On 8 July, I spoke with Kibra Sebhat, co-founder of Rete G2 – a grassroots movement of second generation immigrants in Italy that fights for fair and transparent access to citizenship for the children of immigrants.
Why was Rete G2 set up?
Rete G2 was set up in 2005 in Rome by a few people between the age of 20 and 30 who are all second generation migrants and came from different professional fields, such as journalism, social work and academia. We understood that all second generation migrants, no matter if they were born in Italy or moved here when they were young, and regardless of their job, education or income, all had one problem: (lack of) Italian citizenship.
In Italy, children born to non-nationals can only apply for Italian citizenship between the age of 18 and 19, but there are many hurdles and all too often, people do not know about this narrow time frame. ReteG2 wants to change current Italian citizenship law to make it easier for young second generation migrants to become Italian citizens, as well as those young people those who were born abroad but grew up in Italy. They should not have to wait until their 18th birthday to apply for citizenship – if they were born in Italy or have resided here for a long time, and have gone to school here, we consider them to be Italian if they so wish.
How is ReteG2 run?
All our members are volunteers. We used to be around 30 operative members, who also received training, but at the moment we are around 15 people. It is difficult to combine this with jobs and family and also a lot of people have left Italy because of the economic crisis. We have two offices in Rome and Milan and tried to set up an office in the South of Italy, but that proved to be very difficult. There are many other social problems that – understandably – have priority for people.
How do you push for legislative change?
In the beginning we started working together with parliamentarians, political parties and local administrators, trying to build up a network to influence the parliament and government. We produced brochures, reports and also a CD with music from second generation musicians with the support of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Our advocacy work showed that there were quite some parliamentarians who were sensitive to the topic, but effectively working with the parliament on this issue was still very difficult.
In 2012, the L’Italia sono anch’io campaign gathered more than 100.000 signatures for a citizens’ initiative and we submitted two legislative proposals to the Italian parliament to reform citizenship law. In the proposal, we ask for a clear and fair procedure to obtain citizenship and propose to make the requirements for naturalization less strict. We want, for example, that children can apply for citizenship already before their 18th birthday and that the length of required residence should be lowered from 10 to 5 years. Moreover, there are a lot of restrictions that hardly anyone can fulfill, such as having an indefinite work contract. This is ridiculous, especially in times of economic crisis. Another problem is that municipalities have a large area of discretion and are rather bad at communication. Anyone who works for the local municipality on naturalization can reject an application for citizenship. This arbitrariness is also something that needs to change in order to have a clear and fair pathway to citizenship. At the moment, our proposals are being debated in parliament.
Because a lot of people do not know that they have only one year to apply, we initiated the campaign 18 anni in commune (18 years together). Together with Save the Children and Italian municipalities, letters were sent to second generation migrants on their 18th birthday congratulating them, encouraging them to apply for citizenship and telling them what documents they need.
At the moment we continue our advocacy work in the parliament by writing dossiers and providing statistics and general information about the situation of second generation and long term migrants in Italy. We are also working on a new project, funded by the Open Society Foundation, to lead this discussion on Italian citizenship and second generation migrants online via social media. The problem in Italy is that the public only talks about second generation migrants when there are problems in schools or when Balotelli scores a goal. But we really want to make sure that the situation of second generation is not discussed in such a simplified manner and that it is a topic of continuous attention. Therefore, we also visit schools and universities to do trainings and to talk about the situation of second generation migrants and those who have been schooled here.
What are the obstacles young people with a migrant background without Italian citizenship face in school?
The legal status of minors is linked to their parents’ residence permit. So if their parents lose their status, so do their children. This means that families can actually be deported to their country of origin, even if the children were born in Italy and have lived there all their life. Moreover, they have limited freedom of movement in or outside Europe.
Apart from this insecurity, it is also a question of identity. I think that the experiences and issues of second generation migrants and those who have lived here most of their lives are different from those of our parents and there is also a different awareness about belonging and identity. It is very important to find a balance between where you live and where your family is from. To be a happy and peaceful person, you should not feel that one part of your identity is not accepted.
Another problem for second generation migrants is the job market. In fact, without Italian citizenship your options are limited. You cannot become a teacher, judge, architect, notary, firefighter, policeman, member of the army, janitor, rail driver, bus driver, professional sports person, a member of a national team or university researcher. Many other jobs are in reality not open for second generation migrants either. Because of the strict residence requirements you cannot go abroad, so for example an academic career as a researcher or any other job where you have to travel a lot is hardly possible. I often talk about this issue at public events, because it really shows how unfair the current situation is.
What do you think will happen with the legislative proposal?
Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, has repeatedly said that he would like to resolve this issue by the end of 2014. So we are all very anxious to hear about the outcome, but it is difficult to predict what the parliament will decide. Generally, you would assume that the left should be in favour and the right against easier access to citizenship, but in fact it is not that easy.