“When will my papers finally come?” “Do you have news?” “I am not happy, tell him that!” “I just need a soggiorno for three months.” “You don’t understand.” “The whole day, I am sitting around not doing anything, I go crazy like that.” “I have a future. I know I have a future and I won’t let them take it from me.”
The voices of the asylum seekers I briefly met at Mineo accompany me long after we left there this afternoon. They were desperate, full of frustration and anger and helplessness. And there I stood, trying hard to somehow understand their situation, get them to explain to me the context of their situation, what letter they were talking about, what permission they needed exactly. I had come to Mineo with a lawyer and an activist from Catania who travel there regularly - immediately, I was asked to translate English-Italian-English between my two fellow travellers and the asylum seekers. Translating turned out to be very difficult. Not only because of my lack of words such as “appeal” in Italian and my struggle to express myself properly in that language, but also because of my lack of context knowledge, and the inevitable mediation between the asylum seekers, who were desperately waiting for news on their cases and wanted me to inquire about each case individually, and the lawyer, who became more and more impatient while reiterating that he couldn’t influence the amount of time the judge would take to decide, and that he did not have any news on any of the cases.
Mineo is the largest camp for asylum seekers in Europe, hosting 1800 people. Last year, about 80 decisions on asylum cases were made per week. By now, this number fell to about 30 decisions per week. The asylum seekers thus wait months before hearing anything on their cases, awaiting an uncertain future. They are not allowed to work and get very little money to subside on. The camp is situated in the middle of nowhere. Once per day, one bus leaves from the camp to the village of Mineo, which is 11km away. Accordingly, most of the asylum seekers need to walk to Mineo village if they want to buy groceries there or see life outside of the camp.
I asked the activist I was with why it took so long to process the cases, and his response was a simple one: it’s business. Keeping the people in the camp and leaving their cases pending brings enormous amounts of money to those running the camp, as the state pays for the accommodation and food of asylum seekers. He asked me to translate his idea of how this could be changed into English: according to him, only demonstrations by the asylum seekers in the camp would be able to create pressure strong enough to speed up the decision-making process. Apparently, this worked last year already once. Feeling slightly uneasy, I translated. Then I paused and said, “I find it difficult to tell you to demonstrate. At the end of the day, I will be going home to Catania, and you will be stuck here and will have to deal with the consequences - but now you know his view on your situation and how you could maybe change it.”
After a little more than an hour, the lawyer decided that it was time to leave. He was frustrated with the ever-recurring requests for news, case lengths, possibilities to speed things up, and said he needed to get away, as there was nothing he could tell people. Tensions between him and his clients seemed rife, and some had disappointedly left our meeting point outside the centre’s gates, and had gone back inside already early on.
When we left from Mineo, the last asylum seeker to have remained outside asked me for my name, and if I was going to come again. I told him my name and said yes, I would return soon. As he turned away to walk back into the Centre, he called out to me: “My name is Endurance.”
Nina Perkowski came to Sicily to research the living situation of immigrants from Africa in Sicily for her PhD. For borderline-europe, she reported the situation in Cassibile and Mineo, where there is a collective home for asylum seekers. Within ten chapters Nina wrote down her experiences and her monitorings.