Donnerstag, 4. Februar 2016

Visit of the centre for extraordinary reception "Hotel Morgantina" of Aidone

“A word for summarizing the situation here is Zero". This is the phrase with which we conclude the meeting with the residents of Aidone’s centre of extraordinary reception we visited last month.

Upon our arrival at the centre, we first meet the manager who welcomes us in his office. We are surprised not to meet anybody in the structure as it happened also in July when we had visited the Hotel. The manager tells me that there are few people in these days as “they work here and there ...". "But where are they going?" we ask. "To work in the agriculture field" is his answer.
At this point we ask him to describe the management of the centre for extraordinary reception. We learn that the shelter project in the former hotel Morgantina had been launched in March 2014. By agreement with the prefecture of Enna, it should accommodate 25 asylum seekers but there are only 14 present because ten of them have already left the centre in February 2015 and since then the prefecture has not taken any others. They are still awaiting the results of the last call for tenders that were supposed to be published last September, but times are protracted because the prefecture is visiting all the facilities of the region in order to ensure an acceptable standard.
For this reason, also other centres for extraordinary reception of Enna host a minor number of asylum seekers than it had been agreed on. The manager explains that the small number of guests is putting the smaller centres in economic difficulty. In addition to this, in 2014 the daily allowance per person was 30 euro which fell to 27.50 euro in 2015, from which we have to deduct 2.50 Euro of pocket money. These are given in stamps which can be spent in some selected stores (kiosks and supermarkets in town).
The countries of origin of the asylum seekers currently living in the centre are: Senegal, Gambia, Bangladesh and Mali. They all did the hearing in the Territorial Commission between July and September of last year and, except for one of them that for certified medical reasons had received the recognition of humanitarian protection, all the others had been denied and are now awaiting the outcome of the appeal. After having being waited for 16-18 months, receiving a denial was a big shock for them.
Managing this shelter project is neither a cooperative, nor an association, but a corporation, the CDE, whose acronym means DISTRIBUTION CENTRE OF APPLIANCES, owner of 'Hotel Morgantina’ since 1985. The tourist business of this hotel had been in crisis for several years and had already functioned in 2011 during the Emergency in North Africa for the reception of migrants.
The team consists of a manager (son of the company’s owner), a cook and a cultural mediator who speaks Pulaar, Fula, Mandinka and French. He wants to underline that even the mediator works in the kitchen to ensure that the guests like the cooked food because there have been many complaints in the past. He adds that he realized that guests are like two-year-old kids and that's why he set up rules that have to be followed. For example, he has recently discovered that some of them were equipped with stoves to cook in the room, but he took them away as this is clearly a risk to the safety of the structure. Due to his affirmation "they have the habit to eat at night", we ask the responsible about the meal times; meals would be served in a self-served cafeteria, breakfast from 7 to 8 am, lunch from 12 to 1 pm and dinner from 6 to 7 pm. We ask the manager if the reason for the migrants’ cooking in the evening is not related to the dinner time, but he excludes this possibility, adding that, in summer, the dinner schedule may also be delayed for an hour.
In addition, the assistance in documents processing is executed by the manager, and there also is a lawyer who deals with submitting appeals against refusals of international protection. Initially, a psychologist collaborated with the structure but now she is gone. To the question whether it is the same lawyer to take care of the information and preparation in Commission hearing, the manager answers no, but adds that, since the psychologist (who now no longer works at the centre) had a degree in law, she had given some information to guests upon their arrival.
Italian lessons have been suspended since last March, but most of the guests are attending the evening literacy classes at the middle school of Aidone.
Medical care is provided by two family doctors who cover all days of the week.
At the end of the interview, the manager gives us permission to visit the facility. The building is cosy and clean. We pass by a lounge with a large television and the laundry, where the residents can bring their clothes every day and pick them up once washed. When we arrive at the kitchen door, we find it already closed, even though one o'clock has just passed. The manager explains that, for those who work in the fields in the morning, he keeps the meals beside. We ask him to see in what the dish consists and we are shown a single dish consisting of pasta in broth with a chicken wing, which doesn’t look very appealing and the quantity is very small. The manager reassures us that it is more than enough because he claims it is 150 grams of pasta and 200 grams of meat.
