Since the 12th of June 2015, when France closed its border to irregular migrants, Ventimiglia became one of the hot spots of the European migration question.
In 2015 the local Caritas and the Italian Red Cross acted in order to take care of the migrants’ primary needs. Caritas took care of the food distribution, while the Red Cross provided a night shelter and food against identification for the migrants in the camp nearby Ventimiglia’s train station. Lots of other young people gathered around the migrants’ demonstration during which some migrants climbed on the rocks of the so called “Balzi Rossi” at the lower border of San Lodovico between Ventimiglia and Mentone to respond to their primary needs but mainly claiming the right of free movement of people in Europe. The resulting camp called “Presidion Permanente No Borders”, born around the 18th-20th June 2015, was dismantled by force the 30th of September 2015. During the summer 2015, “Popoli in Arte” started following the migrants’ adventures, at the border and within the local civil society. Its main goal was to gather several groups, individuals, and institutions around the issue of migrants, immediately perceived as historical. Since the beginning, the dialogue resulted difficult: our association recorded a substantial disinterest of other local organisations and institutions in considering the problem in Ventimiglia as a political one. The only field of public reflection has been the humanitarian field.
2016 was the year of the arrival of the big NGOs in Ventimiglia, after a winter during which the number of migrants in the city went from a minimum of 30 people in the street and around 70 in the Red Cross camp in February 2016 to a progressive rise during the spring. After the visit of the then Home Secretary Angelino Alfano in May 2016, the Red Cross camp close to the train station was closed. In a few weeks the number of arrivals rose significantly with an average of 1000 people since the beginning of June 2016. The response was again humanitarian and the experience of the Gianchette’s informal camp in the church of Sant Antonio as well as the following governmental Red Cross Camp called “Campo Roya” were born. At the margins, there have always been other interventions of individuals and small groups targetting those remaining in the street by their own choice or for a lack of room in the Red Cross Camp. Our attempt was again the same: gathering groups to tackle the issue as a political one, stressing on the political dimension of the phenomenon we were witnessing. Progressively, the political question became more and more taboo compared to the previous year. Several No-Borders acting in 2016 where targeted by multiple “fogli di via” from Ventimiglia. The attempt to form a local committee called “Comitato Art. 2” worked only to provide a marginal support to the experience of the Campo Roya. It did not manage to find a way to position himself as a political interlocutor with the institutions. During the summer 2016, in collaboration and partnership with the NGO WeWorld from Milan, we went out and listened to the migrants’ needs. With the 4 street operators that we could support financially we concluded that transit migrants needed lawyers’ legal assistance as well as a stable medical assistance. In that occasion we could see with our eyes how the current legislation does not grant a future for the majority of the transiting migrants, keeping lots of them in a long-lasting waiting situation regarding their fate, with an uncertain outcome. On our side, we never ceased to keep the dialogue open with all the actors present on the territory: may it be the local Council, those of the 2015 Presidio Permanente No-Borders that were still active, as well as the Red Cross and the volunteers of the Gianchette Church thanks to the personal work of 2 volunteers of the association. From the spring 2017 till the end of 2018 we collaborated with the people that, through the Iris association from Bergamo, opened in Ventimiglia the “Eufemia” space. This space represented an answer to another transit migrants’ basic need: the communication. No NGO or other institution had, at the time, responded to that need. This space tried to strike a balance between humanitarian assistance and an explicit political reflection on the border. In 2018 we also tried to get in touch with human rights activists present all along the northern Italian borders. This experience led to a meeting in Trento in June 2018 with representatives of the borders of Como, Brennero, Gorizia, and some foreign representatives (German and Austrian). We are always available and looking to expand the reflection and we feel the strong need to stay in dialogue with the territory of the Gianchette neighbourhood – Roverino. We know that we need to think about something practical and that we need to invent it together with the people of that territory, daring to believe in the birth of a strongly multicultural and supportive Europe.