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The “Other” at Home: Deportation and Transportation of Libyans to Italy During the Colonial Era (1911–1943)

  • Francesca Di Pasquale (a1)
Abstract

This article analyses the practices of deportation and transportation of colonial subjects from Libya, Italy’s former possession, to the metropole throughout the entire colonial period (1911–1943). For the most part, the other colonial powers did not transport colonial subjects to Europe. Analysing the history of the punitive relocations of Libyans, this article addresses the ways in which the Italian case may be considered peculiar. It highlights the overlapping of the penal system and military practices and emphasizes the difficult dialogue between “centre” and “periphery” concerning security issues inside the colony. Finally, it focuses on the experience of the Libyans in Italy and shows how the presence there of colonial subjects in some respects overturned the “colonial situation”, undermining the relationship of power between Italians and North Africans.

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The research for this article is part of the project “Four Centuries of Labour Camps: War, Rehabilitation, Ethnicity”, directed by the International Institute of Social History (IISH) and the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD), and funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

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1 Libya was then constituted by the Turkish-Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

2 Regarding the first month of the Italian occupation of Libya and the Shara al-Shatt revolt, see Del Boca, Angelo, Gli italiani in Libia, 2 vols (Milan, 2013), I, pp. 96136 .

3 Telegram from Giolitti to Caneva, Commander-in-Chief in Tripoli, 24 October 1911, in Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Rome [hereafter, ACS], Carte Giolitti, folder 22, file 57.

4 Labanca, Nicola, La guerra italiana per la Libia (1911–1931) (Bologna, 2012), p. 70 .

5 For a general overview of Italian colonialism, see idem, Oltremare. Storia dell’espansione coloniale italiana (Bologna, 2002).

6 The deportees came from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Arab jazira, and also from Greece, as part of the Ottoman Empire. See Lenci, Marco, “Prove di repressione. Deportati eritrei in Italia (1886–1893)”, Africa, 1 (2003), pp. 1–34, 78 .

7 Borruso, Paolo, L’Africa al confino. La deportazione etiopica in Italia (1937–39) (Manduria, 2003).

8 For the general framework of penal transportation in Western empires, see Anderson, Clare and Maxwell-Stewart, Hamish, “Convict Labour and the Western Empires, 1415–1954”, in R. Aldrich and K. McKenzie (eds), The Routledge History of Western Empires (London [etc.], 2014), pp. 102117 . For two of the most important historical instances of penal transportation, British India and French Guiana, see Anderson, Clare, “Sepoys, Servants and Settlers: Convict Transportation in the Indian Ocean, 1787–1945”, in F. Dikötter and I. Brown (eds), Cultures of Confinement: A History of the Prison in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (New York, 2007), pp. 185220 ; Donet-Vincent, Danielle, De soleil et de silences. Histoire des bagnes de Guyane (Paris, 2003); Pierre, Michel, Bagnards. La terre de la grand punition, Cayenne 1852–1953 (Paris, 2000); Redfield, Peter, Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana (Berkeley, CA [etc.], 2000).

9 Sylvie Thénault, L’Algérie, une colonie aux marges de l’archipel punitif, available at http://convictvoyages.org/expert-essays/lalgerie; last accessed 19 January 2018.

10 Since they were connected with the political appraisal by the colonial authorities, transportations and deportations had an undetermined duration.

11 Bernini, Simone, “Documenti sulla repressione italiana in Libia agli inizi della colonizzazione (1911–1918)”, in Nicola Labanca (ed.), Un nodo. Immagini e documenti sulla repressione coloniale italiana in Libia (Manduria, 2002), p. 141 .

12 The same pattern also characterized Italy’s native policy in Eritrea. See Morone, Antonio M., “Istituzioni, fra assimilazione e amministrazione indiretta”, in Gian Paolo Calchi Novati (ed.), Il colonialismo italiano e l’Africa (Rome, 2011), pp. 213235 ; and Rosoni, Isabella, La colonia eritrea. La prima amministrazione coloniale italiana (1880–1912) (Macerata, 2006).

13 “Libyan Studies Centre” is the name with which the Libyan Jehad Centre for Historical Studies was known abroad. It was founded in 1978 to foster studies on Libyan history and in particular on the Libyan resistance (jihad in Arabic) to the Italian colonizer (see the Centre’s website (in Arabic) at http://libsc.org.ly/mrkaz/; last accessed 19 January 2018). Between 2001 and 2005, the Libyan Centre and the Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (Italian Institute for Africa and the East) directed a research project focused mainly on the Libyan deportees in Italy during the colonial era.

14 Libyan Jehad Centre for Historical Studies, Information Bulletin No. 1 (undated, but probably 1990s). Nicola Labanca also reports the same figure. See Labanca, La guerra italiana per la Libia, p. 71.

