Dienstag, 8. September 2015

Visit to a community for unaccompanied minors in Mazara del Vallo

On August 24, the Italian ship Vega carried 548 people who had been rescued at sea to Palermo. The majority of those aboard were women and children. Amongst them were many unaccompanied minors; 130 on arrival. Yet after the identification procedure had been carried out, that number somehow had gone down to 45.

On August 10th, the cooperative was able to reopen the community thanks to an deal struck between the prefecture, the council and the regional government, which provided joint funding and assured greater financial security.

The community is currently host to 13 young residents between 15 and 17 years old, all seeking asylum, and is housed in a welcoming building situated near the sea, around 2km from the historical centre of the town.

On arriving I found some of the guys round a table in the garden playing draughts with a set made from cardboard and recycled material, which turned out to be the fruits of the morning's recreational activity. This was a hands-on activity which also served as a way to deal with the lack of funds for non-essential goods. There are other games available for the residents donated by the workers themselves.

The young residents seemed calm and said they were doing well. Several of them said they would feel at home there. It is not difficult to believe this claim as well as a generally positive impression of the place, due to the fact that all of them had gone through a substantial period (from 2 weeks to 2 months) in the CPSA* in Lampedusa before being transferred to this community.

The team is made up of four teachers (who speak English), an assistant, a volunteer and a social worker, who is also responsible for the centre. The management seems very busy with ensuring that the young residents have a protected environment and a journey of independence and integration. Great attention is clearly dedicated to the many medical and sanitary needs, to the carrying out of all the practicalities which guarantee the guys their documents and the organization of integration activities, while the linguistic-cultural mediation and psychological and legal assistance seems to have less satisfying results.

For the first two weeks from arrival a program of independence is dedicated to the residents, during which the rules of the community are explained, and they are handed our their shifts with cleaning the rooms and choosing the menus. Following this, there is a structured calendar of activities which one can read on a poster in the sitting room, which includes: Italian course every morning, and in the evening cooking and inter-cultural culinary exchange, an English course, recreational workshops, and visits to accustom the guys to the city and give them important points of reference, such as the mosque.

Unfortunately, even in Mazara, integration cannot be taken for granted, and one of the workers told me some unhappy anecdotes about the resistance and malice both by some of the inhabitants of the city and some of the state workers in dealing with the centre's residents.

But it is enough to accompany the boys to the beach to see that they are objects of mean comments by the Italian swimmers, and the more serious consequences of this general attitude is in the meetings in the public officers, above all in relation to clinics which ought guarantee everyone's right to health. For example in the pediatric clinic run by ASP has established a daily limit of five visits from each community for minors, and frequently there are doctors on shift who refuse to visit the unaccompanied minors because they have reached the number of visits for that community.

The carrying out of practical administration is also actively impacted by the attitude and organization of the local immigration office, which is understaffed. But the manager of the centre has found a way to deal with the long delays which characterize waiting for the identification procedures and requests for asylum, by presenting these problems to the residents every day. And now they are waiting for the name of the tutor.

As already noted, this is a critical moment. Here again, the tutor – who serves as a point of reference with the council – has had dozens and dozens of minors referred to them over the years, and has now limited his availability only to slightly older 'minors', while all the rest rely on the availability of one of the voluntary tutors who have signed up through the courts in Marsala, who, many of them being lawyers, take care of the minors and provide them assistance in the run up to their Commission date.

This detail seems particularly important because, in contrast to the many positive aspects which characterize the management of this community, the legal support seems to be somewhat lacking. The manager of the centre herself carries out this week, assisted by an translator into English, during a first meeting which is then followed by the first interview at the Commission. Only in special cases is a cultural mediator involved who works in another of the centers managed by the same cooperative.

Psychological and cultural-linguistic assistance is provided in the same manner, which is not based on a consistent figure of reference, but on the sporadic collaboration of professionals who are called when needed. It is therefore not the practice of the centre to carry our the first reception interview in the presence of a psychologist, besides the social worker. The same situation applied to linguistic-cultural mediation, and it falls to the mediators only to resolve particular situations which come to pass inside the centre.

There is however a great deal of attention to integration courses, to Italian courses in regional training centers, to work placements, even if at the moment everything is 'work in progress', after 
to the hard setback last May due to administrative failures.

The story of this community is that of many communities for minors forced to deal with the lack of any responsible or functioning administration, which consequentially condemns the cooperatives to work conditions of total economic precarity, and without the ability to plan in advance. All of this obviously has important repercussions both for the residents and for the workers who are often forced to work for months without receiving their salaries.

Giovanna Vaccaro
Borderline Sicilia Onlus 

*CSPA - Contrada Imbriacola: first reception centre for migrants in Lampedusa

Translation: Richard Braude