In my city, Florence, during this year alone [now some years ago], I have come to know hundreds upon hundreds of people who have come from what was Yugoslavia and I believe is necessary to state that in the so-called 'nomadic camps' I have met exclusivily former Yugoslavians, Bosnians, Kosovarians, Macedonians, Croatians, Servs. They have clustered together, even though at times living together is not easy. The situation in this city is only an example of what has happened in other parts of Italy. I myself have visited the camps in Turino, Brescia, Faenza, Rome, etc.

I want to begin with law 390, which was promulgated in the form of a decree (Number 360), July 1992, then converted into law in September 1992. This law provided for assistance of a humanitarian nature for those refugees in the Republic who had left the countries that had been Yugoslavia. It is often said in Italy that we are very good at making good laws, on paper, but we do not seem able to carry them out. In this case I believe that we have come from a cloud-cuckoo-land to a terrible reality. It would be laughable, had it not caused so many deaths, wounds, illnesses, indignities, and suffering to thousands upon thousands of people who are forced to live within our city's limits, on rubbish dumps, in the midst of rats, in mud, ill, forced to beg, to wash car windows, and to struggle in a thousand ways to put together enough money to buy a container of gas or medicine or something in one's stomach, or sometimes to keep a car running, remembering when all this was normal: the house in Bosnia, the horses, children at school, now all ended up in mud, the shiny machine covered, too, beside a shack.

Turning to law 390, which reads in synthesis:

The President of the Republic, according to articles 77 and 87 of the Constitution, sees the extraordinary necessity and urgency to adopt means to meet the special needs of the refugees who have fled from the region of the former Yugoslavian Federation. . . . The government authorizes special assistance . . . the assistance should be shared without discrimination, especially as to ethnic or religious groupings. . . The special assistance should instead be directed at coping with the needs of the refugees who have come into this nation, connected with their reception, transportation, lodging, food, clothing, medical and hygienic assistance, social-economic assistance.
In article 2 bis we read:
The Italian Republic assumes the obligation to guarantee entry and hospitality to the young citizens of the former Yugoslavian Republic who are of military age or called to arms, who became deserters or conscientious objectors. Financial Budget: 125,000,000,000 Italian lira for 1992.
The law was issued, but then became forgotten.

In 1994 I sought for days for some form of help for the former Yugoslavians. I was particularly upset after a blitz carried out at the beginning of February. I was telephoned from the camp, 'Come quickly, the camp is full of police and carabinieri'. I got there immediately: police, carabinieri, guards, even the Italian Army were there. People being thrown out. They were supposedly lucky not to have been thrown out into the Arno, but into a lower camp in the midst of rubbish, without services, without light, Serbian deserters beaten by Bosnians. I remember them for months without water, without light, trying to help, trying to find someone who could help. One Sunday while I sought to collect some money and aid I met a Florentine doctor who offered to work, Mario Mandini: for years he had followed the camp community, he is a wonderful person, generous with the concrete help that he could give. Some months later he was stopped by the police near the camp and taken to the Questura and questioned there. There is to be a trial, it is unbelievable that one person doing the work of four in giving help should be arrested.

In the spring of 1994 I continued to see the little scraps of paper with the request for the 'Permesso di Soggiorno', the 'Permit to Stay', and people despaired of ever receiving that famous Permit. I remember that I was about to bring help to the refugee camps of the former Yugoslavia, but decided give up that particular task because I realized that my own city was full of former Yugoslavians in terrible conditions. I remember Claudio Gherardini, a journalist who was and is very active in Bosnia and Croatia, the rare times that he came to the camps for radio talks he would stay silent, be speechless, struck by such poverty, and would repeat, 'But the refugee camps in former Yugoslavia are better than this'.

The quest for the Permits to Stay forced me to try to understand and in the end colleagues in Rome of the association 'Without Borders' told me to telephone the Minister of the Interior to gain information. At the Ministry the 'expert' on refugees was shouting at me why on earth didn't the Florentine Questura apply law 390? I replied that I did not know law 390, but I was about to be buried in the midst of hundreds of people and so many of these waiting for months and years for the Permit and having only a receipt which showed they had made the request but which had no legal value and if they were stopped by the police facing expulsion. I remember writing the number of the law on a piece of paper and together with a Croatian deserter whom I found at the station late one night in despair, because I was with a Florentine group who work with the homeless (this man was legal and had work, but his bag had been stolen with all his documents and he could not get his Permit to Stay restored, and so he lost his job and was sleeping at the station). Thus with a Croatian and a Bosnian who lived at the Poderaccio camp I came to the Foreigners' Office to seek law 390. But neither the head of the Office for foreigners, nor the civil official were there, and the police there knew nothing about law 390, and no one succeeded in finding it. I communicated immediately with Rome what had happened at the Foreigners' Office, Rome was shocked: the law had been in effect they showed me for about two years. In the following few days a miracle happened: my Kosovar, Macedonian, Serbian friends, etc., began to finally get a response and dozens upon dozens of Permits to Stay arrived. I continued to seek for the law, telephoning to the Secretary for Immigration Antonio Guidi, whom I had known for many years, and immediately I received by fax law 390. I understood immediately that it was a marvellous law and I began to publicize it, so that the Province of Tuscany decided to spend some millions to have CIR (Italian Council for Refugees) come, the organization set up by the High Commission on Refugees of the United Nations, to carry out a census of the people in the camps at Poderaccio, Masini and Camatello. I want to note that despite my protests they left out the former Yugoslavians of Sesto Fiorentino (Croatians), of Prato (Bosnians), and recently I discovered that another group of Serbian Rom live in the Comune of Florence, in a suburban zone (la Piagga).

