Poltical conditions prevailing in Italy have always obstructed the development of an organic plan for second reception of immigants. We have for a number of years had in place a decent system of inital reception, and although that system is rigid and often collapses in the face of emergencies, it attracts and dominates the attention of the public. No long-term strategy for integrating refugees has ever been drawn up. Selam Palace has several times been called “the palace of shame” in the foreign press, in that it is emblematic of the continuous series of errors due to the failure to make provision for the difficulties all refugees meet with a few months after arriving in the country. Some of these can and should be resolved during the initial reception phase, so as to lay the foundations of integration and avoid problems that will otherwise certainly arise in the future.
After thirteen years experience of Selam and familiarity with the lives of its inhabitants, we are in a position to say that the basic problems which are still not being dealt with during the initial reception phase concern lack of linguistic competence, inaccurate documentation, access to public services, employment and housing.
- Knowledge of Italian. Very few of the inhabitants of Selam have even an elementary linguistic competence, a sure indicator of a basic failure to teach the language during the initial reception period.
- Documentation. We repeatedly come across in official documents enormous number of mistakes in names, surnames, dates of birth and countries of origin, mistakes which render the lives of refugees hell when they come into contact with Italian bureaucracy. The need for an official place of residence and the difficulties involved in obtaining one make it imposssible to attain any degree of stability.
- Employment. There is no provision for helping people entitled to internatinal protection find work, for protecting their rights at work or monitoring their employment status.
Housing. Again there is no specifc provision (refugee status does not qualify one for social housing).
Because of our long experience of Salem Palace we are often contacted by journalists interested in writing feature articles and reports on the living conditions and on the state of the building. Although well aware of the importance of making these conditions known, we have also to take account of how publicity may affect the inhabitants themselves, and it is they who have the right to the last word on the subject.
After discussing the matter with them we feel authorized to say that the inhabitants of Selam are unwilling to have contacts with journalists for two main reasons. Firstly they consider such contacts useless, as in the past they have never led to even the slightest improvement in their living conditions, and their personal lives have never been at all touched by the myriads of articles that have appeared in prestigous publications.
A second cause of diffidence is the attitude of the many reporters who, though animated by the best of intentions, tend to lose sight of the personal, human side of those they interview and favour an abstract, collective vision. This approach is perceived by the inhabitants of the Palace as offending their dignity, especially as their relatives, both in their countries of origin and in other ‘adoptive’ countries, thus witness the total failure of their hopes of real integration.
In spite of the living conditions and many difficulties the inhabitants have to put up with, Selam is the only place these people can for the time being call home and live their daily lives. It is understandable and normal that the presence of outssiders is experienced as a violation of privacy, and indeed as embarassing.
The Association remains willing to talk to the media about its own experience, but outside the Palace. We ask journalists, who like ourselves are lucky enough to be able to abserve the situation from a priviledged position, to make a special effort to understand the motives of those who, for the reasons we have mentioned, reject any tendency to make a spectacle of failures which we all know – or should know – to be failures not on the part of the people, but in the system itself.