Freitag, 11. März 2016

Visit to the former barracks of Gasparro in Bisconte, Messina

On the 7th of March we have entered the former barracks of Gasparro in Bisconte (or ‘ex-caserma’ in Italian) together with a couple of activists of Messina and with Francesco D’Uva, a congress man of the Movimento 5 Stelle. We arrived around 17.00 o’clock and found the door open, the entrance guarded by a surveillance officer. Before our visit we have collected general information from the supervisor of the managing authority, the ARCA association of Trapani, about the residents currently present in the facility. In total there are 198 men in the age between 18 and 25 year, who are mostly coming from Gambia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.


The average duration of residence is 30 days. To the question what the juridical nature of the centre is they respond that it is a CPA (centre of first accommodation)*. In theory the staying time of migrants in this kind of structure should only be the necessary one for the identification and transfer, with a time limit of 72 hours.

When entering the building we pass two containers of sanitary facilities. With respect to the privacy of the residents we only look at the external part of the toilets and we encounter poor hygienic conditions, with stagnant water on the floor and a bad smell coming from the drains.

We then enter the first of three big rooms of the ex-caserma: it is the smallest one and it counts 28 beds (some of them bunk beds, others single ones) on a surface of 10 x 10 metres. It looks to us that this is a case of overcrowding, but to find ourselves in an even worse situation we only have to enter the other two rooms in which there are the remaining circa 170 beds, all crammed on a surface of 10 x 18 metres. In these rooms the rows of beds, the greater part bunk beds, are set out on the perimeter and even in the centre of the room. Between some of the beds there is not even place to walk. The smell that characterises these rooms is very strong and privacy is non-existent.

While we make our inspection round some of the residents are sitting on their beds or are asleep; one of them, apprehending the reason of our visit, asks us to tell the managers to set up an Italian language course, because he has been there since circa a month but so far has not been able to learn. We find other young residents in the room arranged as a praying place whilst others play some football in the outside area.

We get to the local canteen where others are watching television. The space is definitely small in comparison to the number of people that have to make use of it and predicts long queues at the time of the distribution and consuming of the meals.

Also the room used as an infirmary does not present itself well at all: it gives the idea of an abandoned place where the medicines are scattered all over and the hygiene conditions are scarce, something not at all adequate for the destination of the place. The supervisor of the centre explains us that the service of medical care is performed on alternating days with the Pala Nebiolo** by a private doctor who works in direct contact with the Health Authority, to which he communicates on a daily basis how many visits have been paid and any diseases found. There are no opening hours of the infirmary but the practitioner stays as long as necessary to examine everyone that shows up and receives a payment from the managing authority corresponding to the worked hours.

Continuing our tour we have the possibility to see the sanitary facilities inside of the building that right at that moment are about to be cleaned by the cleaning staff. Their condition turns out to be okay, but in the complex there seem not to be enough bathrooms: added up to the ones outside there are in total circa a dozen toilets and a dozen of washbasins and showers.

When we ask for explanations about the clear overcrowding of the rooms, the answer of the supervisor is that the Prefecture conducts monthly inspections and that the last visit from its representatives to the centre dates back to February 21. This means that according to the parameters of the governmental Territorial Office, the present situation at the CPA falls within the standards of a decent and wholesome accommodation, given that this is envisaged by the same Convention of custody of accommodation, which considers a capacity of 200 residents for the ex-caserma of Bisconte and 250 residents for the Pala Nebiolo.

It is therefore hard to understand the meaning of the parenthesis that stands out on the announcement of the contract notice published by the Prefecture of Messina on which, in relation to the requested capacity of the structure, it is specified that capacity limit is “set in relation to the need of assuring uniform standards of accommodation in such facilities”.

In the former barracks of Bisconte, which based on its juridical nature should only be used as a transit place, the provided services are cut to the bone. The working staff is divided between Pala Nebiolo and the ex-caserma of Bisconte and is made up by two linguistic-cultural operators/mediators, a psychologist, an Italian teacher and a social worker, who thus have taken in care around 450 individuals. According to the supervisor also a legal consultant is part of the team and he should assure the disclosure within 48 hours after the arrival of the migrants. In this respect it is worth remembering that, as reported by the assembled testimonies of residents met outside Pala Nebiolo on January 30, no one had ever received any legal information, not even those who had been staying in the tent camps for over a month. Unclear as well is the presence of an Italian language course that should have been assigned to a voluntary teacher who, when she can find time for it, makes all the efforts between one centre and the other.

The structural characteristics and the lack of services that typify this CPA outline an accommodation of a compressing sort that is not only in violation with the law and the dignity of the people but in light of lengthy residence also has severe consequences for the lives of the migrants.

On this point the situation of the twenty asylum seekers who have collaborated with the investigations to identify the traffickers there at the moment of disembarkation is particularly disturbing, since they have to remain in the CPA in waiting to be heard by the judge. These people, instead of getting protection guaranteed by the law, are in fact condemned to stay in this non-place for a very long time, in conditions of total neglect.

The most worrying case is that of a testifier that is already staying in the CPA for a good seven months. Not having been heard by the judge yet he does not know how much time has to pass before his transfer to an accommodation centre is arranged. To the question how many times he has met the judge his answer is: “Never”.

The twenty migrants in question are the only ones who were able to formalise the request for protection, while the others will only be given opportunity to present it when they have been transferred to other facilities. So the prolongation of a transitory accommodation corresponds to the extension of the time to access the procedure for asylum application, which will be another cause of the prolongation of the waiting time for the hearing of the County Committee.

We then request information about where and how these people are identified: all the identifications take place at the moment of arrival at the immigration office of the police station set up inside the Pala Nebiolo. Only afterwards the migrants are transferred to the buildings of the ex-caserma Gasparro of Bisconte. When we ask what the consequences are if one were to deny to provide samples of digital fingerprinting, the answer is clear: “Nobody leaves Pala Nebiolo without having left fingerprints”. Also with regards to the procedure of taking digital fingerprints at Pala Nebiolo, we refer to our report of January 30.

Ultimately there is a last important concern to point out with respect to the managing of the accommodation of the CPA ex-caserma Gasparro of Bisconte which we have already specified in the report relating to the visit last October to the former retirement home of Sant’Alessio, opened for the accommodation of unaccompanied minors. In fact we know that the ex-caserma of Bisconte is used as a place to accommodate those who just have reached the age of majority and who, after having spent a period of multiple months in facilities intended for the accommodation of unaccompanied minors with an emergency decree, are being transferred here: hence passing from the circuit of the first emergency accommodation to the very first accommodation.

We can confirm the existence of these practises with certainty because we have been able to follow the bureaucratic procedures of some of the unaccompanied minors directly; we first met them in the Gravitelli gym on October 13, have met them last month in the former retirement home of Sant’Alessio, to which they were transferred in the days following our press release of October, and now finally we have seen them here in the ex-caserma on the 7th of March.

It was in fact one of them who recognized us. We had seen each other a month ago at Villa Solaria, where he had spent a good seven months, after which he has been transferred to Bisconte the day after coming of age. He says that he is here now because “end of child”. He also adds that he does not like this place and that he even does not go to school anymore while before he went there every day.

Upon completing the visit, congress man D’Uva has been in touch with the Prefecture to hear about the fate of the ex-caserma Gasparro, receiving on one hand the denial of it having an active hotspot and on the other hand the confirmation of an extension in order to create a super-hub.

Giovanna Vaccaro
Borderline Sicilia

*CPA – Centro di Prima Accoglienza: Centre of primary reception
** Pala Nebiolo – former baseball stadium

Translation: Marieke Ruytenburg

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