15 Missori, Mario, “Una ricerca sui deportati libici nelle carte dell’Archivio centrale dello Stato”, in Fonti e problemi della Politica Coloniale italiana, Atti del convegno, Taormina-Messina, 23–29 ottobre 1989 , 2 vols (Rome, 1996), I, pp. 253258 .

16 These figures do not include about 5,000 Libyans transferred to two Sicilian villages, Floridia and Canicattini Bagni (Syracuse) in 1915. We will discuss this group of Libyans later.

17 Giolitti’s concern emerges clearly from the first telegrams he sent to Caneva after the Shara al-Shatt revolt. In particular, Giolitti asked for precise news about what happened and the number of deaths, in order to avoid the “discredit” of Italy, both within and outside the country. See ACS, Carte Giolitti, folder 22, file 57, telegrams from Giolitti to Caneva, 24 and 29 October 1911.

18 See Tùccari, Luigi, I governi militari della Libia (1911–1919) (Rome, 1994), p. 264 .

19 Because of the lack of lists of subjects who left Libya, it is not possible to indicate the number of women and minors deported to Italy.

20 One of the distinctive features of Italian colonial history was the colonial government’s far-reaching autonomy from the central government in Rome. See Labanca, Nicola, “L’internamento coloniale italiano”, in Costantino Di Sante (ed.), I campi di concentramento in Italia. Dall’internamento alla deportazione (1940–1945) (Milan, 2001), pp. 40–67, 47.

21 See the correspondence between Bertolini, Minister of the Colonies, and the governors of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in ACS, Ministero dell’interno, Direzione generale della pubblica sicurezza, Divisione di polizia giudiziaria, 1913–1915, published in Sury, Salaheddin Hasan and Malgeri, Giampaolo (eds), Gli esiliati libici nel periodo coloniale (1911–1916). Raccolta documentaria (Rome, 2005), pp. 5051 .

22 Ravizza, Adalgiso, La Libia nel suo ordinamento giuridico (Padua, 1931), p. 236 .

23 D’Amelio, Mariano, “Di alcuni caratteri della legislazione penale in Libia”, Scuola Positiva, 1–2 (1914), p. 20 . The first agricultural penitentiary colonies were established in Libya in 1915, when some convicts were sent to the experimental field in Sidi Mesri, in the neighbourhood of Tripoli. Later, in 1923, the penal colony in Sghedeida, twelve kilometres from Tripoli, was founded. Two other colonies in Cyrenaica, in Coefia and Berka, were established in 1919 and 1923 respectively. See Ravizza, La Libia nel suo ordinamento giuridico, pp. 240–246. Adalgiso Ravizza and Mariano D’Amelio were prominent jurists who were designated judges in Libya and in Eritrea.

24 Telegram from the Ministry of the Colonies to the Governor of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, 31 October 1915, in Archivio storico diplomatico del Ministero affari esteri, Archivio storico del Ministero dell’Africa Italiana [hereafter ASDMAE, ASMAI], folder 112/2, quoted in Bernini, “Documenti sulla repressione italiana in Libia”, pp. 142–143.

25 Ibid., p. 150.

26 The reports on this issue do not specify to which type of facility (penitentiary, penal colony, or other) those subjects would be transferred.

27 In Italian: “è anche più pericoloso che in colonia la deportazione sia rappresentata come una tratta di schiavi per la lavorazione delle terre in Italia”. Quote from the telegram from the Ministry of Agriculture to the General Direction for Public Security, 6 June 1915, in ACS, Ministero dell’interno, Direzione generale della pubblica sicurezza, Divisione polizia giudiziaria [hereafter MI, DGPS, DPG], 1913–1915, folder 69, in Sury and Malgeri, Gli esiliati libici nel periodo coloniale (1911–1916), p. 30.

28 In Italian: “nella popolazione indigena risentimento alcuno contro il Governo”. Letter from the Governor of Tripolitania, Tassoni, to the Ministry of the Colonies, Tripoli, 28 June 1915, in ibid., p. 32.

29 Tùccari, I governi militari della Libia, p. 265.

30 Colonial powers used the term askaris to refer to those African soldiers who fought in their armies in Africa. The Libyan askaris were transferred to Floridia and Canicattini Bagni after they had started to defect in Tripolitania. See Del Boca, Gli italiani in Libia, I, pp. 300–301. Concerning the deportation of Libyans in Sicily, see Pasquale, Francesca Di, “I deportati libici in Sicilia (1911–1933)”, in Carla Ghezzi and Salaheddin Hasan Sury (eds), Terzo convegno sugli esiliati libici nel periodo coloniale (Rome, 2005), pp. 137147 .

