The villagers of Bathan Kallan, 60 kms from here, mourned deeply when last Friday, the Italian government declared a nationwide state of emergency, giving authorities additional powers to tackle the influx and combat the ‘persistent and exceptional’ arrival of illegal immigrants. In the last 20 years over 40 families from Bathan Kallan have migrated to Italy, “Those who go to Italy illegally have a very tough life, they travel in ships for months and then live their lives hidden, if the law is more strict it will become difficult for youngsters to go there.” says Karalta Singh (46), who migrated to Italy 14 years back.
Explaining why Punjabis have been migrating to Italy, Karalta said that, “Nobody wants to become a criminal to earn well but migrating to Italy illegally becomes a lucrative option because the land sizes have gone very small and there are no good jobs available here. That’s why so many young boys spent as much as Rs. 12 lacks to reach Italy illegally but they don’t have any papers so after reaching Italy they look for fellow Punjabis who can give them shelter.”
One of the many agents who organize illegal migrations to Italy stated that Italy used to be the safest place to go because people did not get deported easily, “The immigration legislation of Italy gave an illegal migrant two weeks to leave the country or appeal the decision during this time they would slip underground. Now they have are ordered to leave the country within five days, during which time they will be held in Italian custody. Also now they have declared a state of emergency all over the country, earlier it was only the southern provinces of Sicily, Puglia and Calabria.”
Harcharan Kaur, whose husband had migrated to Italy illegally by sailing on a boat for many months, recalled the difficult times he faced, “Initially my husband had to slog a lot, he recalls the times when he and his friends did not see the sun for four months to hide from the authorities. Even after reaching Italy they were dependent on some kind hearted Punjabis who gave them food later he started to work as a farm worker. With god’s grace today everything is fine today my daughters have better future prospects than the girls here.”
Before 1998 the Italian government used to hold amnesties for any illegal immigrants; they could apply for Italian citizenship and not get punished for having been there illegally and many people from the village benefited from these amnesties, “Between 1986 and 1998, the Italian government held 4 amnesties and granted citizenship to about 700,000 people that’s when I and my family got our citizenship. Today young couples who want to settle abroad have to face a lot of problems because till few years back Italy wanted us, sadly it doesn’t any more.” said Gurmeet Kaur (39), who lives in Italy with her husband and four children.
The amnesties ended up attracting more migrants and made Italy’s immigration policies appear lenient hence the policy was changed and the present policy states is that if a foreigner wants to find work in Italy, they must have their name put on a list by going to an Italian consulate and the consulate then issues them visas.
A study on illegal immigration in Italy, conducted by The Italian interior ministry showed that in 2005, there were 240,000 permit requests for an annual quota of 99,500 and in 2006,the number of permit requests was 440,000 though permits were available only for 170,000 people.