Translation: Aylin Satmaz
Samstag, 5. September 2015
On 24th August, the delegation of LasciateCIEntrare visited the CARA* of Mineo
Along the access road to the centre are many dilapidated houses in the fields. For some time, it has been witnessed that there are often women from Nigeria living in the centre prostituting themselves.
We meet young people on bicycles or walking; they are going to the surrounding villages, which are far from the centre. The reception centre of Mineo is visible from afar. From the outside it looks like an urban suburb district with its multi-coloured two-storied single-family homes; the same as those in the Sigonella military base for American officers. Everything is fenced, but, already visible from the outside, we discover some "Villette-Bazaars". Within the centre, a few migrants run real shops with clothes and food. (It would have been desirable to check how the distribution of rooms and houses is handled, because all the houses are used apparently as minimarkets, but we didn’t get the permission). This actuates an underground economy: for some it means debt, for others enrichment.
Indeed, the centre Mineo has become some a sort of village but without an official community with social and societal structures. The disproportionately long waiting times during the applications for recognition of refugee status, and the even longer waiting times in the event of an appeal, speak for themselves. We are a little early for our appointment and take the opportunity to talk with migrants we meet in front of the centre. Some jog every morning along the motorway or in the orange groves.
There is an improvised transport system with cars driving the people living in the centre back and forth in exchange for a fee. Some of the migrants use the bike to go to nearby fields where they work for 15€ a day. We do not see women, except for a Nigerian who has been living in the centre for 3 months. She is waiting to follow her husband who is in an extraordinary reception centre in the province of Caserta. He already has a residence permit. Since their marriage has been performed in a traditional rite, they do not have an official marriage certificate of their country. The woman has only a certificate with her last name, forename, nationality, date of birth and the details of the reception centre in which she stays. Neither the date nor the place of her entry into Italy is noted. Nor has she a statement of national health insurance; she says that nobody has it.
We meet an 18-year-old Bengali who has been here only for a few weeks waiting for the hearing before the Commission. In the centre of Mineo the waiting period is usually more than a year. He was transferred here from the initial reception structure "Madonnina di Mascalucia" in the province of Catania. He arrived in Italy in October 2014.
Some young people with whom we talk have no identity certificate as an asylum seeker but only a "card" without a photo confirming the stay in a reception centre. All of them have a "badge" which turns out to be easily transferable. To leave the centre, they rely on "ethnic" taxis or ride with an Italian who comes in a big car, and charges 5€ each way.
We talk to another immigrant who has been here for a few months. He, too, came from "La Madonnina", a centre where the operators were “very mean” as he says. The only thing he wants now is to be transferred; here, he does not feel good but he does not tell us why. He knows that the waiting times for the hearing before the Commission are long here and he wants to go in a SPRAR*, if possible, where the hearings take place faster. At 11a.m. we enter the centre. The police stops us because they did not receive the last permission for our visit with the list of names of our delegation from the prefecture. We show a copy with the explanation that we have received the last permit on the same morning at 10.21a.m. by email. The operator, who is informed about our visit, sends an email to the police office at the entrance. We are waiting. Finally, they let us in. We have only permission to enter the joint areas but not to the apartments. We must not take pictures or make a video. We have signed a document that declared us as journalists – but we are not journalists. We must tell our topics and obtain their consent. In recent months, the delegations of our campaign have always been denied to document their visits with photos.
We are accompanied to the headmaster's office. At the door, we discover a box with the inscription "offers" with numerous phone numbers for "jobs". The person responsible for the job placement informs us that it is not about real jobs but about workshops for various craft activities, computer classes etc. ... Currently, 50 migrants participate in the courses of the training program "Garanzia Giovani" in the region, although the courses have not yet begun!
The centre is currently home to about 3,100 people. On 24 July 2015, there were 3,400, although it is designed for a maximum of 3,000 people. It may also be 4,000 should it be necessary. Currently, 40 families live here whose children attend school, kindergarten and nurseries.
