Zooming into the Past                           







A Somali immigrant mother feeds her six week old child outside the Malta Police Headquarters in Floriana





Italy shocked by racist incidents Onlookers jeer as immigrant gives birth on sidewalk


February 10, 1992

The Globe and Mail


ROME (Associated Press): Fatima Yusuf, an immigrant from Somalia, wonders why no one heeded her cries as she went into labour outside a cafe in the southern city of Caserta. Her son, Davide, was born on the sidewalk as onlookers jeered.


"I don't know why they didn't help. Maybe because I'm black," she told state television yesterday, a day after the birth, as she sat propped up in her hospital bed with her baby in a nearby incubator.


It was the latest shocking account of hostility aimed at a growing wave of poor immigrants, in a country whose own sons and daughters survived for generations by emigrating to the United States and elsewhere in Europe.


The episodes have set off a round of national soul-searching and have tested the centuries-old conception - a point of pride for many Italians - that this is a nation of open, warm-hearted people.


Three weeks earlier, Italians watched another television interview of a black immigrant from his hospital bed. The Algerian and another North African were repeatedly stabbed near the Colosseum in Rome by a gang of skinheads shouting "Get out of Italy!"


Images are still vivid of the tens of thousands of Albanian aslyum- seekers left to swelter last year amid the litter in a Bari soccer stadium before they were shipped back to their impoverished homeland. Many Italians regarded the treatment of the Albanians as shameful.


Fatima Yusuf has her own indelible vision of shame.


Those long 20 minutes on the sidewalk were like searching for help in the desert, she said.


"Those eyes, those eyes that looked down between my legs, dirty with blood - they laughed, yes, they laughed while I was giving birth lying on a sidewalk with no one helping me," she told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.


But she also told of the passer-by who came to her aid after the birth and wrapped Davide in a scarf - just as many Italians like to talk about the hundreds of people who distributed their own bread and clothing to the Albanian refugees.


The resentment of foreigners isn't easily explained. Economic fears are often cited as a factor in attacks on immigrants elsewhere in Europe, but the newcomers here take menial jobs often scorned by Italians.


Some people associate the immigrants with prostitution and drug- dealing. Ms. Yusuf said she had sold hashish for a while to get by.


The earlier Colosseum attack on the two North Africans prompted the newsweekly Panorama to commission a survey - and to conclude in its current issue that "there is a hidden, masked racism" in Italy.


While nine out of 10 people disapproved of the violence, only half considered the attack racist. One-third said a racist or nationalist movement was taking hold in Italy, and one out of five was undecided.


Whatever the reason for the attitudes toward immigrants, Ms. Yusuf still finds it hard to believe what happened to her.


"They stopped and stood there watching like a show in a movie house," she said.


© All material copyright Thomson Canada Limited or its licensors.






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