Andrea Riccardi, the Italian founder of the Church group Community of Sant’Egidio, has called for the immediate regularisation of the hundreds of thousands of ‘illegal’ immigrants in the country, due to the danger that the unsanitary living conditions they’re forced to survive in could exacerbate the coronavirus crisis but also so that they can work legally and with social protection.

“In Italy there are 600,000 irregular immigrants who live on the margins and can cause foci of [coronavirus] infection”, Riccardi, also the president of the Società Dante Alighieri, told Italian paper La Stampa.

The Minister for International Cooperation in the government of former PM Mario Monti (2011-2013) added that the immigrants without papers “must be regularised with temporary residence permits to ensure the health of all and for the social balance of the country”.

“These foreigners are essential for the agricultural sector and for services to people”, Riccardi insisted.

He added that these migrants “will be even more necessary” in the “phase two” of Italy’s coronavirus restrictions that is expected to bring with it from May 3 a loosening of lockdown measures.

Professor, why is it necessary to consider an process of admission for immigrants right now?

I would not speak of the admission process but of one of regularisation. It is necessary because employment is a decisive issue for the country to emerge from the crisis.

Half of these 600,000 people are women from Eastern Europe or South America who work as caregivers, assistants or nannies.

The other half are African, Indian, or Bangladeshi men. A good part of them provide services in the field. They are living in precarious housing or in overcrowded shanty towns; they have no rights and they are hungry.

Caregivers have even been left out of expanding “social shock absorbers” [cassa integrazioneed.]

It’s a very serious mistake to leave them without protection, and it shows that we haven’t understood that the system has failed: we have witnessed the collapse of nursing homes; there has been a massacre.

One of the great reflections to be undertaken is that the system of assisted residential centres and institutionalisation must be left behind.

For the future it is necessary to have the elderly at home, and they need people to take care of them. It is the most humane and economical solution.

Without the seasonal workers, who won’t be able to come, there is a risk of not being able to pick the fruit and vegetables from the fields.

According to the employers of the Italian agricultural sector (Confagricoltura), 200,000 workers are needed. If they don’t arrive, agriculture and livestock are at risk.

Employers must be allowed to hire workers already in the territory.

Don’t you think that such a measure [as a regularisation of ‘illegal’ immigrants – ed.] could have a beacon effect and increase arrivals by sea?

That effect doesn’t exist; sea arrivals are at minimum levels; the risk of invasion isn’t there.

Borders are closed, freedom of movement is very limited and, in any case, regularisation must be carried out in the short term.

I’ll try to formulate a hypothesis: those who were already in Italy by March 4 – the day the Prime Minister signed one of the first decrees against the coronavirus – must be regularised.

It seems like a very unpopular move. Wouldn’t the government be favouring electorally Salvini and Meloni [leaders of the Italian far right – ed.]?

If we insist on that tired old farce the country will never get back on its feet.

Do we want tomatoes to rot in the fields? To let the elderly die in their residences?

On that thinking, Italians will end up being the last, not the first.

I have the feeling that today people look at reality in a less conflictive way.

If I had to give advice to politicians I’d say that they must be wise because Italians are more informed and look for concrete solutions; they’re not happy with scapegoats.

Are you optimistic?

I’m realistic. If we want to move forward together we have to help each other.

I think that the policy of playing one off against the other is foolish; it’s no longer worth it.

The best interests [of Italy] lie in solidarity. I think our society has withstood the pandemic because it continues to be a society of ties.

Mine is a pragmatic proposal. With [labour] contracts and [social security] contributions there’d be income for the State and we’d allow people to whom we cannot repatriate to work legally.

(Source: MJ/Luca Monticelli, La Stampa, via Sant’Egidio)

More on Novena on the Community of Sant’Egidio

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Coronavirus: Italian Catholics plead for release of mothers and children from jail

“Roots, memory, brotherhood and hope”: Pope points way out of virus crisis as Italian president thanks him for “fatherly witness”

Pope encourages Italians battered by coronavirus: “Let us help each other hold fast to what really matters”

Italian priest unrepentant after turning his parish into camp for immigrants, attracting ire of faithful


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.