‘Sick of hiding’: the refugee family fleeing the mafia and Canadian authorities

An Italian family hoped to find safe haven in Canada from organized crime. Now theyre facing deportation

After Alessandra Demitri meets someone for the first time, she quickly notes down which of her three wigs she was wearing, and which false name she used.

Her husband, Fabrizio, does the same, recording when and where he has employed a rotating selection of beards and moustaches, piercings, and fake tattoos.

The precautions they take are not to protect them from Sacra Corona Unita, the powerful Italian crime syndicate whose threats forced them to leave Italy.

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Instead, the disguises are to help the Demitris hide from authorities in Canada the very country they hoped would provide them a safe haven.

Alessandra, who has several family members in the mafia, and Fabrizio, an exposed police informant, fled Italy in 2013 with their two sons, after the couple ran afoul of the mob.

Hoping to find safety in Canada, they have instead found a nightmare: Canadian authorities have ordered their deportation, despite the threat they still face in Italy.

After exhausting all legal avenues, the Demitris now rarely venture out of their Toronto home, but after a year underground, the couple have decided to go public with their story.

Im sick of hiding, said Alessandra, who wore a platinum blonde wig to an interview with the Guardian. We cant do this any more to our kids.

The couples troubles began a decade ago in Puglia, where Alessandras family was part of Sacra Corona Unita a notorious mob faction first established in 1981.

Despite her family ties, Alessandra distanced herself from the organization as a young woman.

Q&A

What is the Sacra Corona Unita

Puglia’s Sacra Corona Unita (United Holy Crown, SCU) is one of Italy’s four main Italian mafia factions, after the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Camorra of Campania and Calabria’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta.

According to experts, the group was founded by Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo in 1981 in order to expand his criminal activities into Puglia.

Initially known as the New Great Puglian Camorra, the group kept a much lower profile than the country’s other organised-crime groups, but it gained notoriety in 2014 after SCU gunmen killed a rival, his wife and two-year old son.

The group currently consists of about 50 clans with approximately 2,000 members.

Although it has attracted less coverage than other mafia factions, the SCU is growing steadily more powerful, according to a recent report by the Italian police’s Anti-Mafia Investigation Department (DIA).

The report describes the Sacra Corona Unita as being “in excellent health” and ready to get its hands on the most profitable sectors of the economy as well as continue to manage drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering, especially in the Brindisi area.

In October 2009, she met Fabrizio, a local electrician. It wasnt until the two were married, with a second child on the way, that she discovered the true nature of his work: he was an undercover informant for the Italian police, tasked with infiltrating a local security company that authorities believed was working with the mafia.

But covert operations can be particularly dangerous in Italy, where separate security agencies share little information. Informants are rarely recorded on official documents, so once the work is completed, it can be difficult for them to receive protection or economic aid.

In 2012, Fabrizios lone handler was abruptly transferred, leaving Fabrizio without any way of communicating with police. A manager in the company blew his cover and co-workers began harassing him.

Im
Im sick of hiding, Alessandra Demitri told the Guardian. She and her family are set to be deported back to Italy, where they fear reprisals from the mafia. Photograph: Leyland Cecco

I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, said Fabrizio. I should never have agreed to this operation.

At the time same time as Fabrizio was threatened, a cousin of Alessandra turned states witness. Mob enforcers began to hound the family, under the false impression she knew where the cousin was hiding.

Unfamiliar cars parked near their home in a small Puglia town. Their son was assaulted by another student whose father was in prison. The family dog was poisoned.

They fled home, sleeping in their car for days on end, before eventually settling in a small village in northern Italy, nearly 1,000km from Puglia in the south.

One summer day, however, they were approached by a man responding to a classified advertisement for their car. The purported buyer looked them in the eye and said: I come from the heart of Mesagne a clear reference the town where the Sacra Corona Unita is based.

Fearing for their lives, they sold their possessions and bought plane tickets to the safest country they could think of: Canada.

On 18 September 2013, Fabrizio, Alessandra, their two young sons and a surviving golden retriever landed in Toronto.

They filed an asylum claim and Fabrizio was soon granted a work permit. He found a job and the children started school. The couple even planned to expand their family.

But their initial happiness soon faded; in August 2014 fifteen days before Alessandra gave birth to their third child their asylum application was rejected.

While the refugee board did not doubt any of the claims made by the family, the Canadian adjudicator concluded the family did not face serious risk if they returned to Italy.

States are not required to provide perfect protection to all citizens at all times. This is impossible. There are failures of state protection in countries such as Canada, wrote the adjudicator. The claimants have failed to rebut the presumption of state protection in Italy.

The familys lawyer Rocco Galati disagrees, citing a Canadian legal precedent that claimants only need to have a well-founded fear of persecution and that the state be either unwilling or unable to offer protection.

Italy cannot protect high ranking judges who get blown up by organized crime. Italy cannot protect anyone including itself, said Galati.

According to Italys interior ministry, more than 6,200 informants and their family members are currently under witness protection in Italy.

But Italian authorities have often been accused of neglecting informants some of whom have been forced to live in homeless shelters instead of safe houses.

When the police have what they needed, they abandon them, said Ignazio Cutr, a former police informant.

Cutr and his family have received numerous threats including torched cars and bullets in the mail since he decided to work with detectives. Last year, however, the familys protection was revoked. I have sacrificed my life to fight the mafia and Im now a dead man walking.

Last month, Italys deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini announced the interior ministry would review spending on protection, declaring some people have been under police escort for too long.

The Demitris story is, unfortunately, very common in Italy. Italy needs state witnesses but it is no longer able to protect them, said Piera Aiello, a parliamentarian and member of the national anti mafia commission.

Aiello was put in witness protection following the murder of her husband, the son of a Sicilian mafia Godfather and ran for office anonymously before revealing her identity in a Guardian interview last year. There are people who have been literally abandoned by the state. They live like prisoners, while mobsters are still at large.

Unlike many asylum seekers, the Demetri family was able to show extensive documentation to support their case. This is the most compelling refugee case that Ive ever seen in 30 years, said Galati.

Fabrizio
Fabrizio Demitri worked for nearly a decade as a civilian informant for the police. He and his family are set to be deported back to Italy, where they fear reprisals from the mafia. Photograph: Leyland Cecco

But Canadian authorities rejected the Demetri familys application on the grounds that Italy had made significant strides in tackling organized crime, calling protections offered to informants adequate.

Soon afterwards, deportation orders were issued; by this time, Alessandra had given birth to another boy.

After narrowly missing an encounter with immigration authorities who visited their home and questioned neighbours, Alessandra and Fabrizio quickly packed up their belongings, pulled their older children from school, and went into hiding.

The couple is aware that at any moment, they could be caught and sent back to Italy likely without two of their two Canadian-born youngest children. The other two, now teenagers, suffer post traumatic stress disorder, a psychiatrist found, the result of sustained fear and uncertainty.

Rather than allow their family to be broken up, Alessandra and Fabrizio have pre-emptively drafted up power-of-attorney granting two Canadian friends guardianship over all four of their children.

You cant put your kids again through that hell, said Alessandra between sobs.

Barring a last-minute intervention by Canadas minister of immigration who did not respond to a request for comment on the case the family fear they are out of options.

After fleeing Italy to protect their children, Alessandra and Fabrizio are now steeling themselves for a life without them.

As parents, we have to do the best for the kids, she said. Theres nothing that we love more than our children.

The Demitris names have been changed to protect their identities

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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