From: Carloalberto Rossi
The Tragedy of Marcinelle, A Day to Remember Immigrants

During these days, people commemorate the anniversary of the Marcinelle tragedy, when in 1946 many Italian immigrants sent by the government to work as miners in Belgium lost their lives.

An accident caused fire inside the mine 1,000 meters underground, making it impossible to provide first aid and the necessary air in the parts not yet affected by the flames. At that moment there were 275 people working inside the mine, and only 13 of them were saved. The other dead bodies were pulled out after two weeks. Of them, 136 were Italians.

In 2001, the accident that happened in Marcinelle was called “The National Day of Italian Worker’s Sacrifice around the World,” so, the day of the immigrants, even though, unfortunately, Italians around the world have never celebrated this day.

Like with any other event, Italian politics used this painful incident engraved in the memory of the Italian people to speak about current issues and discussions sparked immediately after what was said by the President of the Republic Mattarella and the President of the Assembly Boldrini; like the immigrants that come to Italy today, many Italians in the past have put their lives at risk while searching for a better future abroad. The head of Lega Nord Party, Slavini, reacted immediately deeming the comparison of the dead immigrants of Marcinelle with the refugees coming today to Italy rather insulting.

No one commented on the less acceptable aspect, however, that stands at the core of July 1946 accident, and that is that the Italian government lost the Second World War, and since it needed coal, it signed an agreement with the Belgian government to exchange of coal for Italian miners.

Right across the border with Italy, the functionaries of the Belgian mines received in Switzerland two thousand immigration candidates. They had medical reviews and were recruited, mounted in trains and transported to Belgium, where they found much worse logistical conditions than the ones promised by the propaganda of the Italian government; they were first lured and then abandoned in muddy shacks.

From today’s viewpoint it seems surreal that in order to get coal the Italian government promised “to send” many Italian workers to Belgium and left them in the care and protection of Belgian institutions and companies. Included in the agreement was the request to employ, at the Belgian mine’s expense, a certain number of people appointed by the Italian government who would supervise the miners’ behavior. These supervisors were paid a manager’s wage.

The Italian Republic, which was declared only three weeks after the cessation of war, sold the poor people for coal, not forgetting to create opportunities for its privileged.

There were more than 60 thousand Italian youngsters who left to Belgium with their families, 136 of them tragically lost their lives, and many never returned.

We, immigrants, cannot spare a thought about these facts without at the same time recognizing that also in the Italian community in Albania there are people who died far away from home to mourn and to remember, and even more who Albanians who welcome them.