Undocumented Gambians in Italy sniff bad air as Gambia immigration officials descend in Rome 

By News Desk

Worried about the apparent cold shoulder they’ve been receiving from the authorities in Italy, after being denied work authorization documents, a contingent of undocumented Gambian boys are having sleepless nights even as the nation’s immigration officials are allegedly in Italy to complicate their cases and possibly throw them under the bus.

Over the past years, several young men from the Gambian have taken the back way to Europe in search of better lives. While some have met death sometimes on dinghy boats, or through the sahara desert while navigating around long and complicated routes with the hope of reaching fortress Europe, some have turned a corner and succeeded in securing jobs in Europe.

One Famara Conteh told The Progress Newspaper that he is a native of Banni village in Baddibu in the North Bank region. He traveled via the backway in 2015, like so many African immigrants, Conteh walked his way through the system and luckily picked up something to earn him some money to pay his bills and send some money back home in the Gambia.

But in 2018, his work authorization permit was denied by the authorities and since then like so many Gambian immigrants, he has been running from pillar to post to secure renewals but have so far been unsuccessful. During a recent meeting with the authorities in the northern Italian region of Foggia, Conteh discovered once again that the authorities were not keen on renewing their work permits; this has raised new fears about the prospects of deportation given the recent uproar in the country following the deportation of Gambians in Germany.

Conteh said he and many immigrants are sniffing bad air as they have been told that Gambian immigration officials are reportedly in Italy, on a mission whose intentions are still unclear. A worried, Conteh went onto say that he has secured a lawyer who is fighting for his work authorization documents to be renewed: “What happened to Gambians in Germany could happen in Italy because there were undocumented migrants whose documents expired and couldnt be renewed. I know they are driving on deportation. The Gambia government has signed the deportation agreement with Germany and Italy’’ Said Conteh as he pins his hope on securing his

work authorization documents renewed.

Critics say Italy’s migrant regularization program was flawed, according to human rights watch, an estimated 690,000 undocumented migrants live in Italy. In 2020, an Italian program to provide undocumented migrants with a pathway to residency was adopted amid the Covid-19 pandemic did not live up to its promise, according to Human Rights Watch.

The program was adopted in May 2020 to “guarantee adequate protection of individual and collective health” and “facilitate the emergence of irregular employment relationships” – to bring informal and undocumented work out of the shadows. In practice, the measure responded to a strategic economic interest in ensuring that essential sectors had enough workers rather than focusing on a rights-based approach. Overall, 220,000 people applied under the program, just under a third of the estimated 690,000 undocumented migrants in Italy.

The program created two pathways for undocumented migrants to acquire a temporary residency permit. An employer sponsorship option limited to the agricultural sector, including livestock and fisheries, and the home care sectors, including care for people in their home and domestic work. It was available to people already employed irregularly – or with someone willing to hire them in these sectors – and who could prove they were in Italy before March 8. The other was a jobseeker permit available to people who became undocumented on or after October 31, 2019, and could prove that they were previously employed in agriculture or home care.

Through interviews with undocumented migrants in Foggia, Naples, and Rome, as well as lawyers, aid organizations, and labor organizers, Human Rights Watch identified key failings of the regularization program.

First and foremost, the narrow scope of the program denied access to hundreds of thousands of people. Undocumented workers in construction, hospitality, and logistics, for example, were unable to apply. It also arguably created an opportunity for fraud and further exploitation of vulnerable migrants, with reports of fictitious labor contracts being sold for up to €7,000 (US$ 8,515).

“Being a person outside your own country and undocumented is like being an animal alone in the forest and when the lion sees you, he takes you and eats you,” a 35-year-old undocumented man from Ivory Coast told Human Rights Watch.

Fewer than 13,000 people applied for the innovative jobseeker permit due to the seemingly arbitrary cut-off date and other restrictive requirements. Asylum seekers, many of whom face the prospect of becoming undocumented if their claims are turned down, given Italy’s high rejection rate, were barred from applying under this pathway.

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