[Image: The wall built on the outskirts of Padua to seal off the Serenissima housing estate. Photograph: Marco Bruzzo/EPA - Guardian, 2006.]
Padua is an old city in Italy, home to one of Europe's oldest universities where Galileo once taught mathematics and historic artworks were produced by greats like Giotto, Donatello and Mantegna. Today, unfortunately, it has earned "the distinction of having the most dangerous housing development in northern Italy." Others have stated, it is "the worst possible example of failed integration." The issue is how this quiet old city has turned into an urban ghettosphere by a massive influx of African migrants in the last few decades, for whom the local economy has failed to accomodate. Right now, according to this article, some 210,000 people live in Padua, of whom 20,000 are legally resident non-EU citizens. A further 30,000 non-EU residents live in the surrounding province, which has a total population of almost a million. There are also several thousand asylum seekers, all hoping to be given leave to stay. But Padua has become a crime ridden urban battlezone between rival gangs, drug dealers, and populations of migrants who still lack the ability to work in Italy legally, to vote, and are essentially lost in an endless line waiting for some form of national legalization.
So, instead of critically re-examining the neccessary legal mechanisms for managing the multi-ethnic fabric of a modern Padua society, officials, in just a few hours, erected a msssive steel wall at the outskirts of Padua, to further isolate the ghettosphere of the Serenissima housing estate from nearby residents who felt threatened by an atmosphere of constant violence. Described as "a large and ugly barrier stretching for 84 metres, three metres high and made of thick steel panels, there is a police checkpoint at the entrance as well as CCTV cameras."
Critics are equating it to the concentration camps and Jewish ghettos created by the Germans decades earlier, and saying this action is a "surrender to criminality." Is it simply using militarization as a crutch, an apartheid-like segregation out of convenience?
The social solidarity minister Paolo Ferrero had this to say:
"The title of today's "Corriere della Sera" makes one think that I proposed to build walls and ghettos in all cities. This is not only false but completely contrary to the proposal I presented in an assembly of hundreds of immigrants in Padua on Sunday. [...] The initiative of the Padua town administration I positively commented was the project of the closure of the Via Anelli ghetto by way of finding accommodation for its inhabitants in other parts of the city: all this with the full consensus of the immigrants and the support of the town's social services. This positive policy dismantling ghettos and favouring social integration should be adopted also in other cities to resolve similar situations. The "wall" was actually built because during this dismantlement of the ghetto a conflict with the inhabitants of confining buildings exploded; moreover they tried, in this way, to limit the massive presence of drug dealers".
Nevertheless, the wall won't solve their problems in this city or any other for that matter. So, what legal means do they plan on examining - and quickly - to deal with the core social implications of ghettoization and immigrant isolationism? Where is that debate, and will the immigrant community be there, or too trapped behind this wall to attend?