“Vite senza permesso”: Italy as seen by migrants

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“Lives without permission” by Manuela Foschi is a collection of fourteen interviews with many foreigners living in Italy. The book’s subtitle, “interviews with hawkers migrants” explains who are the interviewed people.

Every person in the book share the same history of suffering, of neglected human dignity, of degradation, of people forced to hide, to sleep in railway stations or in abandoned buildings, surviving in inhuman conditions.


Migrants in Italy are afraid almost of everything: from permanent loss of freedom, to racism, violence, problems with jobs and problems with the reunification of their families.

“The first time I tried to talk to an Italian, I was afraid”, a migrant said. “I was in Milan and I asked where the station was. This person, just as I opened my mouth and he heard my accent, he raised his arms against me and shouted: ‘Stay away‘. “

These interviews shows all the burdens that are placed on migrants shoulders just to discourage immigration. This is the result of laws that do not encourage integration.

Bass, from Dakar, arrived in Italy in 1992. His story show the tremendous hardships created by the new immigration law in 2005. This is a report of all the money required for each renewal of the permission paper, the long waiting time, the injustice of the criminalisation operated by the media that attributes insecurity in Italian cities to the presence of migrants.

All stories highlight the distrust, the intolerance and the discrimination of the Italians against foreigners.

Rama is a woman from Senegal. She lives and works in Brescia. She said: “Until a few years ago life was good, now it is difficult to live. There was more calm, not the wickedness of today. There is so much intolerance in Brescia. Too much. People say to me: ‘bad black woman go away from here’. Not all Italians are like that, there are also good people”.

What hurts the most Rama, though, is the discrimination suffered by her children at school every single day. She does not allow their children to leave the house after school because she fear that they are offended and because none of the Italians allow their children to play with immigrants.

All stories in the book though have a good end as from poor beginnings all end up being shopkeepers, painters, bricklayers, trade unionists and somebody even actors and writers.

It is astonishing of how strong the entrepreneurial spirit of the migrants is. Even though at some point they are about to go back to their country of origin, they always end up staying in the hosting country working hard and facing all sorts of hardships. Some even manage to get into a political career whilst others are part of a coordination group in Bologna and a committee in Naples.

It is also astonishing that most of the migrants tell their fellow countrymen not to come to Italy “because there are bad people“.

Even though “Lives without permission” gives a rare in-depth look of migrants lives in Italy mostly quoting what they say, the book is missing the stories of the people who are not so lucky. Maybe this will be the theme of the next book of Manuela Foschi.

What is very interesting on the part of the author is that she mostly leave the stage to the words and voices of migrants, their point of view on Italy, Italians and their lives in the ‘Bel Paese’.

Moreover this book of Manuela Foschi has the merit to rediscover forgotten or neglected values such as friendship, respect for men and women and for the environment, sociality and sharing.

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