Georgian immigrants speak about their life in Italy under quarantine
23 March, 2020
Georgian immigrants speak about their life in Italy under quarantine
Italy is still referred to as “the red zone” worst-hit by one of the biggest threats of the 21st century, where hundreds of citizens die every day. No wonder, tens of thousands of immigrants from Georgia living and working there are also concerned. After Italy declaring the red zone, they immediately rushed to airports in the hope to return to their homes. Panic was further aggravated by the closure of airspaces. Fortunately, some of our fellow citizens, left unemployed and doomed
to poverty themselves, came to their rescue, helping Georgian immigrants with their savings. Among them there is an immigration society of the city of Bari and its member Ms Fikria Kuchukhidze, who is legally allowed to move around the city and help immigrants.

"Now we all know how difficult it is to be an immigrant, a person with limited freedom, especially if you are the one looking after elderly people" - she says.

"The fact of Italy declaring a red zone made our life even harder. We are scared, thinking, who knows what might happen, I may never see my family again. That’s why, if you fail to stay strong, you run the risk of going crazy. This is what happened to some of our immigrants. On the other hand, mass returning to Georgia means bringing mass problems with us. If we are destined to be infected, let it happen here, we might recover here or let happen what may, many people think so.

Italy is the country of elderly people; Lots of young people live and work abroad. Immigrants are employed to take care of these old people, who are scared to death and keep asking: “You are not going to leave me, are you?” - says Fikria Kuchukhidze.

Do immigrants might become unemployed?

Yes of course, mainly the ones who had been hired as house cleaners. There is an emergency situation here; we are not allowed to enter into the houses of others and who needs the service today? So, the savings remain as the only hope for these women; but who could have imagined that some of them would donate their savings to help their fellow citizens who are badly in need of this kind of help. One of Georgian restaurant owners called and told me that he was ready to help us. So, we try to survive … we are not going to leave alone those who have been left without jobs, we cannot let them die of hunger, so those of us who are allowed to walk in the streets bring food to those who are not, on a daily basis.

Coronavirus is not the only reason why unemployment is so frequent in Italy. Those looking after elderly people are permanently at risk of losing their jobs. Even before the outbreak started here, there were 6 unemployed women in Bari alone. We are not allowed to give them a job and while moving around the city without permits they risk not only to be fined but also to be imprisoned for 2 years.

This is the hardest of times. Hundreds of people dye every day. Right now, it is being broadcast that there are no more placed for the infected in northern Italy, where the outbreak started, so, 50 patients are being transported to southern Italy to be treated there, but one of them died on the way to southern Italy.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Italians find it difficult to obey the State of Emergency regime. Strange as it may sound, following the example of Georgia, Georgian women were the first to start fighting the disease here - they tried to dissuade the young people living in northern Italy from coming and visiting their elderly parents in southern Italy, to save the lives of their own parents. In doing so, our women took care of their jobs, but they also protected those elderly who had been entrusted to them.

Other immigrants, such as Arabs, are rather hard-pressed to obey the rules. There is total chaos in Naples, a city notorious for the high crime rate. Citizens of Naples can hardly be urged to stay home, they say they simply don’t understand why they should be locked up at homes!

The Italian authorities will find themselves awash with shame and guilt for once refusing to take care of their own elderly people.

The Italian authorities no longer mention this issue nowadays. But the Mayor of Bari admitted to it personally during his televised address.

When the clinics become overcrowded with infected people, elderly patients were taken off the ventilators; the Mayor said, that they had to choose between people aged 40-60 and older. Doctors kept repeating the same but it was not their choice; Italy has found itself engaged in a war where a very hard choice had to be made between two badly wounded soldiers and fight for saving the life of the one who was thought to be worth fighting for.

Fortunately, these days it is no longer the case. Italian doctors take care of everyone, both Italian citizens and non-citizens.

One has to be insane not to be afraid of death, but our immigrants have already experienced so much that some of them might even not be afraid of it. Too much work has left many of them exhausted. When I look at 65-70-year-old immigrant women working here, I get angry; majority of these women must have sons and daughters aged 40 or so, who make their mothers work and finance their living in the capital city or send them money to buy a car! If you are not in a big trouble, if you are not a disabled person or if you do not have a sick child, you shouldn’t send your elderly mother to work so hard!

Many cannot walk out of their homes as they do not have permits, and those who are allowed to leave their houses, go to church, it's locked but we stand at the doors and pray for our country and families. Many have lost their jobs because of this situation; they are left with nothing here and their families - there.

Immigrant Natalia Kakhidze addressed the immigrants via social networking site a few days ago:

"Beginning from April 3, Georgia plans to evacuate its citizens, i.e. immigrants who wish to return to Georgia, from COVID 19 effected countries by special flights. I would like to encourage you all and urge each of you to refrain from leaving for Georgia. I understand that not everyone has a strong psych, willpower but let us take care of ourselves, first of all, and of our families, our loved ones. Let us take care of each other's health and take care of each other's lives. For years, the Italian government, along with its citizens, has taken care of us, residing this country both legally and illegally, and please, do not be ungrateful, stand by them. We have been through so many troubles in the past, we will manage to get through this one as well. Let’s give thanks to the Lord and hope that He will help us get through this nightmare. Our small country will not be able to get over this epidemics raging through Italy today… I implore you once again, please stay where you are and pray for our country and our people…

Natalia is an emigrant and she is eager to be with her children and with her close people, but she decided to stay in Italy. Her post has surprised many, some even wrote that Natalia's behavior was tantamount to heroism.

"I am a teacher" - she says. "I had worked as a manager at a Karajala public school and taught Georgian to primary school children. I have two children. I have been living in the northern Italian city of Mantua in Lombardy for 7 years and have been helping an elderly woman with her housework."

"Quarantine has been declared here until April 3. Everything is closed except for grocery stores and pharmacies. Medical masks and disinfectants are available at pharmacies. All immigrant, even the ones with no permits, have now access to medical care - starting from a visit to a doctor, ending with surgical services. There is a shortage of doctors in Lombardy, as they say, 10% of medical workers have been infected. They are being assisted by volunteers.

"Those who have been working for 24 hours, stay in their jobs, except that they are quarantined and can no longer have either a 2-hour daily rest or a half-day rest per week. But the women who had been working for hourly pay, lost their jobs. People working for public institutions have been told to stay in their homes, though they are being paid their salaries, moreover, the government has given 100 Euros per household.

"Living inside the red zone is anything but easy. You have to obtain a special permit to be allowed to move around the city, otherwise you will either be obliged to pay fine of 206 Euros or spend three months in prison. The Italian Police drive in their cars warning everyone to stay in their homes, they organize raids, stopping pedestrians or drivers and checking their permits. Cities are empty; with few pedestrians in the streets. The family I work for buy food online.

"The Italians have their morning coffee in a bar and eat out at the weekends, as a rule. They say there are some who violate the rules and spend their time outside, but it is prohibited by law."

Prepared by Tamuna Mesropashvili, Nanuka Niazashvili, Tatia Sabiashvili, Nino Samkharadze, Mariam Chkhitunidze

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