Melinda Willis

Melinda Willis (TAMPEP, Turin): At the time of her fellowship, Melinda was studying for a Master’s degree at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. She was the 2004-2005 co-editor of Praxis, the Fletcher Journal of International Development.


16 Jul

A friend of mine from school is working in Slovenia for the summer. I would love to go and visit him when my internship is finished, but I hesitate in part, because the train ride is 12+ hours long. I pointed this out to a friend of mine spending the summer in Paraguay who told me I was spoiled. She spent about 50 hours(!) getting to the Chaco this past weekend.

Spoiled? Err, yeah. I have come to work in a country where I have had to make very few sacrifices or major changes to maintain the standard of living I had in the States. A long-time vegetarian, I can even find soy protein pressed into shapes evocative of meat at the supermarket. The lights come on every time I flip the switch, and the water runs clear and drinkable from the taps.

This life, with its choice and convenience, is a big piece of the allure of immigration destination countries. It’s more than a McDonald’s on every corner and 50 different kinds of cola to choose from, but the prospect of higher pay and stable infrastructures that keep killers like cholera at bay. It’s the prospect of opportunity – both perceived and real – that keep people flocking to distant shores, often at great risk.

And frankly, it’s close to impossible to get into Europe legally if you come from certain parts of the globe. This is true even if you are claiming to be seeking asylum from a conflict that many would label a genocide (initial reports on those aboard the Cap Anamur held off Italy’s southern coast had them fleeing Sudan). Last night on the news they covered the protests over Italy’s asylum policies sparked by the Cap Anamur incident right before a piece on how the Italian death rate outstrips the birth rate year after year. The country’s population isn’t growing, but migrants are still unwelcome. Little wonder, then, that the phenomenon of human trafficking flourishes.

Italy has an article on protection in its immigration law that allows female victims of trafficking to obtain temporary work and residency permits if they denounce their traffickers. This law is the driving force behind much of the work of TAMPEP and other NGOs in Italy. Yet despite its existence as a remarkable exception to the way other migrants are received, sex workers – many of whom are victims of trafficking and exploitation – are still rounded up and placed into temporary detention centers to await mass deportation.

But recognition of the flaws in Italian immigration law is gaining some ground. A court in Rome condemned portions of the law as unconstitutional, saying that the rules regarding the arrest and detention of illegal migrants run counter to guarantees of equality and personal liberty. This is, at the very least, a step in the right direction.

So I sat at my computer this week writing grant proposals and letters of inquiry to foundations with the goal of hiring someone to help TAMPEP do its work and improve its outreach. Nothing terribly exciting to put in a blog. But at the back of my mind every day lives the thought that someone is fighting, fleeing or being exploited for a chance to sit where I am sitting. So I write…

Posted By Melinda Willis

Posted Jul 16th, 2004

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