Thus the work of CIR began with the collaboration of some of us who worked in the camps: 1,011 persons were counted, only 460 were granted refugee status, and there was a piece of paper that was circulating stating that the recognized refugees were only those who could prove they arrived in Italy after June of 1991. Law 390 did not specify a date, in fact if a person was in Italy before the conflict, to study, work, as tourist, at the moment that he was called to arms automatically he had the right of asylum in the guest country. But instead in Italy we have put in place this bolt and chain of June 1991, the former Minister Guidi having understood the question in December 1994, but the governments of Berlusconi and others have not moved on these questions. Thus at Florence we had 460 persons recognized as refugees. This has now been reduced, though we don't know why, to 350 (many Bosnians being cancelled), of these about 200 have found help in Tuscany with the famous 35,000 lira a day per capita, but dozens upons dozens of persons recognized as refugees continue to live in terrible conditions, in the Masini and Camatello camps. It is worth noting that CIR described Masini, in 1994, as worse than a Brazilian favela.

Then in 1995 there were administrative elections. Mario Primicerlo, who became Mayor of Florence, when on the electoral campaign went to the camps and together with the journalists with him was rendered speechless, I remember how he was unable to speak, but he was never at Masini, has not seen that worst aspect of Florence, and yet became the first citizen of Florence. I had hoped he would change the lives of my Slav friends a little. But it did not go that way, in fact within a few months there was the nocturnal blitz with the carabinieri and guards and with the participation of the 'Rifondazione Comunista' political party Assessor for Decentralization decreeing the expulsion of a group of Kosovars. This seemed to me very serious, because Kosovar was on the brink of an explosive situation. Various humanitarian organizations were involved, above all in trying to allow reentry to some mothers who during that period had husbands in prison while their sons remained in Italy. But there was nothing that could be done. At the end of August 1996, there were dozens more expulsions from Florence: children who for years have been in Florentine schools, all persons from Bosnia and Kosovar, and some orphan children with an elderly grandmother in a camp at Paterṇ near Catania. I spoke by telephone with one of them and the little girl told me 'Paola, there is nothing to eat here', and I know well that they eat very little. There was nothing that could be done: even this government of this city is afraid of public opinion, it doesn't matter that there is no milk for the babies, it doesn't matter that they cannot buy medicine, it doesn't matter if the hospitals sometimes won't admit them or are tired of admitting people who are so seriously ill.

While I write I am thinking of what Luca Cefisi said of the goal of CIR in an interview published in the weekly Il Diario (19-25 February 1997): 'We calculate that thousands of war refugees have never received the Permit to Stay, nor the humanitarian aid which they should have had, for lack of information, for bureacratic errors . . .' The same Cefisi told me that they had made an inspection in Naples and had found an incredible situation, but how is it possible that only at Bologna, at Padua, in Venice and, somewhat, in Florence it could be recognized that they are refugees, while in other cities, like Turin, they are recognized, but none of them helped. In so many other cities it is not known that law 390 is on the books for former Yugoslavian refugees. There is evidence that the police and the Italian Army do not much favour a law that benefits deserters, those called to arms and those who are conscientious objectors, but we ought to understand whether Parliament has a real power to enforce its laws or not. Some people have lived to the limits of what is unbelievable in the Florentine camps, having had lodging, assistance and money in Germany, which, as is known, welcomed the highest number of refugees. I would also note the work in this year of the same President of AIZO Carla Osella, of Professor Bianca la Penna, President of the Association for Minority Rights in Florence, of Professor Marcella delle Donne, who teaches sociology at the University of Rome 'La Sapienza', of Dr Frisullo, National Secretary of the Association, 'Without Borders', of Dr Christopher Hein, Director of CIR's Italian branch, of Dr Gianfranco Schiavone of ICS (Italian Consortium for Solidarity), and of Parliamentarians such as Domenico Masetti, Rosanna Moroni, Antonio Guidi, Giovanni Russo Spena and others. But I must make absolutely clear that thousands upon thousands live in camps all over Italy and that we must know and apply the 390 law of 1992.


Since Paolo Cecchi wrote the above a miracle has happened in Florence. Wooden chalets have been built for the families and placed on top of two hills away from the menace of Arno flooding. The spiritual leader of these Muslim Rom has used one of these for the mosque. His wife tells me that in one generation they have gone from sleeping under bridges and in fields in direst poverty to living in shacks in a camp to now having houses, and how they did this, ironing and sewing for 'Gadgee', cleaning offices and houses. A deaf mute Rom is a carpenter and he has built around each house a beautiful verandah, making the wood like lace. What has happened is hope has come into their lives. That they had the spiritual strengthening while their material condition improved has been of the utmost worth.

Karen Graffeo. Wedding at Poderaccio. Wooden chalets by Fondazione Michelucci.

What remains to be done is a similar programme, with Christian spiritual leadership instead, for the Romanian Orthodox gypsies who have now come to Florence and are begging in its streets. I have been speaking with the Fondazione Michelucci and with the European Union about the need for the Rom in Romania to form cooperatives with apprenticeship programmes to repair their own flood-damaged homes and then others in Romania so that there can be a base upon which to support their families there. See