Montag, 10. Oktober 2011

They were called the Lampedusans. They are still expecting

by Marta Bellingreri
In May they were being called "the Lampedusans"- the pregnant women who arrived on Lampedusa and were than transferred to Palermo's Civico hospital. There are no longer in hospital as their babies were all born in May and June, which is the first time we met them. Yet, nonetheless, they are still 'expecting'. I am not referring to new pregnancies even though the pathways they must follow are certainly laborious. What these women are now expecting is a response from the commission to learn whether their request for refugee status or a permit of stay on humanitarian grounds has been accepted or rejected.
But the delivery is even more painful as not all of these women have been reunited with the fathers of their children. Since they arrived on Lampedusa, since the birth, there are fathers who have not seen their babies who were born in Italy. Wives who are breast feeding without the loving caress of a father. Luckily, this is not the case for Hemi, she has had her husband by her side since June 10th. They found each other a month after having arrived on Lampedusa. He was transferred off Lampedusa when his wife was already in hospital. Hemi was very lucky that her husband was able to join her as she lost her baby. On the 10th June, the same day in which he was born, she also received news that he had not made it. On the same day her husband arrived. He did not have the possibility to see his child. He was only able to accompany him three days later with his wife to an unknown cemetery in a city where they had only just arrived, Palermo. It will now always be associated with these tragic events, which provide the couple with good reason to hate the city and to want to escape. But actually, Hemi and her husband do not hate Palermo, they return willingly when they can afford to buy things that they cannot find in Trapani: hair extensions and accessories from the Nigerian shops in the Sicilian capital. They came to Palermo to meet us again after 3 months. When I first spoke to them they did not have the money for the bus fare. How could I pay the tickets for them? It took me a while to understand, but in fact the solution was much simpler than I had thought: "You buy the credit, I sell the credit."
It was simply a matter of buying a telephone top-up card and sending her the code. She was then able to sell this number on to someone in the Centre where she was staying and was able to purchase the bus tickets. For those of you who were wandering how the migrants might actually get hold of any cash, sometimes just buying a telephone card is enough. The bus arrived.
The last time I had seen Hemy, she was full of hope at the prospect of seeing her husband and was awaiting the arrival of the child which had been conceived in Lybia. Now she has her husband by her side but little Prince only lived for a few hours. Heny and her husband were granted just a year of protection by the commission. "It has been wasted," said their lawyer. But is a year really enough or Hemy and her lawyer to find out what caused the death of her little boy, which the hospital never communicated to her. Hemy goes back to Palermo to try and understand, but above all, to try and find Prince, who is in a cemetery which she does not know where it is.
Another of the women, Bless, gave birth to two children, the famous twins born in Civico. She is staying in the countryside surrounding Palermo. The air is fresh and pure, ideal for the babies, but there is no father. They fall under the care of the Prefecture, which would seem to be even slower than the commissions, yet Bless has had no personal contact with the Prefecture or her husband, who is still in Milan. These are everyday stories or those within the asylum system today in Italy, who are denied their requests, their families whilst waiting for the Italian dolce vita.
Joyce is in Naples. She is staying in the Garden Hotel. It is close to the central station and has been used for reception for several months now. It is paid by the Ministry to 'keep' Nigerians and Pakistanis. But, aside from the Garden Hotel, they have received no type of documentation whatsoever to attest to their presence in Italy since May. Unlike Bless, who has never actually been provided with the possibility of submitting her request for asylum, the refugees at the Garden Hotel in Naples have met with the Commission. The event took place two weeks ago and only the husbands were seen. Obviously the answers have not come through yet. Nonetheless, they say that those on the commission were kind and listened to each of the migrants. On the list of dramatic events which between Nigeria and Lybia brought them to Italy, all of which were told to the commission, Elas, Joyce's husband has been unable to digest everything that has happened. It wasn't something which happened in Lybia but it was during the war. Actually, it occurred during two wars: the war in Lybi and the war against migrants which at the same time takes the lives of human beings by closing them up in a centre just a few miles from Lybia, on Italy's most famous island and on the main route, Lampedusa. Elas told us that he spent a month and a week on the other side of a gate where he was unable to meet anyone. During his time spent there he remembers only one name, Daria. Italy is a waiting country for Elas. During that month if he had to see one of the centre's designated doctors, he would have to wait around three hours with no certainty that the doctor would actually show up. Today he is waiting for his presence to be recognised on this soil, the first he set foot on after his escape. How many months will he actually have to wait?
There are several surprises at the Garden Hotel. I had gone to find Joyce and see Grice, her daughter who she gave birth to in the Civico just a few days after I first met her and also meet her husband who, last May, was still on the island of Lampedusa. But while I am there I meet Fayza, a Pakistani girl in the neighbouring room. She had been in the country for a week and had already given birth. But when she arrived she felt even more alone than the Nigerian women who were able to hope in their improvised English/Italian to be able to communicate to some extent. Fayza, however, whose language is Urdu had far greater problems with communication which was further exacerbated by the fact that Fayza was in no condition to be smiling at anyone. Now Fayza forces herself to say some words in Italian is with her husband, her mother-in-law and her nephew. I discover I have already spoken to her husband several times on the phone but did not realise that he was related to this women who could not smile in the Civico hospital. Fayza's husband is also Hamza's uncle. Hamza is a shy sixteen year old who arrived with them on the 19 May, but who stayed on Lampedusa until mid July. This delay was incurred merely due to the fact he had requested to be transferred near to his uncle. He was deprived of his personal freedom for two months for merely having made a request. His uncle had even registered his own number as "Lampedusa" but I knew him as Hamza's uncle. I find out that Fayza's mother-in-law also made the crossing with them. She is an elderly Pakistani lady who perhaps seems the most well-adapted to Neapolitan life of all of them: maybe this is because she was able to live the majority of her life in her own country rather than spending it having to wait in this one.
Hemy, Bless, Joyce, Fayza and Jummy are all women who are expecting. There is the one who is with her husband but without her child, one who is without her husband but has her two twins, the one who has not got over the humiliation of an undeserved detention and one who is surrounded by the family with whom she arrived. The only one of them whose wait in this foreign country could be considered in any way sweet.
The names of the wives and their husbands have been changed.
see original text (Italian)