Desis in Europa
In the second world war the Italian representative in Kabul brings the freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose in contact with German officials and thus paths him the way to Europe, but not to Italy (Zöllner 2000, 4). Bose had already been to Italy before and was fascinated by the facist system. On his second trip to 'Europe' he, however, heads to Germany to gain Hitler's support (Kuhlmann 2003). There he assembles from 'Indian' prisoners of war an 'Indian legion' within the German SS, which also for a short time is stationed in Italy (Hartog 1991). 'Indian' soldiers also fightt on the side of the allies (for example Vikram Seth's (2005) uncle)
Walking through Rome in the year 2000 as a tourist one is surrounded by people marked as 'South Asians' trying to sell toys, food or umbrellas depending on place, time and weather. This is the visible sign of new new flows of 'South Asian' migrants to Southern European countries emerging in the 1980s (Shah 1994, 224). By 1998 the number of legal residents from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Italy has nearly doubled from the figures of 1992 to almost 70,000, and the numbers are still rising. Those marked as 'South Asians' start to form a considerable part of the racialised residents in Italy. The 'Sri Lankans' become one of the 15 largest etnicised communities . All these data, however, concentrate on legal residents thus ignoring the rather important group of illegalised.
Italy – like the other Mediterranean countries – was for a long time primarily a transit stop on the way to other 'European' countries. Young 'South Asian' migrants entered Italy by ship and went on by rail, as long as this was possible. Today agents organise the same route despite tight restrictions on entry. Whenever something goes wrong on the way – the ship capsizes, police arrests the illegalised entrants or there is trouble in the detention camps – newspapers report on this. One of the worst catastrophes happened christmas 1996, when a ferry bringing 'South Asians' to join their friends and relatives in Italy capsized in the Ionian Sea (Baweja 1997). Taking these reports into consideration one can assume that there are many more 'South Asians' in Italy – either waiting to go on into another country or trying to earn money for the family back home.
Although today deportation of illegalised immigrants is usual (and the protection of the Fortress Europe becomes ever tighter), Italy has changed in fact from being purely a transit country to being a final destination. This change certainly is linked not only to the tighter entry restrictions in other 'European' countries but also to the increasing economic power of Italy, which makes it a more attractive destination for South Asians. Like for a young Bangladeshi who came at the end of the 1980s with 22 years to Italy and soon got a work permit. A friend gave him accomodation and helped him find a job. Eleven years later he still works long hours in the grocery shop, has learnt some Italian and has been joined by his family. His aim is to open his own shop some time.
Today the migrants start to establish themselves and begin to demand rights in Italy. They not only protest against inhumane treatment of illegalised entrants, but also require the acceptance of their way of life . A newspaper report notes that Sikhs in Italy demand an exception from the new rule to wear helmets on motor cycles. 'Italian' officials like many of their 'European' colleagues refuse this referring to the rule ‘in Rome do as the Romans do’.
For statistical material click here (pdf-file).