Culture, Heritage and Diversity

 

Reggio Emilia proposes legal reform

 

In September 2010 the Italian municipality of Reggio Emilia launched a national campaign for the citizenship of migrants. The city is committed to promote access to citizenship for minors and young people, as well as the issues of equality and intercultural dialogue in other Italian cities.

 

Mr. Graziano Delrio, Reggio Emilia’s Mayor, recently put forth the problem facing minors in these terms: "Children and minors of families with foreign origins, who are living and growing up in the city, are facing too much administrative trouble in order to gain citizenship".

 

Figures are cause for alarm. According to official statistics, 857,000 minors born in Italy by foreign parents are still awaiting citizenship. The campaign is targeted at them. It also seeks to bring about reform of the legal framework. In the broadest terms, it strives to update the concept of nationality. It also seeks to promote foreign citizens' rights by allowing them to vote in local elections. The rest of this article will elaborate upon the aims of the campaign, as well as proving they are feasible by providing some success stories.

 

At the root of the increasing problem mentioned above is the urgent need to bring about reform of the legal system. Like in many other European countries, the Italian law on naturalization is based on the "right of blood".

 

This legislation has practical limitations. For instance, foreigners born in Italy from non Italian parents can only apply for citizenship when they are legally considered adults. However, this request must be made before they reach the age of 19. Failure to make an application in time will result in the person loosing his/her right of citizenship and having to ask for a residence permit. This is governed by immigration laws.

 

The campaign proposes to update the legal framework and apply the "law of the grounds". In essence this questions the construct of a modern nation. It is based on the idea that what makes a citizen is not genetics but the place where one is born. More specifically, it maintains that the idea of a nation and nationality should be updated on the basis of the sense of belonging to a community, where people share studies, work and life.

 

The proposed reform of the legal framework also includes a special provision for foreign residents to vote in local elections. According to this proposal, a foreign resident would get the right to vote after five years of residing in Italy.

 

A living proof that naturalization based on "right of blood" is out of date and needs to be changed to the "law of the grounds" is the story of a family from Burkina Faso, who moved to Reggio Emilia in the 90's, illustrates this. Farida, the daughter, is a 16 year old promising volleyball player. She was born in Italy and just gained Italian citizenship after waiting for three years. She said: "The dream of any player is representing the National team of her country. Now I can fulfil my dream". In other words, just as the "law of the grounds" suggests, citizenship is about sharing one’s life with others’, in her case with fellow volleyball players. Farida is studying at the high school Liceo Linguistico Matilde di Canossa. Here she shares her studies with other pupils. Both her parents play a key role in the local community. Almita, her mother, is a volunteer at the Red Cross and also a member of the refectory of the catholic organization Caritas which provides food for people who cannot afford their own. The girl’s father founded the association of Citizens from Burkina Faso. Seni say’s proudly: "We were 75 in the beginning . Now there are 200 people enrolled as members…".

 

Both parents demonstrate more than just a sense of belonging, they deeply care for their fellow citizens. Lastly, both Farida's parents have been working at the local steel plant. In line with the "laws of the ground" they are also sharing their working lives with the local population.

 

The campaign for the reform of the legal system has just began. The municipality of Reggio Emilia is able to provide 30 certificates a month. A dynamic mayor, a town which is an active member of the Intercultural Cities network and energetic citizens will help Reggio's future success. Lastly here is a touching quote from Seni, a true citizen of Reggio Emilia: "It is the best condition for my family. I have realized the dream I had when I left Burkina in 1988, starting a journey no one starts without real need and strong motivation".

by Damiano Razzoli