On Friday morning, as skiers glided under a flawless blue sky down the resplendent slopes of Claviere, a tiny Italian ski resort on the French border, four migrants were contemplating their next move, reports The Observer.
They had been brought back to the town in the early hours after being intercepted by police while trying to walk into France, knee-deep in snow along a mountain track.
Attempts by migrants to cross the border are not only dangerous and, for the most part fruitless, but they are at the heart of the current fraught relations between France and Italy.
The day before, the same group, among them two Iraqis and a man from Ivory Coast, were sitting outside the station cafe in the neighbouring town of Oulx as they waited for the last bus to take them to Claviere – from where the eight-mile mountain passage is considered to be less dangerous than elsewhere on the border. Wearing trainers and light jackets, they were ill-prepared for the challenge. They were also unfazed by the fate of Derman Tamimou, a 29-year-old from Togo who died of hypothermia after embarking on the same journey the week before.
Each of them recounted traumatic past experiences. Talip Fala, from Iraq, lost his front teeth after allegedly being beaten by police in Croatia. They also spoke about the struggle to obtain documents to stay in Italy. The man from Ivory Coast, who asked not to be named, was carrying expulsion papers signed by the Italian authorities on February 13th, after two failed asylum requests.
In Claviere, they were exhausted, but determined to attempt the hike again. Sami had heard that there might be another trail. “We have to try to make a life for ourselves – there is nothing for us in Italy. There is no work, and if you try to get documents, they block you.”
Staying in Italy has become increasingly difficult since the country’s rightwing populist government enacted hardline immigration measures. Many now making their way to Claviere are among those made homeless after being evicted from refugee centres across Italy in recent months as a result of the new law.
Named after Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister and interior minister, the law abolishes Italy’s humanitarian protection permit. The two-year permit, which was given to those who were not eligible for refugee status but who for various reasons could not be sent home, enabled people to find work and was renewable. The document also allowed people to cross into other EU states, on condition of prior notification to Italian authorities, and stay for up to 90 days. It had been granted to an estimated 100,000 people who had arrived in Italy in recent years.
Paolo De Marchis, the mayor of Oulx, said there had been an increase in arrivals in the town since a draft version of the law was published in September. “Some had been applying for protection but were afraid of not getting it and so escaped from the centres,” he said. “Others have come since losing their protection. They arrive with the sole objective of reaching the French border. They are convinced things there will be better. The reality is, they get rejected at the border.”
Italy’s loudest complaint against France is the turning back of thousands of migrants at the French border. The strictest controls are in place at the frontier that divides the French Riviera from Italy’s Liguria region, near the city of Ventimiglia. During the first half of 2018, French authorities said they sent back more than 10,500 people who tried to cross by train, or by walking along the motorway or through the mountains.
Charities have accused French police of using heavy-handed tactics against migrants, including the use of pepper spray, as well as mistreating children and falsifying their birth dates on “refusal of entry” documents so they could pass them off as adults and send them back.