A small piece of good news awaits us at Salinagrande. We meet an old acquaintance from earlier on in the year. He is a Pakistani asylum seeker, suffering from health problems, who, despite repeated requests to Caritas and the CARA (Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers) itself, has been sleeping rough nearby for the past five months. Thanks to the organisation Emergency, who we had put him in contact with, he had finally had access to the medicine he needed and, a few days ago, was admitted to the CARA. He went to great lengths to thanks us, saying that his situation was much improved.
Through him we meet many other Pakistanis and Afghans. Almost all of them say they arrived in Caltanissetta from Bari in Autumn, and were then transferred on to Salinagrande. The others say they got there by their own means. They are all waiting for their hearings with the Commission to see if they will be granted asylum. These are scheduled for June or July when an interpreter who speaks Pashto will finally be available. Meanwhile, the 170 Tunisians who were denied asylum in March have all appealed and are now awaiting the outcome. Only four or five of them have actually left the Centre.
There are many problems facing the migrants. In a situation of existential limbo, where there is little help from those who are assigned to assist, the long waiting periods and the uncertainty about the future can lead to problems of alcoholism. And indeed, alcoholism seems to be widespread among the migrants of the centre, both according to the migrants themselves and those who work on the surrounding land.
Furthermore on the medical front, there are complaints about difficulties in communicating with the health personnel, who speak very poor English, while the majority of the migrants speak only French or Arabic. There is also a Chechen couple, one of whom requires a hernia operation. He also has problems making himself understood- on his medical documents, he is registered as Syrian.
Many complain about the conditions of the rundown buildings: there are few showers; the water is cold; there is damp on the walls; doors and walls are broken and any repairs are simply patch up jobs. Also, the rooms are overcrowded- it would seem the places available are in reality inferior to what has been declared on paper. Restructuring work is waiting to be carried out, although it is never done, and therefore it is necessary to squeeze extra people into the rooms in use.
The migrants also point out that speaking to us, or other professionals not employed by the Centre, would have repercussions, which may include being denied cigarettes or other privileges. However, they are not shy in coming forward to talk to us.
The poor quality of the food is a recurring problem. Additionally, there are complaints about the clothes which are handed out. They are threadbare and unsuitable for the weather. There are not enough. They say they are handed out once every two or three months.
Finally, we speak to a young Nigerian. He seems dejected and is indifferent to us, resisting entering into conversation. He has been interviewed on several occasions he tells us, but it has never changed anything. Yet he is still one of the lucky ones. He has been granted humanitarian protection for himself and his family- he has wife and a small daughter, who was born in Lampedusa. The Centre offered him the possibility to go and live in Agrigento, but he refused and instead asked for help to settle down somewhere outside Sicily. He has been waiting to find out his alternative destination for 3 months now. It is not a sign of being fussy or demanding, but a demonstration of how there is no system to place the migrants in suitable situations. “Agrigento is an agricultural area,” he tells us in English, “I have never held a hoe in my hands. I know nothing about agriculture. What type of future can there be there for me and my family? In Lybia, where I lived for nearly nine years, before the war broke out I worked in interior design and managed a team. I was well- respected. I know it won't be easy to find work, but I want to put myself in the conditions to able to.”
And he is right to say so. But maybe our country likes seeing migrants exclusively as backs to be broken under the sun, arms fit for agriculture and other humble, unskilled work. What does their background and training matter? If you think about it for a moment, CARAs are nearly always found in the middle of the countryside.
Valentina Caviglia e Diana Pisciotta