Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stolen passport nearly leads to deportation in Rome

On Wednesday, my good friend went to the police to report that his passport and permisso di soggiorno (permit to live in Italy) had been stolen. He's Sudanese, but carries a diplomatic passport and studies with me at the the American university here. He's lived in Rome for five years.

Once he finished filing the police report, the police told him, "Ok, so since you don't have any documents, we're going to arrest you now."

My friend was baffled. He was put into a police car and driven to an immigrant detention center outside of the city.

"Can I have my phone call now?" he asked.


He was placed in a holding cell and kept there for around five hours. After a while, he started talking to some of the other detainees, to pass the time. One of them is Ukrainian. "So, what are you in here for?" my friend asks.

"Oh, I raped a girl."

That ended the conversation.

My friend tried unsuccessfully to get the guards to let him out or at least give him a phone call. "I'm not a criminal!" he told them. "I've done nothing wrong!"

They refused.

Finally, they told him he would be deported. He was told to leave the country within fifteen days and was forbidden to return to the European Union for five years and from setting foot on Italian soil for ten. They made him sign his deportation papers.

Then they let him go. But they don't tell him how to get home - they just let him out of the detention center somewhere outside the city at around 10pm.

The next morning he went to the Sudanese Embassy, which told him it could help but that this should be his last resort, and his university should deal with it. So he came back to the university and the guy in Student Life, God bless him, made one phone call and sorted the whole issue out. My friend was no longer required to leave the country, and what's more, he now had the right to sue the police.

I wish I could say this was a fluke case in Italy, but that wouldn't be true. In the northern part of the country, the Lega Nord runs (successfully, I might add) on a political platform which calls for kicking out all the immigrants. Some of its propaganda uses images of Native Americans and says the immigrants will soon force Italians onto reservations. Already, the Lega Nord has outlawed the opening of foreign food restaurants in areas where it has significant influence (the law is aimed mostly at kebab shops).

This is the reality of being a minority, particularly black and Arab, in Italy. Trying to work within the framework of the law to report stolen identity documents nearly results in one's deportation for failure to possess said documents. In reality, the relationship between the people and the state and the police is similarly dysfunctional across the Mediterranean. Take a look at what's happening now in Greece for another example: I've heard transcriptions of confrontations with police which are eerily similar to situations I've seen or heard about in Egypt.

Perhaps the advantage of being on this side of the Mediterranean, and attempting to be 'European,' is that my friend now has the right to sue the police, and can do so without fear of repercussion. He now has the law on his side.


  1. Wow! I had no idea this sort of thing went on in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean. Glad to know that things worked out for your friend.

  2. Yeah, many of my Egyptian friends are shocked to realize how similar some of the situations are here.