Voluntary repatriations are few in Italy, but they do exist. Since TAMPEP began its work in 1993, it has assisted only five women to return to their home countries. All five cases were within the past three years.
The rarity of such cases may be the reason why the voluntary repatriation process is seemingly ad hoc. Sometimes it can be simple: A young Romanian prostitute is contacted by the Street Unit one Thursday night. She comes to the office the next morning and asks to return to Romania. After speaking with the girl’s family, and receiving the approval of the Questura (the immigration police), TAMPEP simply purchases a bus ticket for the girl and sends her home.
Sometimes, however, the case may not be so simple.
Natalia and Olga are sisters. They are in their early twenties, and are from Ukraine. They came to Italy together illegally on three separate occasions. The first time, in 1997, Russian traffickers hire the girls to work as dancers in Europe. The girls eventually end up in Italy, where the immigration police detain and then deport them. The second time, in 2000, the girls are caught on a train at the French border. One sister is arrested immediately; the other escapes, but is later apprehended. Olga is not immediately repatriated to Ukraine because she is suffering from shock. TAMPEP is contacted by the hospital where she is sent, in order to act as a cultural mediator. Tests reveal that Olga is HIV-positive. Gradually TAMPEP builds a relationship with Olga and one day she asks to return home.
TAMPEP arranges with an international organization (IO) to send her home. The IO takes over the case. It says it will provide the girls with resettlement funds. The IO gives $2700 to a Ukrainian NGO to assist the girls in their resettlement. Months later, Olga calls TAMPEP from Ukraine to request money. She claims that the local NGO never visited them, and that the girls have no money. The IO and the local NGO are unable to provide information to TAMPEP on what had happened to the girls once they returned to Ukraine. TAMPEP would later discover that the girls had received the money, but spent it all on new clothes.
Fast forward to the recent past. Natalia and Olga return to Italy again. Again they work as prostitutes. They contact TAMPEP again. This time they want to denounce their traffickers and get legal papers to stay in Italy. However, the information they offer the police about their traffickers is vague and is not useful. It is unlikely that they will be approved for temporary residency under legal provision for victims of trafficking.
During the process of applying for the temporary residency, Natalia and Olga decide that the best decision for them is to return home again. As TAMPEP does not discriminate in its clients, TAMPEP has warily begun assisting in their second voluntary repatriation.
The meeting today with Natalia and Olga was one of stern words and admonishments about the gravity of the issue of their repatriation. The girls look younger than their actual age, and as they giggled intermittently during the meeting, they seemed even younger. The purpose of the meeting was to explain to them how the repatriation process would be handled. The same IO that provided the funds for their previous repatriation tentatively approved funds again for their third repatriation.
However, this time, the IO wants to interview them personally before sending them on their way. The girls must travel to Rome. This makes the girls nervous, as they had not been required to be interviewed on the previous occasion. Their questions during the meeting focused on their resettlement in Ukraine. Where will they live? Can they live together? Can they have two rooms? How much money will they receive? We could not answer all of their questions because the answers depend upon the arrangements of the IO and the funds they decide to give. The girls will likely have their answers when they arrive in Rome.
The case is not an easy one. There are many question marks: the motivation of the girls (will we see them again in Turin for a fourth time?), the process of their repatriation (will they be monitored, and undergo a reintegration program), Olga’s health (Italy provides free drug therapy, but Olga is unlikely to have comparable health care in Ukraine) and the risks involved (she does not want to use condoms when she returns home because she says that young men there rarely use them. If she requests that they use a condom, they will know she is infected.)
TAMPEP will accompany the girls to Rome. There they should receive the answers to their questions. We will have to wait much longer for the answers to ours.
Posted By Julie Lee
Posted Jul 8th, 2003