Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Hsiao-Hung Pai's "Ciao Ousmane"

Hsiao-Hung Pai is a UK-based journalist and the author of Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Army of Labour, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize; Scattered Sand, winner of the 2013 Bread and Roses Award; Invisible; Angry White People; and Bordered Lives.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Ciao Ousmane: The Hidden Exploitation of Italy's Migrant Workers, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ciao Ousmane brings you to a Calabrian village in southern Italy called Camini, facing the Ionian Sea. Camini has followed a similar path of regeneration as the much better-known village Riace, dubbed as “integration village” by world media for years.

Like Riace, the young of the village had deserted Camini two decades earlier, seeking employment outside the region or even outside the country. It was one of Italy’s dying villages until well-meaning people thought up the idea of bringing in migrants and reviving it as a model of “integration”. This has been celebrated as a positive example of migrant contribution and highlighted as a ‘win-win situation’ where Italy receives migrants and they “pay back” the country’s hospitality by re-populating its villages. However, the trade-off for the village’s regeneration is the migrants’ agrarianisation (which they did not choose).

Page 99 touches on the situation of several Syrian families as well as introducing a Nigerian family. Here we meet Charlotte, the Nigerian mother, for the first time. She had spent several years in Camini trying to make a living and struggling to raise her children. When her time on the “integration” project ended, her support also came to an end and she could no longer cope with the lack of employment opportunities in the village.

Page 99 gets you beyond the subhuman living conditions and exploitation in the world of agricultural work, and explores the myth of “integration”. This has been a dominant ideological component in the asylum reception system and part of the “common sense,” fund-securing phraseology that has been operating in the profit-making business of “welcoming new arrivals” for at least a decade.

In the name of “integration,” dozens of municipalities in northern and central Italy have been setting up volunteer projects in the years since 2011, where migrants are made to work for free. The idea that Africans and other migrants are put to work for free comes from the deep-seated racism that permeates Italian society. The idea is that migrants must contribute economically to become ‘deserving.’ It is also reflected in the state’s integration programmes which are always based on the thinking of national security and the idea that “it is safer to integrate migrants.” “Integration” is a recurring theme throughout the book and we return to Camini several times across the following chapters.
Visit Hsiao-Hung Pai's website.

--Marshal Zeringue