a process of identification and incorporation within the society of destination (ibid, emphasis added).

The metaphor of the journey effectively pictures a condition which is in constant flux, where the refugee perceives when the journey of displacement started but cannot see the point of arrival. A point of arrival could hardly be envisaged not only because the processes of identification within the destination society cannot be fully achieved (Zindato 1996), but even more because the refugee cannot eliminate his/her condition of estrangement, an estrangement which might not be a condition embedded in his/her refugee-ness but, rather, in the human condition as such. As argued in Dillon's work:

[h]ere ... is the inescapable and irresolvable ... ontopolitical question that the refugee brings to presence: What is it to be human, when the human is precisely that which is in-between - neither simply one thing, nor the other, precisely 'inter' - without a secure term or dwelling place? (1999: 102)

Hence, according to this reading, the condition of estrangement embedded in the figure of the refugee seems connected not to 'refugee-ness' but to the inescapable condition of estrangement of the human existence. And it is precisely this very perception of estrangement - of an identity always under construction - that prevents us from locating any individuals within well-defined identities and from representing their identities as fixed and as always already shaped by a specific time and place. As discussed in Papastergiadis' Dialogues in the Diasporas, '[m]odern identity is no longer confirmed by an exclusive and autonomous linkage between time and space. The question "Who am I?" can no longer be answered by identifying our place of origin and the time of living there' (1998: 10).

31. To conclude, questions of refugee identity are central both for contesting prevailing essentialist theorising of identity and, more importantly, for assessing the interconnection between a specific understanding of identity and inclusive/exclusive asylum politics. More specifically, to assessing to what extent questions of political identity - as constructed within a given political community (i.e. Italy) - impact on the development of reception processes. If exclusivist politics have often been politically justified on the ground of national identity, history, language and social-national bonds, which reception politics might emerge within a political context where the 'political' is not so central? What is the impact of national identification on asylum politics? To what extent might a direct and personal engagement of common people lead to more open and inclusive policies? Why in a country like Italy - with non-existent asylum politics during the whole of 1990s - were the unofficial networks able to overcome the institutional vacuum and provide help and assistance before the institutions? What this paper is trying to suggest is that in Italy, up to the implementation of the so-called Bossi-Fini immigration Law (2002), a very weak sense of nationhood and a strong involvement of the private sector have influenced asylum local reception. Finally, a regionalized understanding of 'Italian-ness' and 'otherness' have encouraged the emergence of a subjective and localised interpretation and implementation of asylum provisions, and hence the departure from national asylum provisions. And it is to the question of Italian identity and the construction of otherness that next two sections will look at.

Exploring Italian identity

32. The question of Italian identity has not traditionally attracted much interest and attention. Only more recently, has a public and political debate on 'Italian-ness' emerged, especially in connection to the phenomenon of immigration and to the question of European identity. However, despite the interconnection between the two issues, the debate seems to be constructed upon two different premises. While on the one hand, it seems that foreigners are excluded because of a strong sense of Italian identity and belonging to the peninsula; on the other hand, when questions of European identity and citizenship are discussed, the opposite picture emerges. More specifically, while public and political attention looks at acts of discrimination, criminalisation and exclusion against foreigners - the so-called extracomunitari - suggesting that 'our' identity and way of life clash with 'theirs' (Triandafyllidou 1999); on the other hand, the absence of political attachment to the nation is seen as the main determinant against a positive integrationist attitude toward the European Union. No threat to Italian national identity is, thus, perceived when European integration process is at stake (Koenig-Archibugi 2003). The issue here, however, is not to establish whether some identities are more prone to integration than others, but to develop a bit further the question of Italian identity and the construction of 'other-ness'.

