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Why Romanian migrant women suffer from ‘Italy syndrome’ | Romania

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Iasi, Romania and Rome, Italy – In a small room at the Socola Psychiatric Institute in Iasi, the biggest psychiatric facility in Romania, Ana* looks down. She has a strong voice but struggles to make eye contact. 

A former patient, she was diagnosed with depression. Doctors said she had a case of “Italy syndrome”, a term used in the Eastern European country for the mental health problems acquired after working as a caregiver in Italy. 

“I was very afraid to take the stairs,” said 49-year-old Ana, who left Romania for Italy in 2003. “When I had to cross the street, I was afraid, and I asked: ‘please, can you help me?’

“It was this fear of going out alone.”

It was initially difficult to decide whether to leave her children – one of her sons was just two years old when she migrated – but it was the only way to make money.

The children were raised by their father on the money Ana sent working as a “badante”, the Italian word used for women taking care of the elderly.

“I was 58kg,” she said. “After two months, I was 48.”

One employer, a 94-year-old woman, “talked badly” to her. 

“I couldn’t sleep during the night. It was hard work, but I didn’t say anything,” Ana said.

Because she was alone in Italy, she didn’t go anywhere in her few free hours.

In Romania, her husband wasted the money she was sending. So later, Ana decided to hand financial responsibility to her sister. In 2012, she divorced. And 15 years after leaving Romania, she returned, unable to stand life in Italy any longer.

On TV, she saw a report about Italy syndrome, recognised the symptoms and went to see a doctor.





Ana worked in Italy for 15 years and returned to Romania with depression [Romina Vinci/Al Jazeera]

“Italy syndrome is a socio-medical phenomenon,” said Andreea Nester, a psychiatrist at Socola hospital. “Most of the time, it is a form of depression that is characterised by anxiety, apathy, psychic and physical asthenia, with inattentive states, associated insomnia, and a profoundly sad disposition, etched by a feeling of alienation.” 

She explained that there are several leading factors.

“It is the genetic vulnerability of every person who emigrates … worsened by living in a new country with other cultures, with other traditions, not knowing the language.” 

Cozmin Mihai, a psychiatrist at Socola, estimates that out of 3,000 depression patients a year, about 150 or five percent have Italy syndrome.

“Italy syndrome is not a scientifically recognised diagnosis,” said Donatella Cozzi, a researcher at Udine University, who visited the eastern Romanian city of Iasi to study the phenomenon. “The term was invented by two Ukrainian psychiatrists in 2005. It is composed by physical and psychological stress.”

According to a United Nations report, between 2007 and 2017, around 3.4 million Romanians left the country, representing 17 percent of the population – the second highest migration rate after war-torn Syria. 

Tania Carnuta has worked in Italy since 2006.

A mother of four, Carnuta’s husband recently decided to divorce her, after 30 years of marriage. 

“Italy syndrome starts at home,” she said. “They start to look at you like you are an ATM, a cash machine.

“You are stressed out here from work and you call home to calm yourself, to talk about your sorrow. But the ones at home don’t understand you.”





Tania Carnuta said her relatives at home failed to empathise with her situation in Italy [Romina Vinci/Al Jazeera]

In Italy, Carnuta’s relationship with her employer deteriorated when she started to demand her rights: a contract, holiday, money for food, a promised bonus.

“Three years I worked with the contract, the rest I worked illegally. The Italian state allows this, no checks are made,” she told Al Jazeera. “We can’t denounce them, complain, because we are automatically threatened that we are fired.

“You have to shut up and bear absolutely everything they say.”

This year, Carnuta was fired by her employer of more than 12 years. 

“I never thought I’d have this Italy syndrome until I left this job,” she said.

According to her contract, she was to work 40 hours a week. However, she says this was not respected because she was living with her employer.

Claudio Piccinini, a coordinator for INCA-CGIL, an advice centre for one of the biggest unions in Italy, said that, according to Italian Institute of Social Security (INPS), there are 800,000 people working as “badante” in Italy with a legal contract.

The demand for their services is high in a country with 13.4 million elderly people and ranked by the UN the third globally in terms of life expectancy. 

“There is a lack of flexibility in this type of work, there are no forms such as part-time,” said Piccinini. 

“There is a misinterpretation of vitto e alloggio (living with employers) – it means that the family provides the worker with food and accommodation. The worker can theoretically get out all night; their working hours must be respected,” said Maddalena D’Aprile, a recruiter in Rome.

From her experience, D’Aprile said the abuse takes place on both parts. 

“From the families’ side, there is very often this tendency to abuse the workers, to ask him too much, not to provide him with adequate housing, often not to give enough food. From the workers’ side, we have also heard terrible things, people who gave tranquillisers to the elderly to keep them calm.”

In Rome, the Saint Panteleimon Church is a Romanian oasis where women gather on days off to socialise, to seek advice, and to speak their native language.

“We are like a family here,” said Doina Matei, who moved to Italy 12 years ago. 

After struggling financially in Romania, she migrated to Italy to fund her daughters’ university fees.

“He was yelling, talking badly with me,” she said, describing one of her employers with drinking problems. 





Doina Matei was treated unfairly by an employer in Italy, where she has lived for 12 years [Romina Vinci/Al Jazeera]

At another job, Matei said: “For four months, she kept me in a corner where she said the pavement was not shining. Every day, she sent me in that corner, nothing could have been done, but I was doing what she was telling me.”

Her friend, Maria Gradinariu, followed her son to Italy, having had various jobs in Romania.

“In 16 years, I lost my mother, husband, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brothers, and we were never there with them,” she said.

“I came here to find a bit better life. We found only work, work and work again.

“We feel [Italy syndrome] because we are not free when we want, we are free as badante only Thursday afternoon and Sunday all day, but if they need us and we need money, then we stay.”

Back in Iasi, Ana now works in sales and hopes to avoid the symptoms that she faced in 2010. 

“I talked to my doctor today, now I’m courageous,” she said. “I’m not letting myself down.”

* Name changed to protect her identity.





Maria Gradinariu said several of her family members have passed away while she worked in Italy [Romina Vinci/Al Jazeera]

This report was supported by Reporters in the Field, a programme of the Robert Bosch Foundation, together with the media NGO, n-ost.

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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