We do not know how many women are here. Most are from Nigeria, no one from Afghanistan. The centre consists of 404 houses with seven to eight people each. However, some migrants, who do not belong to the centre, report that even 20 to 25 people live in some houses.
One team is responsible for the logistics of the facility. The immigrants can move without restrictions. Although the houses are equipped with air conditioning, we see many of them lying on their foam mattresses in front of the houses. We wonder why we only see men outside and no woman. The persons responsible explain that the women prefer to stay inside the houses. We cannot check this, as we have no access to the flats.
The centre employs about 400 employees, 50 of them with specific tasks: seven lawyers, eight social workers, ten psychologists and many mediators. Also present are two to three teams of law enforcement officers who have small vans and other vehicles available. The centre is guarded militarily and the Carabinieri (Italian police) are at the entrance.
The lawyers are in charge of legal information and for the preparation of the hearing before the Commission. The people with whom we spoke told us, however, that none of them has been prepared and that they only received legal information on their arrival.
But 7 lawyers for 3,000 clients is a non-manageable workload.
The lawyers of the centre do not deal with the processing of the appeals because the migrants may “stay as long as they want” after the hearing. "It is not possible for us to meet one of the lawyers. From the interviews, outside of the centre, we learn that the attorneys earn about 100€ but it is not clear whether that is only for one of them and who it is. We get an information leaflet in various languages about the house rules from the operating company. The text, which is very well written, was drafted by the lawyers of the centre.
Exposed refugees are accommodated specially. Currently, these are the immigrants who survived the shipwreck of 19th April. Special precautions are provided and they have also been heard before the Territorial Commission. We ask why they are not moved from the initial reception centres to an integration centre, because the operator centre is informed of their long stay here. "They don’t want to leave as they feel save here!" answers Maccarrone, the person responsible, and shows us a letter in which the migrants express their satisfaction. We ask further whether this is true in cases of particularly exposed persons and learn that a transfer is not necessary because a team of psychologists and mediators here is responsible for them. They had, however, asked for transferring about 80 people to integration centres – but so far have not received any response.
As already described, the waiting times of the Commission are long: 12 to 14 months. There is no legal assistance at the hearing, even for exposed people for whom reports and assessments should have been created if necessary. We have not seen the psychologists who are responsible for formulating these assessments. The Commission goes through 14-15 cases daily and works from Monday to Friday, morning and afternoon. We ask about the pocket money that is paid only in form of cigarettes. Upon entering the asylum seeker receives a personal batch. If this is not used within three days, an "alert" sets off and the "pocket money" is stopped. Here, the director begins a confusing explanation of a one-year-old debt: about that the purchase of cigarettes and petrol from the nearby Esso depends on the willingness of the operator Silva, the only one who grants credit to CARA.
Concerning the “starter kit” when entering the country, we are told that it contains everything one needs but it is not said of what it consists. This "welcome package" has a value of 90€ and includes phone cards, tracksuits, slippers and shoes. The migrants report that they received clothes in the wrong size. It seems, as there is no other distribution to replace wrong-size clothes. With regard to the documents, the director stresses that the directorate is responsible for the stamp fees and the costs for forms. The migrants have to pay the phone cards and telephones themselves. Only the computer room with about ten seats has Internet access in the centre. Now we ask for the transportation possibilities to the centre of Mineo. A shuttle service with two buses with 50 seats departs twice a day. You have to reserve a seat or take an "ethnic" taxi or go by foot. The Bazaar within the centre allows payment by credit.
For each community within the centre, a person was democratically elected as delegate. Those are in contact with the administration and to receive information and messages. The migrants settle the possible theft of telephones among themselves.
The menus are selected together with the guests and are prepared in the in-house canteen kitchen. There are separate dining rooms for women and men. The ingredients from the home countries of immigrants are bought in Catania. The meals are distributed in four shifts: this totals up to 5,000 meals, both at lunchtime and in the evening and, furthermore, the breakfast.
