Freitag, 2. Oktober 2015

Migrants turned away from Catania and Syracuse

On 30 September 2015 between 10-11am, a boat arrived in the port of Catania. It had aboard 234 migrants, who had been put together from two separate rescues: one boat with 124 people; one with 110 people. This information was gathered from the few migrants who stayed in Catania. The majority of the group were transported out of the city on four coaches. They also said that waiting for them at the port on their arrival, in addition to the police were, members of other organisations including: UNHCR, the Civil Protection, Save the Children and OIM*. Some of those aboard were in need of medical treatment and were hospitalised. In addition to the adults, some children were also among those who arrived.

When they began to let them off the boat, the migrants were asked standard identification questions and their photos were taken. Then they were sat down and each given the standard kit: t-shirt, slippers, soap, toilet paper. Then they were called one by one and put on coaches which then left. All except for 32 migrants who were photographed again and taken to the Palaspedini gym. The people in the group, which was made up of men except for one woman, came from Nigeria, Mali, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal and Morocco. Without having been given anything to eat, they stayed in the gym all night with police guards at the doors. In the morning five people arrived delivering documents to the migrants stating that they could not claim asylum and highlighting the fact that they must leave Italian territory within seven days. The migrants were then told to leave; the police locked up the gym and left.
Activists from the Catania Anti-racist network went to the Palaspedini gym in the early afternoon to see what was going on, after having been aware that something strange was happening the previous evening (30 September). And this is how the thirty-one men, among whom was a minor who had been erroneously registered as an adult, and a woman were found. They were sitting on the ground in the rain, wearing t-shirts from the Red Cross and green flip-flops. They were sitting there, not even knowing what it was that they were waiting for. They had no real understanding of what had happened and no idea as what to do next. They were unable to explain why some of the original group had been allowed to stay in Italy and taken to various centres, while they were being told they had to leave the country, despite the fact that they had no money and so doing so was an impossibility. In the meantime, six of the group, all of whom were Nigerian, had gone off with another Nigerian, who had, no doubt, been in Italy for a while. He had offered them a phone so that they could get in touch with their families and then suggested that they follow him.
The rest of the group were accompanied to the Casa della Mercedes by volunteers from the Anti-racist network and from Borderline Sicilia, where they were offered something to eat and a bed for the night. Meanwhile lawyers from the Anti-racist network, the Astalli Centre, Borderline Sicilia and A.S.G.I.* supplied advice and help to follow the possible legal avenues. Many of the group spoke about leaving their home countries due to problems associated to conflict in the region and violent situations. Many of them spoke neither French nor English. We can only wonder how it is then that they were provided with information on how to access international protection.
As this was happening, we also learnt of a similar situation, which occurred one week ago in the port of Augusta involving a group of around 100 migrants. They came mainly from Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Togo and Guinea Conakry. Thirty-five of them, six days after having arrived, received an official document informing them they had to leave Italian soil issued by the Syracuse Police Headquarters. On the Sunday they had to leave the First Reception Centre situated between Noto and Palazzolo Acreide where they had been staying and had to go to Syracuse. Once in the city, volunteers and legal representatives from ARCI* managed to find a place for them to stay in a parish church and provide some sort of legal assistance after activating their network as quickly as possible. It appears that the migrants, at least four of whom were minors despite being falsely registered as adults, were not given the opportunity to clearly understand the situation in which they found themselves when they arrived by boat, nor indeed the possibility to ask for international protection. Like the other group of migrants, they also found themselves caught by surprise by the documents which were issued to them stating they had to leave the territory, which in this case were delivered by the police after a few days with just a very brief translation and no alternatives other than a life on the streets. The collective issuing of such documents is an illegal practice, which has on several occasions been sanctioned by the courts. The police headquarters continue to carry out such practices, which are not only discretional but above all discriminatory, maintaining the right to decide at the moment the migrants' boat arrives who can have access to apply for international protection and in turn access to the reception system; and who, on the other hand should be considered an economic migrant and therefore left on the street to fuel the illegal alternatives. The concrete risk is that the activation of Europe's most recent decision to open 'hotspots', will only serve to increase the adoption of such measures.

Giulia Freddi
Lucia Borghi  Borderline Sicilia

Translation: Claire Owen

*OIM – Organizzazione internazionale delle migrazioni: International Organisation for Migration

*A.S.G.I.. – Associazione Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione: Association for Judicial Studies on Immigration
*ARCI – Associazione Ricreativa e Culturale Italiana: Italian Recreational and Creative Association