Fleeing Libya: Hundreds of Children Caught in Italy’s Migrant Crisis

My piece in Time on the children caught up in Italy’s migrant crisis has just been published.

Of the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy in recent days, fleeing poverty and unrest in North Africa, one bears special mention. Born in an overcrowded fishing boat packed with people fleeing the fighting in Libya, he was just four hours old when he and his mother arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. “It’s a miracle,” says Tareke Brhane, a cultural mediator with Save the Children in Lampedusa. “The mother is fine. She’s doing really, really well.” The baby boy’s parents, an Ethiopian mother and Eritrean father, named him Yeabsera, Eritrean for “God’s Work.”

Yeabsera is undoubtedly the youngest person to have arrived in the wave of sudden immigration that has caught Italian authorities unprepared and threatens to spark a humanitarian crisis. But he’s not the only minor to have come to Lampedusa, a stretch of largely denuded rock tucked in a corner between Tunisia and Libya. According to Brhane, some 80 children under the age of five — mostly Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese — have arrived by boat since Friday, joining some 300 to 400 young Tunisians, aged between 11 and 17. They are all part of the massive migrant influx sparked when turmoil in Tunisia and Libya lifted restrictions to emigration, and fighting and the fear of economic crisis pushed many to move. “Children need special protection,” says Carlotta Bellini, a child protection manager with Save the Children in Italy. “Without being formally registered, they can’t leave the island. And we are concerned that some of them might run risks of exploitation.”

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What’s Behind Berlusconi’s Rare Court Appearance?

My piece on Berlusconi’s court appearance has been published at Time.

There were no reporters allowed when Silvio Berlusconi appeared before judges and prosecutors on Monday. But that didn’t much matter, because while the Italian Prime Minister was inside attending court for the first time in eight years, he made sure that most of the action happened outside.

Photographers greeted the premier’s motorcade with long bursts from their digital cameras, and after the hearing was over, Berlusconi paused amidst a throng of reporters to wave to supporters chanting his name. That morning, a little more than an hour before his court appearance, the prime minister called into one of the television channels owned by his media company to denounce the charges against him as politically motivated accusations. Left-wing prosecutors, he said, are seeking to keep a “judicial Sword of Damocles” hanging over his head. “It was a sort of defense peroration without anybody from the prosecution to cross-examine him,” says James Walston, a political scientist at the American University of Rome. “Whatever happened in court, what remains in the public eye is his appearance on television and his supporters cheering outside the courthouse.”

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Amanda Knox’s Appeal: A Case of Too Little DNA?

Time has just published my latest on the forensic evidence in the Amanda Knox case.

The eight Italians who will decide the fate of Amanda Knox, the American college student who is appealing a 2009 conviction of the murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, won’t officially consider a review of the DNA evidence for more than another month. But they’re unlikely to have missed the news, leaked to an Italian news agency this past week and picked up by newspapers and television, that the investigators have been unable to find enough genetic material on the knife that Knox and her Italian co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito are alleged to have used to stab Kercher in a sex game gone wrong. Nor are the judges and jurors likely to have missed the jousting by lawyers for and against the accused, as both sides rushed to explain what the insufficient DNA evidence might mean for the case.

“If it’s true, it would be positive for the kids,” says Luciano Ghirga, one of Knox’s lawyers, who says he learned of the leak from news accounts. “Then you’d have to look at the analysis that was done during the first trial, which we’ve always sustained was not done properly.” Kercher’s bra clasp, another crucial piece of evidence, was judged to be too rusty to be re-examined.

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Italy’s Brutal Export: The Mafia Goes Global

Time has just published my article on the globalization of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The mob has gone global. That’s the conclusion of Italian prosecutors in charge of an international sweep on Tuesday that sought the arrests of 41 suspected members of the notorious ‘Ndrangheta criminal organization, with arrest warrants issued as far away as Canada and Western Australia.

The often brutal ‘Ndrangheta is native to the southern Italian region of Calabria, the toe in the peninsular boot, where tight ties of blood and marriage and a deep penetration of nearly all aspects of society have challenged those who have tried to bring it down. But when six ‘Ndrangheta members were massacred by a rival gang outside a pizzeria in Germany in 2007, the group sprung to international attention. And last summer, Italian prosecutors discovered the organization had built a strong presence in northern Italy, after arresting dozens of suspects — including senior government workers — in Milan.

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Why the Pope’s Rejection of Jewish Blame Matters

My piece on Pope Benedict’s statement that Jews are not responsible for the death of Christ has just been published by Time.

When Pope Benedict XVI writes that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, what’s important is less the passage itself than the man who set it down on paper.

By tackling the subject in a book to be published March 10, Benedict, who has struggled in his relations with the Jewish community, doesn’t so much state something new — the affirmation that the Jewish people as a whole were not responsible for the crucifixion is an old one, uncontroversial in the modern Catholic Church — as lend the idea the ecclesiastical equivalent of a celebrity endorsement. “The significance is in the author,” says Joseph Sievers, professor of Jewish history at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. “He brings together an awareness of the issues in the texts themselves with the history of how these texts have been interpreted through the last 2,000 years.”

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