Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Methodism and Migration - In Italy

One of the exciting opportunities opened up by all forms of social media, is the way that instant connection with other areas of the world is possible.  While the thrill of receiving a letter marked ‘By Airmail – Par Avon’ will never be surpassed, twitter/facebook updates indicating what is going on can provide a glimpse into someone’s life thousands of miles away.

The Revd Alison Walker, Methodist Mission Partner in Florence, had been posting some most interesting updates and so I have invited her to write them up as a guest post.  The story is covered over three days and provides a fascinating insite into how Methodists are helping create a place of sanctuary for a people marginalised by people and politicians in the picturesque city of Florence

No room for the roma? (pt1)

On Sunday 17th January 2010 a group of about 40 Roma arrived at the Waldensian  church door, looking for shelter.  They had been living, in a group of around 100, in a disused factory in a town close to Florence (Sesto Fiorentina).  Although the mayor of the town had made it known in December that the unofficial camp would be closed down, the police arrived without warning.  The Roma were required to leave immediately and were not allowed to collect their possessions (clothes, bedding, cooking utensils, childrens toys and even medicine were all left behind).  Once the people were out, the bulldozers moved in, pushing to the ground the building and belongings.

Perhaps you imagine Italy to be warm, sunny, blue skies.  But in the middle of winter, the nights are regularly around zero, and the days can be cloudy and damp.  The “comune” (town council) of Sesto Fiorentina had made no arrangements to house the now homeless people.  There is an official Roma camp and the mayor felt that the town was doing enough.

The language used in the immigration debate here in Italy is emotive (think Daily Mail), Roma are described as all being lazy, all begging, all committing crime, all refusing to send their children to school and all incapable of living clean, tidy, responsible lives.  One church member even went as far as saying that the Roma (or gypsies as they are usually called) are not genuine immigrants, but “human parasites” living from the work of others.  His words are shocking, but in the light of the constant barrage of racism in the press, not surprising.  In the same week that the Waldensian Church ended up feeding and housing up to 90 Roma, another Tuscan town had placed signs in some shop windows stating “no Chinese”.  It feels as if this part of Europe has turned to the clock back to the post-Windrush world of the UK, when immigrants might be faced with “No unemployed and no blacks” signs.  This church member is seemingly typical of the population – the Roma in particular are not welcome.  TV Vox Pops all featured people united on one theme “gypsies go home.”

Find out tomorrow how Protestant churches responded to a community marginalised by its locals.

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