Dienstag, 20. Oktober 2015

High specialized reception Centre for minors in Mazara del Vallo: can it really be qualified like this?

The reception center for minors, started in the ex-hotel Conte Ruggero II, has been managed since last June by the cooperative “Fiori di pesco” and is authorized to the initial reception of minors by acting as high-specialized center, with the Regional Degree of May 25th and positive reference from the municipality of Mazara del Vallo.
The “Fiori di pesco” is one of the many cooperative which is formed ad hoc for the reconversion of tourist or hotel establishments in reception centers, like the four-star hotel Conte Ruggero II. According to many citizens and the local press, in the administration of this cooperative would directly or indirectly participate different people who manage other reception centers in the Province.

The minors who are currently hosted in this center are 60, mainly with Gambian, Malian, Nigerian and Senegalese nationality and almost all have arrived between last June and July. The average residence time in this very first reception structure exceeds therefore the 3 month time limit expected for the transfer in a SPRAR* project.
It wasn’t easy to win the confidence of the guys I met in the yard and to make sure they would directly tell me the reasons why, on September 25th, they blocked the street next to the city center, as a protest against the long commission time, the lack of clothes and the bad treatment.
Only after giving them a deep personal presentation of myself and the association Borderline Sicilia and detailed answers to their questions regarding the asylum procedure, I managed to have their confidence and heard what they had to tell. Only at the end of the meeting, thanks to their confidences, I discovered the understandable reasons of their reticence.
Their first great concern is linked to the possession of papers: they told me that none of them had a temporary residence permit. I asked them if they filled out the C3 and explained them what it is. None of them had doubts answering me that no, they hadn’t and they added that they have been accompanied to the police station only for the digital fingerprint recognition.
They proved to have a confused idea about how the asylum application procedure works and as I asked them if they have ever had a meeting with a legal informer, I was told that a lawyer once went to the center only to give information related to the host structure type they are living in and, as it is an emergency structure, it is (or it should be) only for a short period.
Obviously, in this regard, everybody started to ask me why they were still there and they answered that, even when they try to get an answer from the staff or they claim their documents or pocket money (which only after continued protests changed from 30 euro per month to 40 and finally to the current 50), they are told that if they give any further problem, the center would provide to send them back to Africa or to point them out to the territorial commission that will examine their application in order to deny them the documents.
Unfortunately, this kind of threat is not new at all inside the centers where one tries to maintain order with the psychology of terror but, if what referred by the guys is right, in this center they would even go beyond this regrettable intimidation.
All the presents confirmed, reporting that they get bad answers every time they draw attention to an issue and are looking for reassurance regarding their deportation to Africa.
Afterwards, we talk about school. They know it is very important for them and they told me that there is not an internal course, but they are all attending one Italian evening course, organized by the professional territorial Centre situated in Mazara 2 where they autonomously go every day from 3 to 7 pm. It’s not superfluous underlying that this area is situated 4 km away from the former hotel Ruggero and it is well known for drug deals and local criminality.
The guys bemoan the lack of clothes, food and the use of substandard products for personal care. One of them showed me a back rash and told me that other three guys also suffer from the same inflammation. He is convinced this is a consequence of the soap they use and as I asked him if he has informed someone about his problem, he answered me that there would be no point in doing so.
I asked then an opinion about the health assistance they receive and they answered that they are accompanied to the doctor, but that the operators take action very slowly when they report something.
They tell me that one of their friends has been at the hospital for 8 days for a stomach’s operation and nobody of the staff has visited him. At that point, the educator comes and intervenes in the conversation denying what the guy just affirmed and, pointing directly one of the young boys whom I am talking to, she shouts at him that this is not true and he knows nothing. The young boy calls his friend at the hospital who confirms what he said at the speakerphone and told me he is spending his days without talking to anybody, included the nurses. At that point the social assistant arrived who, regarding the stay of the guy, affirmed she went to see him the day before and brought him new clothes.
The manager of the center came as well, together with the mediator and they gave me their availability to meet me once I have finished the talk with the guys.
