Montag, 2. Februar 2015

A visit to the 'new' reception centre at Rosolini: asylum seekers waiting since August for procedures to start.

It is not easy to reach the CAS* 'Alessandro Frasca SAS' in Rosolini, at least for those who are not  from around there. Once you have left the village and followed the winding road which leads to the nearby quarries, the only way to find the centre is to ask passersby for the former nightclub Piccadilly, which only recently became a facility for migrants. It is an imposing, incomplete building, originally used (as we understood a while later from one of the workers at the centre) as a nightclub and function hall. It stands entrenched between a few buildings on a dirt road next to the quarries, which stretch all around.
Without doubt, it is a bad location for migrants, who should really be integrated into the society in which they have arrived. Those we met upon arrival agreed with us on this. We were welcomed by a one of the workers and a cultural mediator from the centre, who were both very helpful in showing us around the building together with M., an asylum seeker we knew through mutual friends, and who was recently transferred here from the Umberto I centre in Syracuse. M. was very happy to see us and to our surprise his first question, with the help of the mediator as translator, was about his documents. He intended to receive from us further information regarding his documents. We then asked a woman, the only worker present in the building at the time, to explain to us some of the details about how the centre runs. We passed through a spacious room in which young men were sitting with their trays for lunch, and into the office so as to talk in a quieter place. In the office, between the trays of documents, the rules of the centre stood out very clearly, translated into English, French and Arabic, and also a sort of list with prices of cigarettes and telephone cards. F., the mediator, told us that the centre has been registered with the Prefecture as a CAS since August 6th 2014, and since then has received hundreds of migrants. The capacity of the centre is 90 +2 people, although actually, after many people were transferred or went away, there are currently only 23, all adult men. In summer there was a high proportion of refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan Mali, Senegal, Ghana and Gambia, while now the migrants are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, comprised mainly of those who arrived on a boat on January 17th directly from Porto di Augusta. The building includes a spacious room dedicated to social activities, with internet terminals and two table football games, a small kitchen used mainly by the workers, a nurse's station, an office and the bedrooms, with bunk beds providing around sixteen places in each room. The heating is inadequate, as everywhere it was very cold. Outside there is a courtyard which overlooks a small building which is used as a gym, while in front of the main entrance there is an open space of gravel which is used as a football pitch.

There are 5 or 6 workers in the centre, including the two cultural mediators, who teach a literacy class every morning for around an hour. There is not a psychologist present, nor a social worker, and above all it seems that the residents never had any adequate legal assistance in the past and it is still missing at present times. F. told us that the workers had explained to every resident the procedure for requesting documents, and that some of them are currently going through the process in order to recount their stories to the commission. However, notwithstanding the good intentions, the information given to the migrants seems either imprecise or unsatisfactory, as some of the other residents, notified to our presence and hoping that we were lawyers, asked us information about their documents. “I do not understand why I need to wait all this time” says S., from Gambia, who met us in the office. By asking further questions and pointing out that different kinds of permit are distributed according to the specific situation, we understood that for many of the residents present, except for the young adults who had only just been transferred, the only document they have is the ID card certifying their presence in the centre. “Unfortunately, you can see the slow pace of the police department and the prefecture, as in many cases they have only just completed the signed photo. At the end of his month, i.e. in a few days, a worker will go with some of them to the police station for the C3 model” continued F.. “We know that to wait since August means waiting a long time, but we can not do anything about it, the system just does not work.”

The residents obviously do not stop asking why they are waiting for so long, especially as some of their friends have already documents, and the conversation quickly turned to the quality of life in the centre in which they have been waiting for such a long time. “We can not do anything here, just eat and sleep.” F. told us that the guys go to the literacy course in the mornings, some of them play football in the village team and that they often go there by bus, accompanied by the workers. “They are accompanied because the roads are really terrible, and in order to facilitate their gradual integration into the area, which is not used to the presence of immigrants.” We keep pushing the question “can they go out alone?” F. was forced to admit that no, the rules are that the residents have to be accompanied when they go out. Such a limitation on their freedom of movement is completely arbitrary and illegitimate.

Our suspicion grew stronger that the selling of cigarettes and telephone cards is helped along by this restriction on movement, and the guys suggested this to us by emphasising that they can not go out for anything. They agreed with F., however, on the punctuality of their monthly pocket money and the fact that it is easy to speak with the workers at the centre, who know Arabic, French and English.

In the lounge, some were listening to music on full blast while others were playing tabletop football. Some Nigerian guys stopped us to talk and joke a bit about life in Sicily and the difficulties of translating Sicilian into Arabic. Some workers came along and involved themselves in the discussion in a quite relaxed way. “If it were not for the boredom of waiting for these incomprehensible documents” M. reiterates, “everything would be fine.” We tried to ask if people came along the centre to pass information on to them, but the response was negative. We reiterated that we would be happy to meet with the authorities to discuss this matters, and F. immediately offered to act as an intermediary, in the hope that the situation might change quite rapidly. Good intentions should not make us forget the fundamental rights of those for whom there is no reason to wait any longer, but who need to understand and build a real future.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translated by Richard Braude

*CAS: Centro di accoglienza straordinaria: extraordinary reception centre