Refugee crisis in northern Italy
The sign just behind the border at Chiasso, “Welcome to Switzerland,” was not intended for them. In late July, Swiss authorities closed the border with Italy. Migrants were hauled off trains, trucks and cars. They were tracked by infrared drones sweeping the woods that straddle the border. In July and August alone, more than 7,000 people were picked up and sent back to Italy. In response, most decided to wait for something to change at the border, for the courage to make another desperate attempt at a crossing. Como, the last Italian town before Switzerland, became their waiting room. Most came from Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea, some from Syria and Iraq. At first, they lay on the floor of the train station, then gradually resettled to a makeshift camp next to the railway tracks. Como, a middle-class city that often ranks as one of Italy’s most liveable, was faced with a new challenge. Local citizens on their daily commutes slalomed through tents and dodged young refugees playing football. Suddenly, the European refugee crisis was no longer something you read about in the paper. Some in the city continued to pretend they could not hear or see it. Others fanned the flames of xenophobia. More than once, far-right groups raided the camps. Most people offered dignity — and hospitality and meals — to those in need. Migrants, who had survived dangerous desert and sea crossings and sometimes even abuse from foreign and Italian authorities, received language courses, cultural and psychological support. In September, most of Como’s migrants were transferred to a container camp run by the Red Cross. There are some 300 now, most of them unaccompanied minors. Their living conditions have improved — they have access to better sanitation, a safe place to sleep — but they are forced to stay put. Relegated to the outskirts of town, they have become invisible once again.