Crime and Punishment, Refugee Style

The horrible murder of Giovanna Reggiani that took place near a Romanian refugee camp in the suburb of Tor di Quinto in Rome shocked both Italy and Romania. The case gained significance by adding fuel to the fiery public debates now underway not only in Italy but across Europe on the status of refugees and foreign residents.

Some Italians responded violently; some Italian and Romanian politicians, eager to offer quick and tough solutions, made scandalous statements that echoed the xenophobic and totalitarian slogans of the past. We are encountering, not without irony, a kind of grotesque reverse of the “national pride” seen when cultural and sporting stars are appropriated by the state and presented as part of the collective patrimony.

Although the murder was an individual crime, to compound the tragedy of a crime through measures that target an entire minority is irresponsible, and will have grave moral and social consequences not only for the unjustly punished but also for the punishers. No minority is, after all, homogenous, which was demonstrated by the fact that the person who alerted the police was a compatriot of the killer and from the same camp of refugees.

Collective punishment also means not only a type of amnesia by Italians and Romanians about what happened under fascism, nazism, communism, but also for their own national histories. Italians, after all, migrated not only from Italy’s south to its north, but also to other countries looking for a better life. They, too, know what it is like to be a refugee, an exile, a stranger.