31 See the following records: the report by G. Girardi entitled Sulle condizioni degli Stabilimenti carcerari al 30 giugno 1916 e sul lavoro dei detenuti, in ACS, Ministero della giustizia, Direzione generale degli istituti di prevenzione e di pena, Studi per la riforma penitenziaria, folder 1, file 3 and Prospetto degli stabilimenti penali al 9 febbraio 1915, in ibid., folder 2, file 6. Further data regarding the transfer of “lunatics” to Italy during World War I can be found in Archivio di Stato di Siracusa, Prefettura, 1916–1917, folder 2332, file “Ministero delle Colonie, trasporto dementi arabi. Esercizio 1916–17”. As in the majority of other colonial contexts, in Libya the concept of mental illness was closely connected to the cultural parameters of the colonizers and, more specifically, to the necessity of building a society based on the clear racial separation between “black” and “whites”.

32 Cyrenaica was de facto governed by the Senussi brotherhood, the religious and political organization leading the resistance movement against the colonizer.

33 On the camps in Libya see Labanca, , “L’internamento coloniale italiano”; Gustavo Ottolenghi (ed.), Gli italiani e il colonialismo. I campi di detenzione italiani in Africa (Milan, 1997); and Rochat, Giorgio, Le guerre italiane in Libia e in Etiopia dal 1896 al 1939 (Udine, 2009).

34 The zawia were the political, economic, and social centres constituting the Senussi brotherhood’s network in Cyrenaica.

35 These rules were approved by Royal Decree, 8 May 1927, n. 884. See, in particular, articles 181–186. On this topic, see also Ravizza, La Libia nel suo ordinamento giuridico, pp. 106–107.

36 In Italian “ammoniti o che abbiano commesso o manifestato il deliberato proposito di commettere atti diretti a sovvertire”.

37 Tùccari, I governi militari della Libia, p. 264.

38 Fozzi, Daniela, “Una ‘specialità italiana’. Le colonie coatte nel Regno d’Italia”, in Mario Da Passano (ed.), Le colonie penali nell’Europa dell’Ottocento (Rome, 2004), pp. 215290 .

39 See, among others, Dickie, John, Darkest Italy: The Nation and Stereotypes of the Mezzogiorno, 1860–1900 (New York, 1999); Patriarca, Silvana, Italianità. La costruzione del carattere nazionale (Rome and Bari, 2010); Schneider, Jane (ed.), Italy’s “Southern Question”: Orientalism in One Country (Oxford and New York, 1998).

40 Di Pasquale, “I deportati libici in Sicilia (1911–1933)”, p. 142.

41 On the Sardinian penal colonies, see Mele, Franca, “L’Asinara e le colonie penali in Sardegna. Un’isola penitenziaria?”, in Da Passano, Le colonie penali nell’Europa dell’Ottocento, pp. 189212 ; Gazale, Vittorio and Tedde, Stefano A. (eds), Le carte liberate. Viaggio negli archivi e nei luoghi delle colonie penali della Sardegna (Sassari, 2016).

42 See Prospetto degli stabilimenti penali al 9 febbraio 1915, in folder 2, file 6 in ACS, Ministero della giustizia, Direzione generale degli istituti di prevenzione e di pena, Studi per la riforma penitenziaria and Archivio di Stato di Siracusa, Prefettura, 1916–1917, folder 2332, file “Ministero delle Colonie, trasporto dementi arabi. Esercizio 1916–17”.

43 Lucia Re notes that the Libyan war fostered the unification of Italians by displacing racism from inside to outside the body of the nation and its people. See Re, Lucia, “Italians and the Invention of Race: The Poetics and Politics of Difference in the Struggle over Libya, 1890–1913”, California Italian Studies, 1:1 (2010), pp. 1–58, 6.

44 Tùccari, I governi militari della Libia, p. 265. See also telegram from police headquarters in Palermo to the Prefect in Palermo, 7 January 1912, in Archivio di Stato di Palermo (hereafter ASPa), Prefettura, Gabinetto, folder 14.

45 Di Pasquale, Francesca, “I libici nella colonia penale di Ustica (1911–1912)”, in Sulpizi and Sury, Primo convegno su gli esiliati libici nel periodo coloniale, pp. 115–123, 121122 .

46 Ibid., pp. 118–119.

47 In Italian “esseri nauseabondi ed infestati da mille malattie infettive”; “la razza considerata veicolo di infezione”; “devono essere esclusi dal numero dei rifugi per esseri umani”. Quotes from a letter by a group of Ustica citizens sent to the Prefect in Palermo, 29 November 1911, in ASPa, Prefettura, folder 458.

