PRATO, Italy—Prato has the highest population density of Chinese immigrants in Europe. The city’s mayor, Roberto Cenni, said in an interview with The Epoch Times that he expects China to assume responsibility for the rampant criminal activities of companies operated by Chinese immigrants in the region.
Prato’s police investigated approximately 400 of the 4,000 companies in the Chinese district of the city in 2012. They found illegal activities at 90 percent of the businesses, warranting sequestration.
Many of the Chinese immigrants are undocumented, and the human rights abuses that accompany human trafficking are rampant in Prato’s Chinese district. Cenni lists other illegal activities plaguing the region: “The illegal shipment of monetary mass overseas, and the opening of masked, new illegal activities, such as prostitution in massage parlors, gaming, and extortion. [This] is the tragedy that is taking place in the parts of the Italian community that were once prosperous.”
“If this district grew this way it is because the process was financed from China,” Cenni says. “Because of this, I expect a collaboration with the [Chinese] government, and we hope that there should be some change in direction in this respect.”
Prato is a neighbor to Florence that has a rich textile industry it has developed since the Middle Ages. About 20 years ago, Chinese began immigrating en masse to Florence, and in 1995 to Prato, to work in the industry. Now, the city of approximately 180,000 people is home to 60,000 Chinese—30 percent of the population—many of whom are illegal immigrants.
Under Italian law, undocumented Chinese immigrants are not deported if the Chinese administration does not recognize them. They end up in a sort of legal no-man’s land.
Chinese Embassy’s Response
The Chinese ambassador to Italy, Ding Wei, spoke of China’s willingness to “take back those who are detained in Italy,” in October 2012, according to Italian publication Go News and other Italian media outlets.
“There is an official channel between China and Italy in this direction, a process that is proceeding very well,” Ding says. “The Ministry of Public Security of China and the Italian Ministry of the Interior are working together so closely.”
Cenni says in practice, however, the embassy has been slow to act, so Prato’s police force has stepped up its own initiative to battle illegal activities in the Chinese community.
Spokesman for the municipal police Aldo Milone gave a statement after the police shut down 13 clothing manufacturers at the end of December, saying, “I think that there is no other way than to continue with the seizures.”
At a Prato train station, two Chinese people waved animatedly at Epoch Times reporters. The more loquacious of the two said he lives well in Prato because he works there legally.
“They give me lot of work. I do legally,” he says. Many of his compatriots, however, are at the mercy of “evil people … criminals who are to be feared. They do not pay taxes and create employment for illegals where in the same operation room they eat and sleep.”
Cenni says, “Occasionally we are witnessing killings and extortion, which clearly are indicators of a high level of fear and threat.” Many workers are being “ruled with cruelty by people without heart or soul,” Cenni says.
The 2012 U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China report gave an account of the Chinese regime’s steps, or lack thereof, toward stemming the human trafficking problem and upholding the human rights of its workers.
“China remains a country of origin, transit, and destination for the trafficking of men, women, and children,” reads the report. “The Chinese government acceded to the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol) in December 2009; however, Chinese domestic legislation still does not fully conform with the UN TIP Protocol.”
Wages and working conditions in China across a variety of industries incite continued demonstrations. The report also states that promises made by the Chinese Communist Party toward ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) have not materialized.
The report cites “unspecified ‘administrative and judicial reforms’ to prepare for approval of the ICCPR at an unspecified future date—an even vaguer formulation of a similar claim made in the government’s 2009–2010 action plan.”
Cenni says the Chinese regime must realize how to “behave with the outside in an appropriate way,” and “It must be conscious of what are the fundamental directions of the world.”
With so many operating illegally in Prato’s Chinese district, he says it becomes difficult for Chinese immigrants to run legal operations there; the illegal operations easily undercut the legal ones in pricing.
The mayor discussed his challenges, including wanting to provide health care and education to the immigrants, but being unable to manage an illegal population on an official level.
“It is necessary that laws are respected,” Cenni says, “If not, in the end, it transforms like a tumor that little by little eats the whole.”
The immigration wave was originally viewed as an opportunity for the city to grow. If the illegal practices could be reined in, Cenni says, it could still be a boon to the area.
“[With the] proficiency in the manufacture of clothing, it really could be a great opportunity to become the district of fast fashion of all of Europe. It is a shame that it cannot be because, unfortunately, it remains in this state of illegality.”
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 21 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.