33. In general, there exists a consensus in defining Italian sense of identity both as weak and strong, according to the identifying aspects considered. It is a weak identity because of the absence of political identification with state institutions, which has led to the prevalence of a widespread 'anti-system culture' (Bedani and Haddock 2000). It is a strong identity because up to 80% of Italians feel proud to consider themselves 'Italians', whose identity is connected with 'landscape, language, culture, [and] the character of the people' (Zincone 2000), which all have a double territorial reference: the national and the local. The weak sense of political identification is not at all connected with questions of political representation or lack of engagement into politics - or more in general with question of democratic deficit - but with the traditional distrust of state institutions, which make the Italian people act 'as if the State does not exist. As if ... far away and hostile' (Diamanti 1999: 305). If one looks at the Italian history (see Romanelli 1995) - as most Italian scholars do when dealing with question of nation-building and identity - Italian sense of identity beyond the political is generally taken for granted, as well as the conceptualisation of identity as 'pre-political' (see Zincone 2000; Bobbio 1995). A conceptualisation which I do not share - preferring instead the definition of Italian sense of identity as a political - as I find problematic the position that there exists a (natural) historical trend according to which each community becomes a community in a proper sense only once the shift from the pre-political to the political takes place. I am not, however, interested here in looking at whether national identification has to be always already confined within the political realm, but at the interconnection between Italian weak political identity and the construction of otherness. And in particular, w hat are the Italian defining identity traits - or presumed such? And which historical processes failed - or are believed to have failed - in constructing a national political sense of identification?

34. As argued in Galli della Loggia's work (1998), L'Identità Italiana (The Italian Identity), the historical processes that led to the geographical unification of the country in 1861-70, the profound disjuncture between the governing political class and the governed 'masses', the pervading presence of the Catholic Church and of its institutions, and the absence of any identification of the citizens with the state have all contributed to create a country where 'the geography of the State and the geography of the society do not meet' (ibid: 81). Moreover, the absence of any political relationship between Italians-as-individuals and Italy-as-a-state has transformed Italy into a land populated by ' individuals who will experience big difficulties in becoming citizens ' (ibid: 103, emphasis added). The non-existence of a strong political identity is the direct result of the enormous gap between the realm of politics and the realm of the state and of its institutions, a gap that has determined the consequent absence of a 'culture of the State' (ibid: 152). Such a political disjunction is, thus, the result of the historical opposition between Italian people and state institutions: between people - who have hardly achieved a meaningful identification with their political representatives - and those representatives who historically tended to represent not the interests of the people but their own (ibid: 139-165). Moreover, the traditional sense of opposition and hostility between the people and the state has resulted in the creation of a 'public culture' in which

the political commitment of the individuals ... has rarely been understood as meaning civic culture, conscious identification with the exigencies of life and of the government of the community, respect of the rules and of the procedures, of rights (ibid: 145, emphasis added).

35. In short, according to Galli della Loggia, the Italian national unifying element was not embodied in the state's political institutions, but in the Church's ethical (and political) ones. It was the Catholic Church, and its network, that has represented, for centuries, 'the only effective common characteristic of the whole of Italian humanity and, hence, ... the only unifying aspect of the peninsula' (ibid: 44). The impressive influence of the Catholic Church on Italian society - still strong given its national network and capacity to exercise a strong political influence - was especially visible after Italian unification, once the Pope encouraged, or better prohibited, all Catholics to engage in politics for fifty years. The Church's strong power and influence, and especially its refusal to recognise the new unified state and its institutions, has facilitated the establishment of a parallel society. As noted in Koenig-Archibugi, during the fifty years of Catholic abstention from politics, 'Italian Catholics built an extensive network linking charities, friendly societies, local governments, and schools. Catholic social movements managed to achieve a high degree of organization and penetration of society, while keeping their distance from the institutions of the state' (2003: 91).

