Sunday, September 14, 2008
ROME: They speak Italian, eat Italian and cheer for Italy's football stars, but they are not Italian. In fact, it's hard to say what they are.
Thousands of people are living in Italy without citizenship or identity documents from any country. Most were citizens of countries that no longer exist, like Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. But they never received citizenship from the new countries that replaced their broken-up nations, and they also fail to meet the requirements to become citizens of Italy.
Life in limbo can be particularly harsh for those who were born and went to school in Italy. Once they turn 18, they become little more than illegal immigrants under the law.
"We are not Yugoslav, we are not Italian. We are like clouds," said Toma Halilovic, who lives with his parents, wife and children in two containers in a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Rome.
When he turned 18, he thought he would receive citizenship. Children born to foreigners in Italy do not automatically receive citizenship, but they can claim it between ages 18 and 19 if they have lived in the country continuously and legally.
"They told me I was born in transit," he said. "What does that mean? This is my country."
In some cases, parents do not register children at birth because they have lost citizenship of their own countries of origin and cannot renew their Italian residency permits, said Paolo Morozzo della Rocca, a professor of immigration law at the University of Urbino, in central Italy.
"I'm afraid each time I leave home," Halilovic told The Associated Press in an interview. "Even more now with all these soldiers around. If they catch you they lock you up like a thief."
But there's a catch-22 situation in Italy:
"Italy is being dishonest in applying the convention," he said.
He said he was sent to a temporary holding center in Turin, but was quickly released thanks to his contacts with Sant'Egidio and its lawyers.
"If they had given me citizenship I could have made something of myself, I could have continued to study or joined the army," he said. "We need a document, any document. We need it so we can give our children a future."