By Maria Suelzu
Caritas Internationalis Advocacy Officer
Presentation of the Caritas 2008 immigration in Italy report
In the first part of the 20th century, in some parts of Italy a lot of people were desperately poor. People were hungry and even up until the 1950s some poorer Italians lived in improvised shacks on the outskirts of cities like Rome.
As I walked across the Tiber to “Teatro Don Orione” to attend the presentation of the Caritas 2008 immigration report in Italy, I considered how for decades millions of Italians left our country to find hope and a better future elsewhere. They landed on the shores of countries such as the US, Argentina, and many others.
Now we are a wealthier country and people from poorer countries want to come to us – just as we went elsewhere to find prosperity and security. Often they are escaping war, poverty and a bleak future in their home countries.
In Rome, the city where I live, there seems to be a lot of immigrants. They work in bars and restaurants, they clean people’s houses, they help families by looking after their children, their grandparents and the sick.
One of the interesting issues mentioned during the presentation of the immigration report was the fact that immigrants, although often perceived by the local population as competing for social services, only receive 2.4 percent of national social security expenditure.
In fact, they are net contributors to our country’s wealth. In 2006, for example, they paid over 3.1 billion euro in income tax. They also make a substantial contribution to the economies of their countries of origin by sending around 6 billion euro in remittances to their communities and families.
The Italian government has always considered the data on immigrants gathered by Caritas to be the most reliable, and the Italian National Institute for Statistics (ISTAT) collaborates in the preparation of the report, so it presents a fairly accurate picture of the current situation in Italy.
As I left Teatro Don Orione after the presentation of the report, I reflected on how we receive immigrants in Italy. I came to the conclusion that, even though the Italian Government has been in the press a lot recently because of its tightening of immigration laws, there are still lots of Italians who want to learn about and absorb the new cultures brought here by immigrants.
I think it’s now essential that the Italian Government should adapt its rules to this new situation, where Italy has gone from being a country of émigrés to being a country of immigrants.