36. If one looks at more recent historical events - such as the collapse of the fascist regime, the elaboration of a new Constitution in 1948 and the establishment of the Italian Republic - the promotion of Italian national identity was not in the agenda and, given the specific political and social context of the peninsula, it could have hardly been otherwise. Up to recent years any reference to the question of national identity was taboo, due to its evocation of the fascist period. Although it is undeniable that the fascist 'regime imposed a new, artificial identity upon the nation' (Biocca, 1997: 227), and that the concept of fighting for the Patria (homeland) was constantly evoked, the Mussolini regime exalted more the concept of the state than the concept of the nation. The centrality of the state is encapsulated in one of the regime's inspiring principle: ' Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato (everything within the state, nothing outside of the state, nothing against the state)' (ibid.). Moreover, as argued by Donovan, the major points of reference of the two major political parties - DC (Democrazia Cristiana - Christian Democracy) and PCI ( Partito Comunista Italiano - Italian Communist Party) - were not linked to national elements but, rather, to the Catholic Church and to international communism (2001: 248). Their attempts to introduce some major reforms in the administration of the state and to make the country 'shift... from a situation in which national identity is essentially, stateless , rooted in a conglomerate of sporting, cultural and artistic achievements, to one where national identity takes on a civic form' did not succeed (ibid: 256, emphasis added).

37. To conclude, drawing on Cynthia Weber, it seems that Italian political representatives have rarely needed to 'simulate' a series of images and models to make people believe that the state is the representative 'agent of its people' (1995: 38). Probably, only recently during the Berlusconi government, has a discourse on national unity and identity been constructed. Messages that the governing parties were pursuing national interests and not their own, and that Italian-ness needed to be protected against uncontrollable influxes of clandestini (illegal entrants) were constantly propagated and such logic incorporated in the Bossi-Fini immigration legislation. And it is to the question of Italian-ness versus 'otherness' that we now need to turn.  

Constructing other-ness

38. Balbo and Manconi's works (1990; 1992) possibly represent the first attempts to analyse Italians' responses to the presence of foreigners and the emergence of possible and real forms of racism, followed by the introduction of new linguistic expressions for their definition and categorisation. As noted in their I Razzismi Reali (The Real Racisms), many words have been invented for the identification of migrants, though none of them seems appropriate, as they fail to respect their dignity and rights (1992: 59-62). They are generally identified as 'extracomunitari ', as people coming from territories beyond the European Community. The dividing line seems to run between those belonging to the EC - the comunitari - and those outside it - the extracomunitari. No reference to their country of origin/belonging is provided, they are identified exclusively in comparison with the territorial space of the European Community (ibid: 60). It should, however, be noted that this definition is generally attributed to those coming from the developing world, and certainly not from rich industrialised countries, even if beyond the EU. Once they enter our space, a new identity is imposed on them: they become 'strangers' both because 'they do not belong to our national space, ... [and] because they do not belong to our social "nature"' (Dal Lago, 1998: 9). As argued in Dal Lago, the migrant thus represents the other in relation to the legitimate national social actor. S/he becomes a stranger, an alien, 'out of place' within any domain (ibid: 7). All the practices of discrimination embedded in everyday relations, originate from the 'primary discrimination, the "national one", which is inherent in the status of the international migrant' (ibid: 9, emphasis added). Migrants are, thus, 'slave[s] of [their] nationality' (Dal Lago 1999: 207). T heir legal status always already prevails, and transforms them into 'nonpersons' - meaning 'the exclusion of migrants from the social recognition we normally expect in everyday life' - even after the establishment of 'normal relationships' with nationals (ibid).

39. According to Dal Lago, the possession of Italian citizenship establishes the dividing line not merely between inclusion and exclusion but also, and more importantly, between been treated as a person and as a non-person. The question of citizenship, and its connection to discrimination, exclusion and xenophobia, has been largely debated in Italy (see also Martiniello and Kazim 1991; Campani 1993; Mura 1995; Cotesta 1999; Navarri 1999), but not so much in connection to the question of identity, especially the Italian weak sense of national community. I am certainly convinced that the possession of citizenship is a necessary requisite for being legally entitled to enjoy a broader set of rights, but it is per se insufficient. The perception of other-ness cannot simply be eliminated through formal acts. The possession of citizenship does not make the 'other' seem to be one of 'us', making citizenship more a starting point than a point of arrival.

