Camorra and the decay of Naples

In Napoli, particularly the eastern districts, one can see the effects of petty crime and gentrification up close. The virus of the Neapolitan Camorra remains strong and their influence is felt throughout much of the city’s impoverished areas. Most alarmingly, where the European government views the influx of refugees in the past year as a crisis, it appears the Camorra is viewing them as an exploitable source of cheap labour…

Organised crime is a two century-old phenomenon of Italian society that has spread its influence into the country’s culture and economy. Described by experts as akin to a disease, criminal gangs have all but infiltrated Italian civil society.

The Camorra, based primarily in Naples and the Campania region stands out from the rest of the crime groups in Italy by virtue of not having advanced much in the past two centuries. Where groups such as the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta have wormed their way into national and international power structures, the Camorra are still very much an organised coalition of city street gangs, dealing in rackets such as drug trafficking, counterfeiting and prostitution.

Salerno University researcher and Camorra expert Professor Marcello Ravveduto says urban petty crime in Naples has grown around the Camorra since the early 19th century.

“Certainly compared to the other mafia, Neapolitan Camorra has direct control of the road petty crime,” Professor Ravveduto said.

“After almost two centuries, it is still configured as a visible organization that makes the control of the territory a fundamental characteristic to breed new criminals, who by petty crime may go to the service of the clan of the Camorra.”

One can see their impact most visibly in the central Garibaldi plaza, where street vendors push stolen goods, hustlers set up rigged shell games and women of the night can be found offering their services on street corners. The proximity to the central train station leads to a lot of tourists passing through the area, easy pray for scalpers and pickpockets.

In a public threat report published by Europol in 2013, the Camorra was described as being the most violent and anarchic of the crime gangs. They are a big part of why Naples is considered one of the worst places to visit in Italy. The city’s garbage problems, poverty and high crime rates can all be linked back to them. The Camorra profits from the dumping of toxic waste, and exploit the city’s growing bottom rung of migrants.

A 2015 Crime and Safety Report by the US State Department cited a growing number of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Although the report is meant to advise American visitors, tourists have little to fear in Naples provided they stay aware and keep their belongings safe. The real issue is where these supposedly increasing crimes committed by “illegal immigrants” are coming from, and it is here where we can see the influence of the Camorra.

According to Professor Ravveduto, the groups most at risk from coming to Naples are the ones who arrive in need of work or money.

“Migrants and refugees can fall into the trap of being exploited as illegal workers in productive enterprises and services controlled by the Camorra,” he said.

“Despite the Camorra having a long tradition of smuggling goods, they are currently not involved in illegal immigration cases. However, the Camorra is interested in human trafficking especially with regard to the prostitution of young girls from Central Africa.”

To those living in poverty, unable to get work or integrate with the community they have found themselves in, selling ones soul to organised crime may seem like a tempting offer. But not all get given a choice.

In 2011, investigative reporter Juliana Ruhfus released a documentary exposing the trafficking of Nigerian girls in the region under the control of the Camorra. With over 59’000 refugees coming into Italy in the past year, many of whom would be likely to pass through the south and Campania to reach Rome or travel further inland, that leaves plenty newcomers for the Camorra to exploit.

The mafia is a confronting part of the Italian identity that many still have trouble facing. The government’s antimafia commission has become more open about its goal to expose the collusion between organised crime and Italian businesses. Despite the clearly visible decay brought on by organised crime, best emphasised by the Camorra’s impact on Naples, many Italians will argue that there is more to Italian culture than crime.