During the last part of our conversation, I had the opportunity to gather 2 other particular interesting individual cases.
There is a guy who already came 14 months ago to Italy who, after spending one month in the community “San Francesco” in Agrigento, has been transferred after its closing first to one Centre in Siculiana for a month an then here. This guy still finds himself after 14 month in a first reception system. I asked him whether he was told the reasons of these transfers and he replied that nobody has explained him anything and that he still does not know how much he still has to wait before getting transferred again.
I detect another young guy, who seems younger than the average of the guys living in the center, but I can barely understand his provenience. He is Eritrean and does not speak English; the other guys told me he does not talk to anybody because he can’t speak any of the common languages. Nobody understands him and so he lives in isolation.
I say goodbye to the guys and go talking with the manager, who shows great availability and just as much confusion about the general management of the center and the asylum application procedures. As I asked him explanations about the compilation of the form C3, he talks about the prefecture. After telling him this procedure is exclusive jurisdiction of the police headquarter, I asked him why none of the guy has filled it out yet. He tells me he doesn’t know and that for all those matters I should talk to the social worker (I would have done it with great pleasure, but she had already gone home. I left my personal contacts and those of the association in order to be contacted again, giving my availability to come back to the Centre, but after 10 days I haven’t been called back yet).
He himself invites me to visit the structure which, as a former 4 star hotel, is very beautiful and clean. He brings me to the common room and to the canteen where are consumed the meals prepared in the intern kitchen.
We go through the kitchen in full activity. It also looks very clean and, besides the two operators, I also find one of the young guests cooking.
They tell me he is a volunteer and helps them preparing the meals. I did not have the opportunity to speak with him personally. The menu of the day is rice with tomato sauce and chicken with potatoes and the portions are large. The guys complained about the quality of food which, in their opinion, includes too often pasta which does not meet their expectations and is not easily digestible and that sometimes is not enough to satisfy their appetite.
Afterwards, I face with the coordinator the issue about the intimidations about going back to Africa or the undermining of the decisions of the commission referred by many guys. He denied the possibility that some of the employees could make use of such a threat and he takes the commitment to check if among the professionals this practice is used and, if it is the case, he would make sure this would not happen again.
Regarding the protest I mentioned, he told me that only 5 guys were taking it forward. When I pointed out that also the public security forces intervened, he admitted they were around 30 but, in his opinion, only 5 were really convinced. He concluded that he called the police himself, confirming the lack of a linguistic-cultural mediation service, carried out by just one person and reveals a scarce climate of trust between the team and the guys.
The team is formed by a coordinator, a social assistant, two educators, 1 linguistic-cultural mediations and then by the kitchen staff, the cleaners and the maintenance personnel. The team is certainly too small for the assistance to 60 minors and is characterized by the lack of essential professional figures, as a psychologist and a lawyer.
I emphasize the case of the young Eritrean boy, with whom I couldn’t communicate and ask them how they manage his situation. He assured me that he makes himself understand by the mediator, whose origins are from Gambia and who talks English, Bambara and Mandingo.mIn short, all languages which do not allow the communication with an Eritrean boy who can’t speak English! The lack of an adequate linguistic-cultural assistance to support this young boy burdens not only on his possibility to relate with the others and with the staff, but could also have serious consequences at the place of reporting his asylum application.
I ask then the coordinator for more information about the integration activities and he told me they just organized a football match. Moreover, he talks about the gym, equipped with tools he previously showed me. He also adds that the team of Save the Children, who has been at the center 2 months ago, has recently contacted him to propose an extra-course within the center.
It raises some concerns the fact that in a center which still has to comply to the basic protective actions in favor of its minor hosts who, after months, are still waiting for the verbalization of their application and for the relocation to a SPRAR* project, are instead launched extra-projects, even if their typology has not been specified.

Giovanna Vaccaro
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*SPRAR – Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo: protection facilities for asylum seekers and refugees

Translation by Elene Baggetta