40. Generally, prevailing migration analyses tend to concentrate attention on the legal-political aspects, as well as on the messages propagated by right-wing coalition, which lead inevitably to an overall negative picture, where processes of exclusion seem to constantly dominate. Even the physical space where they are confined represents not simply a space of marginalisation but another -space, a 'somewhere-else' in reference to the world dominated by the Italian citizens (Dal Lago 1999: 33). Within such a discourse, the other becomes every other not recognised as properly belonging to the Italian world. Without disputing the importance and relevance of prevailing migration studies - especially in uncovering the overwhelmingly exclusivist official politics - a close investigation of refugee reception policies seems to suggest that, within the Italian framework, the other is not always already identified as the negative other qua other. What I find problematic in this reading of other-ness in Italy is the constant reference to questions of Italian identity, nationality and citizenship, which are not generally perceived so strongly. If, as previously argued, Italian sense of political identity is weak - or presumed such in comparison to some 'normal' standard - to what extent can the construction of the 'other' be based upon their lack of Italian citizenship? In other words, if 'the link between citizenship and national identity is relatively weak' (Koenig-Archibugi 2003: 85-6), to what extent can the dividing line between 'us' and 'them' be constructed upon such a weak concept? To what extent might a weak sense of national identity create a strong sense of hostility and opposition against the other?

41. As argued by Bernardotti, the identification and construction of the other seems connected not exclusively to migrants' legal status, but also to the diffusion of specific (positive and/or negative) images, symbols and vocabulary, which are 'in many cases, antecedent of, or independent from, the present migratory phenomenon' (1997). Although foreigners continue to be identified as ' extracomunitari ', which still represents the dominant linguistic expression, new negative stereotypes have slowly emerged. The introduction of new stereotypes has determined a ranking of the 'others' according to prevailing perception of 'other-ness'. Within such negative categorisation, the ' zingaro ' (Gypsy), followed by 'marocchini' (Moroccans), Albanians and Nigerians are more 'others' than others. In particular, it is the gypsy who represents the other par excellence, the constitutive outsider who is not perceived as part of the Italian society, despite the fact that the vast majority of them are Italian nationals. If one looks at the treatment and perception of the gypsy, it seems clear that the possession of Italian citizenship does not make any different to common perceptions.

42. What proceeds seems to suggest that policies and practices of inclusion/exclusion are more connected to the diffusion and prevalence of specific (positive/negative) images of the other, than to processes that always already stigmatise non-citizens as necessarily others, aliens, 'non-persons' and extracomunitari as proposed within dominant migration literature. It seems more appropriate to theorise the existence of many others, and that among these many others , some have been privileged, others have been selectively included, others have received temporary protection and still others have received only politics of exclusion. If Italy were a framework where logics of exclusion always prevail, as argued in the vast majority of Italian migration analyses, how should we read the different treatments, entitlements and assistance offered to refugees? The construction of many others, which led to the diffusion of different (real or imaginary) representations, seem particularly evident when evaluating refugee reception policies than migration policies. The most exemplary case, which demonstrates precisely the key role played by the manipulation of images, in a pejorative sense, is the Albanian one. On occasion of the first 'crisis', Albanians were pictured not as 'aliens' but as brothers, as Italians. As put it in two national newspapers Il Giornale and La Repubblica,

Albanians are not extracomunitari as the others, they are our extracomunitari. They speak Italian, they have our same face. ... Hence, we have the duty of helping these new 'Italians' (Il Giornale, 11/03/1991). ... The integration with Albanians will be incomparably much easier because they are like us, we share the same history, ... they desire what we desire ... a secular, tolerant society. (La Repubblica, 10/03/1991, quoted in Balbo and Manconi 1992: 65).  

The initial welcome attitude was dramatically modified after just a few months, during the summer, once messages of hostility and fear started to be propagated by political representatives and uncritically reproduced in the media. The initial images of heroes escaping from 'terror, the spectre of civil war, and the bloody repression of Tirana's regime', and looking to Italy as 'the dream of liberty' (La Repubblica, 05/03/1991), were soon replaced with the image of an Italy invaded by 'ugly, dirty and wicked' men, infected by Asiatic epidemics (Dal Lago 1998: 183). It is still the construction of negative images that seems to explain the completely different attitude when providing assistance to refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and especially the many discriminations against those of Roma origin, who deserved to receive the very same treatments and welcome. All of them were refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and all of them were juridically entitled to receive the very same reception independently of the prevalent negative stereotype.