As a result of the scandal "Mafia Capitale" in Rome, the CARA in Mineo was searched by the police. Currently, administrators of judiciary work here. That is why the problems were solved says the director. The CARA regularly takes part in tenders and giving away of contracts. The director confirmed that the CARA is shortly converted into a HUB*. In fact, no new guests have been assigned for some time.
A delegation of the Red Cross also operates in the centre. It performs general medical examinations and works together with major analytical and professional medical laboratories. Except for the psychiatrist at the hospital of Caltagirone, no psychotropic drugs are prescribed.
The project "Eva" is also active; it is dedicated to women who had been victims of human trafficking. Also, the women are accompanied medically in case of pregnancy. The doctor, with whom we speak, says there had only been spontaneous abortions. But here either, we have no access to medical records of the patients or their data. The doctor assures us that everyone has a health insurance card (STP*) for foreigners temporarily staying in the country, and that the Red Cross gets a copy of the identity cards back.
Regarding the identity card of the health insurance and the enrolling in the national health care SSN*, the problems are of bureaucratic nature and also subject to imprecise agreements between the ASP* and the competent regional authorities.
We point out that many migrants cannot take any records of their medical history and medical examinations after leaving the centre. We ask for the necessary instructions in the event that a document would be needed. The doctor assures us that all documents and records are stored in an archive. But apparently, the migrants themselves are not either informed about their state of their health. There is also an office of the association MEDU* in the centre but unfortunately we do not meet their representatives. Furthermore, the Migration Board has an office; here as well we do not see their only employee. We would like to talk to him about why the attestato nominativo, a "nominal certificate of asylum-seeker status", is not issued.
According to the director, there is no illegal recruitment of unpaid farm workers – only an “old man", who needs help from time to time in his fields. We are perplexed as many of the 3,000 people here are at work during our visit. Yesterday evening, we saw them coming back in with items – walking and by bike. The migrants talk about a payment of 15€ per day. If we want to talk to the women about it, they look away and remain silent.
We go to see how the canteen is organized and what is being eaten and are satisfied with what we see. Now, we want to go to the other side where we have seen migrants lying on mattresses under the trees. We are told that they do not go there with us as the rules are clear. We insist because the road is public territory. We are then forced to go on a bus at 40°C and without fresh air to end the tour because of a simulated malaise of one of our escorts.
Sometimes we meet a migrant. We are being watched and the employees promise not to stay long. What are the people afraid of that they do not officially allow you to talk with the migrants alone? What do they hide? We leave the centre, exchange a few words with the migrants and set out.
We have the impression that we participated in a well-staged theatre performance. The mere fact that we cannot speak with the migrants without monitoring is a shame. But unfortunately, the local press only speaks about the parliamentary inspections and the visits by foreign journalists if their coverage is positive – despite the "earthquake" of "Mafia Capitale". This way a big part of the truth about these places is kept secret. Places that should better remain as they if it is still permitted that receptions go on, despite the mafia infiltration. We emphasize once again that unannounced visits by well-informed parliamentarians and representatives of civil society are the only way to learn what is happening in the reception centres. When leaving, we see immigrants on the bike again coming back from their "support for the poor old man." And the women? When do they return? And where have they been?
The delegation: Alfonso Di Stefano, Barbara Crivelli, Gaetana Poguisch, Elio Tozzi, Chiara Denaro, Agata Ronsivalle, Yasmine Accardo
*CARA - Centro di accoglienza per richiedenti asilo: reception centre for asylum seekers
*SPRAR - Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo: protection system for asylum seekers and refugees, municipal reception centre on a volunteer basis (no governmental duty), space for approx. 3,000-3,500 people in throughout Italy, for integration purposes of refugees.
*HUB - the new name for huge distribution centres for refugees
*STP - Straniero Temporaneamente Presente: insurance card for unregular refugees or for those not having been able to seek for asylum yet and, thus, have no papers.
*SSN - Servizio Sanitario Nazionale: National Health Service
*ASP – Azienda sanitaria provinciale: Provincial Health Agency
*MEDU – Medici per i diritti humani: Doctors for Human Rights (NGO)