We are then conducted in two of the rooms where the 14 people stay and which are divided into double, triple and quadruple rooms, all with private bathrooms. They seem to be very decent and clean as well the hallways and stairs.
Before saying good bye, we try to make the manager understand that the main problems detected consist in a lack of supportive figures, such as legal counsels, an Italian teacher and psychologist. He justifies himself by saying that before, all these services existed, but that this is no longer possible due to high operating costs, compared to the reduced amount of money received.
Just outside the hotel there are already some people waiting for us, initially a small group, which gradually grows. After having introduced ourselves, we ask them how they feel: "here, nothing, nothing we do not have anything." Another person takes over and starts to explain to me the problems. "Problem number one: Humanity. Here, there is not humanity. Problem number 2: Water and food. Problem number 3. Clothes. "
We ask him to explain us point by point and the answer becomes choral. Some people say that there’s only hot water available for two hours a day, from 7 to 8 in the morning and from 6 to 7pm (the times that coincide with those of the meals). One of them shows us how dirty he is, because he just came back from work in the fields but has to wait until 6pm before being able to take a shower. Sometimes, when they cannot wash themselves, they go to take a shower at the sports pitch. The coach is very kind to them and helps them whenever he can.
Regarding the food, they say that it’s low in quality and quantity and that the kitchen workers aren’t able to prepare even a pasta. Even when they try to take advantage of the meals provided by the property, it is not satisfying because it’s never enough and therefore they are forced to use the pocket money to buy food. They also have to buy water because the one which is distributed in the centre comes from the source in town and after 2-3 days remaining bottled, it is no longer good. They have protested several times but the result is always the same: they are asked to leave, or warned that if they give problems, they will be thrown out. One of them tells me: "When we complain, we are told that we can leave or they call the police to scare us. Also yesterday the police arrived. They think they frighten us like this, but for us it is not a problem when the police arrive here, since we know we have not committed any crime. We just know our rights."
They claim that they never received any cloth, even at the time of arrival and that all the clothes on them have been bought with their own money at Friday ‘s Market or in the shops of Piazza Armerina, while others have been donated by some inhabitants of Aidone.
"Which money do you use to buy clothes?" "The one we earn in the fields", they answer.
The migrants are working 6-8 hours for a wage ranging from 15 to 20 Euros. They go to work only 3-4 days a month, and those working days are important because it’s the only way they can earn some money that is also needed to pay the documents and medicine, because these things must be bought out of their own pockets. We ask them if they have an identity card. They confirm and also tell us the price they paid for having it issued, everyone knows it: 12 euro and 15 cents. They also had to pay for the passport photos. Price: 5 EUR.
Here's an example of how illegal work even becomes an integral part of the reception management that, in order to cut costs, relegates the coverage of costs of certain services directly to the residents, who are forced to pay for it themselves with the money they received for their exploitation in the fields.
Let's talk about the health care service. They say that having doctors isn’t needed since when a doctor visit has been prescribed they have to go unaccompanied (except rare cases and after long waiting periods and issues), or when they need some medicine they have to buy it with their own money. One of them says: "Just today I had to buy Oki because here they do not have anything."
Another person wants to talk to the Prefecture to tell them what is happening within the centre and also to understand how it is possible that they all received a denial. They did not expect that after two years of waiting. None of them has received assistance while waiting for their hearing and who would have wanted to produce some of their documents had problems with the manager who kept them in custody. Even in this case the police intervened.
For submission of the application, some of them have preferred to rely on a different lawyer than the one that collaborates with the centre. All of them are very concerned about having to wait longer to receive their documents and do not even know if they'll get them. We ask them in the end how they feel in Aidone and they respond that no one is giving them troubles. The people are friendly and from time to time, they donate their things. Some evenings they go out, but they have to be back by 10pm as the centre closes.
Our meeting is about to end and one of them tells me: "if you do not believe what we are telling you, you can ask around about our condition. Everybody know that this place is disgusting. Everything is disgusting, starting from food to how they treat human beings. The word to sum up the situation of this centre is Zero".

Giovanna Vaccaro
Borderline Sicilia

Translated by Catherine Scholz