Concluding remarks

43. What this article has attempted to propose is an alternative approach to refugee analyses, which problematises prevailing exclusive discourse. A look at Italian refugee practices prevalent in the 1990s seems to suggest that refugees are not simply either included or excluded according to legal-political determinants. A fundamental role in shaping reception outcomes is played by refugees themselves and by the receiving local community, where the encounter with the 'other' occurs. It is, however, an 'other' whose identity is constantly constructed and re-constructed, and it is precisely this very process of identity construction that was determinant in shaping Italian reception practices. The historical disjuncture between Italian people and the state - which resulted in the emergence of a weak sense of the nation - has represented the key determinant for the development of alternative local practices beyond the political. In a country like Italy, where private initiatives have played a predominant role, the major change introduced during recent years is not simply the introduction of a repressive politics, but a politics which pictures as a clandestino everyone who reaches the Italian coastlines, and thus a clandestino who deserve no help and assistance. The first encounter of would-be refugees reaching the Italian coastlines is no longer with local people but with security forces, who treat all of them as clandestini and lock them up in camps, far away from citizens' eyes.


Raffaela Puggioni teaches European politics at St. John's University's Rome campus. She has done extensive works on Kurdish refugees in Italy, as well as on Italian refugee camps. Her publications include 'Refugees, Self-Help Strategies, and Institutional Invisibility', Journal of Refugee Studies
, 2005; 'Life Inside the Camp', in J. Huysmans, A. Dobson, and R. Prokhovnik (eds.), The Politics of Protection (Routledge, 2006); and 'Looking for Some Coherence', in G. Elspeth and P. Minderhoud (eds.), Immigration and Criminal Law in the European Union (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2006). Contact:;


This article has been revised several times since it was first elaborated during my Ph.D research, which would never have been completed without the precious intellectual stimulus, encouragement and financial support that I received from the following people and institutions. Special thanks goes to the Regione Sardegna, which has granted me a scholarship, to my Ph.D supervisors, Mervyn Frost, Vivienne Jabri and Jef Huysmans, and to all the people I met and interviewed during my field-work in Rome, Badolato and in the camp of Crotone. I am also very grateful to the two anonymous referees and to Anthony Burke for their constructive comments, their contribution has been particularly helpful in the process of revising the paper. I remain responsible for any mistakes. Translations from Italian, except where noted, are my own.


[1 ] The Convention determining the 'State Responsible for Examining Applications for Asylum Lodged in one of the Member States of the European Communities', signed in Dublin 15/06/1990, entered into force on 01/09/1997 in twelve countries, while in Sweden and Austria on 01/10/1997 and, finally, in Finland on 01/01/1998. Its entry into force replaced the SIA's asylum provisions that came into force between 26/03/1995 and 31/08/1997.

[2 ] The Schengen Agreement was originally signed on the 14/06/1985 by the governments of the Kingdom of Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, the French Republic, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands aiming at the gradual abolition of controls on their common borders. Some other EU countries joined later: Spain and Portugal (26/06/1991), Italy (02/11/1990), Greece (06/11/1992), Austria (28/04/1995).

[3 ] The Convention determining the 'State Responsible for Examining Applications for Asylum Lodged in one of the Member States of the European Communities', signed in Dublin 15/06/1990, entered into force on 01/09/1997 in twelve countries, while in Sweden and Austria on 01/10/1997 and, finally, in Finland on 01/01/1998. Its entry into force replaced the SIA's asylum provisions that came into force between 26/03/1995 and 31/08/1997.

[4 ] The Convention determining the 'State Responsible for Examining Applications for Asylum Lodged in one of the Member States of the European Communities', signed in Dublin 15/06/1990, entered into force on 01/09/1997 in twelve countries, while in Sweden and Austria on 01/10/1997 and, finally, in Finland on 01/01/1998. Its entry into force replaced the SIA's asylum provisions that came into force between 26/03/1995 and 31/08/1997.


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