Book review – Criminal migrants

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Salvatore Palidda is Professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Education of the University of Genoa, Italy. He has published extensively on migration and migrants. He has also organized several workshops and international meeting tackling issues regarding migrations and the rights of migrants. This book is the result of one such workshop. Palidda has collected here a series of papers and contributions from a wide range of European experts. The analysis of how migrants are criminalized, or participate in the crime life of their adopted country, brings the reader from law to linguistics, from detention to history.

The first part of the book gives an overview of the issue, taking in consideration the prohibitionist policies and racial criminalization of migrants. Alessandro Dal Lago’s contribution – Do Conflicts Between Cultures Really Exists? – compares the fears, political manoeuvring, and trade interests that underlined centuries of friction between Christian Europe and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, with the present situation of cultural encounter-clash we live in Europe today. He comes to the conclusion that “migrants do not threaten our culture because they visibly belong to another, but because they stake the claim to live outside their own culture. … the migrant threatens the presumption that a culture coincides with a territory”. Other papers in this section analyse the issuing of new laws to fight against the presence of migrants; allowing racism to infiltrate in the legal development of a continent, aided by media and popular trivialization. In this framework, Western countries find themselves caught up in the substitution of meaning: they offered millions of migrants to the Americas in a not far away past, now they see migrants as criminal, terrorists that must be detained, controlled, or treated as delinquent anyway.
The second part of the book deals with national case studies. France, Germany, Spain and Italy are the subject of four papers focusing on the way migrants are perceived and then treated. In all these countries, migrants are seen as a danger, and laws are approved to deal with them with increased severity. But it is in Italy, a true landing protruding from Europe towards Africa and Asia, that the process is best expressed. There migrants were transformed from immigrants – a powerful force to power the economic growth of the country at low cost – to clandestini. Clandestino – in Italian – has a broader meaning than the English clandestine. It does mean secretive, undercover, secret, but it also conveys the idea of criminal ends, immorality, unfair challenge to just laws. It is not by chance that Italy feels at war against a wave of migrants reaching its shores.
The third part of the book presents two case studies. The chapter on England as the forefront of punishment of minors is interesting. There, Yasha Maccanico argues that “the development of ‘parallel’ legal procedures to the functioning of the ordinary criminal justice system to fight terrorism, the expansion of power of surveillance and arrest for the police and the creation of anti social behaviour orders … are some key aspects in the United Kingdom in the field of the treatment of foreigners, of ethnic minorities and children who are increasingly identified as threats to public security and peaceful co-existence”.
This book is an important publication. It will certainly not become a best-seller, but it should be a must read for those academics, researchers and policy makers with an interest in migrations and socio-ethnic control, and not only in Europe. A word of praise goes to the publisher for book about migrants are often treated as niche publications without market. Ashgate, instead, present this work as it deserves: a honest analysis of what happens to migrants who run from a regime of poverty and oppression, and experience no less repressing ideas and treatment in the countries they reach to start afresh.

Racial Criminalization of Migrants in the 21st Century, edited by Salvatore Palidda, pp. xiii + 310, Ashgate, Farnham 2011.


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