PALERMO, Italy — In recent years, Europe’s refugee crisis has hit the Italian island of Sicily particularly hard. In Sicily’s capital city of Palermo — famous for its Baroque and Art Nouveau monuments, markets, gardens, sunny beaches, and theaters — thousands of asylum-seekers are currently living in encampments. Filthy and overcrowded, many of these refugee camps are effectively uninhabitable, lacking even basic necessities; maintenance and supplies are outsourced to local crime networks, known as La Cosa Nostra.

Making matters worse, most refugees in Italy are unable to obtain work permits, so many of them end up working illegally in agriculture, or as petty drug pushers, pimps, or prostitutes in piazzas and urban train stations. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that even prior to dealing with Italy’s corrupt immigration officials, most refugees have already endured significant traumas in their homelands and on their perilous journeys over land and sea.

This year, Manifesta, a biennial contemporary art exhibition that has taken place in a different European city since its founding in 1994, chose Palermo as the site of its 12th edition — a choice that seemed promising in theory, but ended up fraught with complications.

“Manifesta 12 will raise questions such as: ‘Who owns the city of Palermo?’ and ‘how to claim back the city?’” wrote Hedwig Fijen, Manifesta 12’s director. “The city’s migration problems are symbolic of the far wider crisis situation which the whole of Europe is facing right now.”

Read article by Dorian Batycka on Hyperallergic.