48 On the death rate in Ustica see ibid., p. 117; for the Tremiti islands see Claudio Moffa, “I deportati libici alle Tremiti dopo la rivolta di Sciara Sciatt”, in Fonti e problemi della politica coloniale italiana, pp. 258–286.

49 See the letter from the Mayor in Ustica, Bonura, sent to the Prefect in Palermo, 9 June 1915, in ASPa, Prefettura, Archivio Generale, folder 205.

50 In November 1911, the government prohibited journalists from visiting the Libyan deportees in the Italian penal colonies. With regard to Ustica, see the telegram from the Ministry of Interior to the Prefect of Palermo, 2 November 1911, in ASPa, Prefettura, Gabinetto, folder 12.

51 See, for example, the article by Marino, entitled “Gli arabi prigionieri s’adattano al nuovo regime”, published in Giornale di Sicilia, 7 November 1911.

52 In Italian: “istupiditi”; “apatici, con gli occhi imbambolati”; “il loro atteggiamento è dell’ebete”, in Paolo Valera, “‘Stazione sanitaria’. Gli arabi espulsi dal loro paese”, Avanti!, 15 January 1912, published in Sury and Malgeri, Gli esiliati libici nel periodo coloniale (1911–1916), p. 45.

53 In Italian: “Anche qui le donne arrivate e scortate dai questurini e dai carabinieri sono in maggioranza brutte. Fra una cinquantina non si sono vedute che tre o quattro giovanette di una vera bellezza greca e sana. Una fra tutte ha sollevato l’ammirazione: bionda, diafana, con gli occhioni pieni di faville e una bocca fatta per i baci”, in ibid.

54 For a general overview of this topic, see Cooper, Frederick and Stoler, Ann L. (eds), Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley, CA, 1997).

55 D’Amelio, “Di alcuni caratteri della legislazione penale in Libia”, p. 21.

56 See Gibson, Mary, Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology (London, 2002), p. 148 .

57 Mirabella, Emanuele, I caratteri antropologici dei Libici in rapporto ai normali ed ai delinquenti italiani (Rome, 1915).

58 Bernini, “Documenti sulla repressione italiana in Libia”, pp. 153–157.

59 Prospetto degli stabilimenti penali al 9 febbraio 1915, in folder 2, file 6 in ACS, Ministero della giustizia, Direzione generale degli istituti di prevenzione e di pena, Studi per la riforma penitenziaria and Archivio di Stato di Siracusa, Prefettura, 1916–1917, folder 2332, file “Ministero delle Colonie, trasporto dementi arabi. Esercizio 1916–17”. Marianna Scarfone has analysed the history of the “lunatics” transferred to the Psychiatric Hospital in Palermo in the 1930s: “La psichiatria coloniale italiana. Teorie, pratiche, protagonisti, istituzioni 1906–1952” (Ph.D., Ca’ Foscari University, 2014), pp. 311–332.

60 Ibid., p. 237.

61 During World War I, there was an exchange of letters among the deportees in Italy. They exchanged information, both personal and about their relatives; they reported on the treatment received in the penal colonies or in prison; and they gave instructions regarding their property or affairs in Libya. See Nisticò, Luciano, “Relegati libici in Italia. Un aspetto poco noto della conquista coloniale”, Islàm Storia e Civiltà, 4 (1989), pp. 275285 .

62 See the personal file of Mohamed ben Mohamed Behera in Archivio storico dell’Ospedale psichiatrico giudiziario di Aversa, Aversa (Caserta).

63 Stoler, Ann L., Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley, CA [etc.], 2010).

64 Balandier, Georges, “La situation Colonial: Approche Théorique”, Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie, 11 (1951), pp. 4479 .

65 Bernini, “Documenti sulla repressione italiana in Libia”, pp. 154–155.

66 Eleonora Insalaco, “Confino politico nell’isola di Ustica di trentuno capi zavia e del senusso Hassan er-Reda es-Senussi dal settembre 1930”, in Sulpizi and Sury, Secondo convegno su gli esiliati libici nel periodo coloniale, p. 124.

67 Ibid., pp. 125–126.

68 Bernini, “Documenti sulla repressione italiana in Libia”, p. 123.

69 Anderson and Maxwell-Stewart, “Convict Labour and the Western Empires, 1415–1954”, p. 218.

70 Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, “Connected Histories: Notes Towards a Reconfiguration of Early Modern Eurasia”, Modern Asian Studies, 31:3 (1997), pp. 735762, 760 . On this topic, see also Lester, Alan, “Imperial Circuits and Networks: Geographies of the British Empire”, History Compass, 4:1 (2006), pp. 124141 .

* The research for this article is part of the project “Four Centuries of Labour Camps: War, Rehabilitation, Ethnicity”, directed by the International Institute of Social History (IISH) and the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD), and funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

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