Donnerstag, 3. September 2015

Stories from Siculiana: The good, the bad, and the ugly of arriving at the reception center for primary care Villa Sikania*

“Time does not exist here. You spend the day with eating, sleeping, and waiting; after a while it is as if time does not exist.” These are the words of A., a very young African, who tells us that he just turned eighteen yesterday. We wish him a happy belated birthday; he smiles, but then quickly stops again. His friend B. has a white bandage on the inside of his right arm. “I was sick and they had to bring me to the hospital a couple of days ago. Here, they do not hand out medication, none at all.” We know, however, that there is a nurse working at the reception center. We are unable to fully understand what B. suffers from, yet, it is clear that he was brought to a hospital where he was being treated.

Two days later, we saw him again. He already looked much healthier and told us that he was feeling better. We found out that A. and B. were both former guests of one of the centers managed by the organization “Omnia Academy”. This facility was closed down a few months ago after being suspected to be a criminal organization that geared towards fraud. Yet, instead of being moved to another center, the guests were ‘downgraded’ and parked at the Villa Sikania in Siculiana, a reception center for primary care, hosting those coming from Lampedusa. At the time of our meeting, the two young men have lived in the Villa for two weeks, still being in limbo. “Almost every night new migrants arrive, but after one or two days they are moved somewhere else. The only ones who stay at the center are those from Naro. A really bad center, fortunately, it does no longer exist. Now we are here and every day they tell us: Wait, wait, always, wait. We neither know where we will end up in the end nor when this will happen.”
We do not know for sure how old the two young men are exactly, and it is also difficult to guess. Many, however, seem to be really young, younger than eighteen years, but we want to believe that they are of age, that they come from the centers of Omnia and that they did not use loopholes for minors, although the statement by A. who tells us that he became of age during his stay at the Villa Sikania suggest something else. If these are really two unattended minors, that would be an assault if not even a confession of failure concerning the rights of minor refugees.

The main problems of which the guests tell us seem to be the food (scarce, bland, and of bad quality) and the conditions of the rooms, especially the restrooms, which they comment on with an engrossed “eww!”. The rooms contain up to three bunk beds and thus have a capacity for at maximum six people. During our visit, we weren’t told of any cases of overcrowding, even though other migrants told of incredible numbers like “400, 500, 1000” people who are said to be penned up in the former reception hall.

What is striking is the rate at which the guests in the Villa Sikania change: On one day you see about a hundred teenagers from Sub-Saharan Africa playing ball with the teenagers from Siculiana behind the center; a day later, everything is deserted, the windows are shuttered, and the parking lot is half-empty. Another day later, there are new people arriving at the center. In the morning, there are two, three, four new buses and people that sitting next to the road around the center, holding onto the few possessions they still have and waiting to get on board to be brought to the North. Various sources confirmed that the relocation from Lampedusa, from the CSPA* of the Casa da Imbriacola, to Porto Empedocle is carried out by ferry in groups of 100 to 200 people and happens almost daily with the exception of Saturdays. The majority is male, yet, the share of women, children, and families is increasing.

Most of the teenagers are from Nigeria, Gambia, Mali, and Senegal, but there are also a lot of Eritreans whom we meet sitting in front of telephone boxes on the main road of Siculiana. There are also a couple of men from Bangladesh. What seems to work quite well in the Villa Sikania is the communication between employees and guests, which is facilitated by mediators. Another telling example is our meeting with two Eritrean teenagers, victims of the inhumane Dublin regulation. For four years in Europe, they traveled from England to Norway only to be sent back to Italy, which has no place to rest besides dirty streets and hard benches. “On the one hand, these teenagers make me sad,” told us a middle-aged man all of a sudden with whom we were chatting. “On the other hand, you cannot blame these poor Italian people, whose money is not enough to make ends meet and who are angered by the migrants. A migrant gets 35 Euros per day, if you add that up… 1050 Euros a month, of course you have to add board and lodging.” To sum this up: It is unfair that migrants live off tax money while the poor and ‘pitiful’ Italians, who can’t make ends meet, are left on their own. That is one of the many examples for the triumph of the Salviniac rhetoric* (and others) without anyone bothering to do research. Hence, we explain to him that it is the agency who owns the center that gets the 35 Euros per day and per person for excepting and caring for the migrants not the migrants themselves, who do not get more than 2,50 Euros per day (which makes 75 Euros a month not 1050 Euros!). Provided that they are cared for at all, as we often found that the agency did not do that at all! “Oh, I did not know that; that is not what is said in the news on TV!” Unfortunately, the spread of wrong information through the media that furthers propaganda and racism is a big issue for a correct contextualization, understanding and tolerance concerning the phenomenon of migration by the common citizen.

During our stay in Siculania, we also meet C., a teenager from Sudan, who looks very young. With a couple of English and Arabic words, he tells us that he left home alone. He arrived in Lampedusa where he stayed for a couple of days before he was moved together with some Sudanese travel companions to Porto Empedocle, and thus to the Villa Sikania. His travel companions are already moved somewhere else, while he, so he is told, will “soon” be moved to Milan. He wants to go to his brother in London. “Here Milan. Milan, France, Calais, England“, he tells us, a sort of explanation. We are reminded of the images in the news, the barricades, people in vans, David Cameron’s words. We feel nauseated, but we remain quiet. He looks at us with a relaxed and frank face, lively eyes, sometimes a little sad but now full of life and hope thinking of his brother. We wanted to tell him that it is dangerous, to ask him whether he was sure that there is no other option. But then we reconsider. This teenager has crossed the desert, survived Libyan prison where all his money was stolen from him, and he managed to arrive in Italy safe and sound. There is no danger that a person like him would now be afraid of. Two days later he was moved, and for him, like for all the other ones, we pray that he will succeed in arriving at his destination.

Caterina Bottinelli
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*Villa Sikania, a former hotel
*rhetoric of Matteo Salvini, a member of the European parliament and secretary of Lega Nord (he, for example, asked advocates of migration: “How many migrants are you going to take home with you?” Yet, the counter-question remains unanswered: “How many poor Italians are you taking home with you?”) Source:

*CSPA –Contrada Imbriacola: First Reception Centre in Lampedusa

Translation: Annika Schadewaldt