They used to be sleepy hamlets on Italy’s sun-baked Padan Plain. But two years with hundreds of asylum-seekers packed into overcrowded centres dubbed “human warehouse” are taking their toll — on both migrants and villagers.
Inside vast white tents erected in a former military zone on the outskirts of the tiny village of Conetta, some 1,400 men from across Africa while away their days, packed onto endless rows of bunks as the temperatures rise.
Many escape for a few hours to cycle around the area: they are met with hostile banners calling for them to leave.
“I used to call this place a modern lager,” Cona mayor Albero Panfilio said, referring to concentration camps. The commune of Cona includes the little village of Conetta.
“Now I call it a human warehouse. The migrants arrive, they don’t know where to put them, they have a warehouse, they dump them here.” The asylum-seekers were treated “like garbage”, he added.
Panfilio says the 190 residents in Conetta have also suffered. Among several protest messages scrawled on sheets and hung up in the village square, one reads simply “Repatriate the migrants”.
Around 10 km away in Bagnoli di Sopra, some 700 migrants are crowded into another former military base. There are more barbed wire fences among the endless fields of soybean and corn, and no access to journalists.
Mayor Roberto Milan said the residents there had held sit-ins demanding the migrants be removed, but to no effect.
“The tension is great, there’s a lot of hostility. There are many of them and it’s not possible to create ties (with the local population),” he said.
Moussa Bamba, a 31-year old from the Ivory Coast, said he would “pay a price” for speaking out about conditions inside the Conetta camp, but pleaded for authorities to allow them to use their time profitably.
What has been described as the worst migrant crisis since World War II began in earnest in 2014, when 170,000 people landed in Italy. Europe forced Italy to close its borders in 2015 to prevent people travelling onwards. — AFP
Ella Ide and Kelly Velasquez