Mittwoch, 22. Juni 2016

Minors in the Pozzallo Hotspot. On the “unwelcoming” road.

“I arrived a month ago, after having been in Sudan and for months in Libya. On arrival I was locked in a large room with hundreds of other people, many of them my age, others older. There were also women and children. They gave me a change of clothes and a telephone card, saying that soon I would be transferred to a centre for minors. A month passed and I'm still here.” This is the story of 'Y', a 16-years-old Eritrean man, describing the reality experienced by hundreds of minors detained like him in an illegitimate way for weeks or even months within the Hotspot at Pozzallo. Dozens of minors who arrived in the nearby port have been housed without recognition of their age, in conditions of overcrowding and psychological stress within the centre, and without having received and personal assistance.

Many of them arrived on 28th May, having survived a shipwreck in which dozens of people lost their lives: newspapers and TV turned for a moment to reflect on their situation, only to turn the page in search of the latest scoop, and institutional actors seem to have don the same in relation to the protecting them from vulnerability and the greater importance of minors, in whose name they are meant to act by law. In recent months, 100–120 unaccompanied minors have joined the camp, among who they is a group of 20 teenagers less than 15-years-old, who were transferred after several days.

We have met them several times while wandering around Pozzallo with scraps of paper with telephone numbers on them in their hands, in the desperate search to find someone who will make a phone call for them, mustering up a few words in English mixed in with Tigrinya and Somali. People's general indifference seemed appalling to us, most of all because there were a good number of the teenagers and they are clearly very young. Only a group of local activists have taken on, as in the past, the collection of necessities, listening to the young men and making the local population aware of the situation.

These minors testimony has formed the object of a presentation given by Borderline Sicily (along with ASGI) within the remit of the OpenEurope project, in partnership with Oxfam and the Diaconia Valdese, and sent to the Proctor of the Republic at the court for minors in Catania, and the Proctor of the Republic at the court in Ragusa. It was also decided to flag up the situation to Save the Children and UNHCR as well. Yesterday morning, while walking through Pozzallo, the teenagers seemed to be fewer, not because they have been transferred into appropriate structures but rather because the majority of the minors leave on their own, left to the mercy of every possible kind of trafficking and exploitation.

“When we arrived, there were about 80 of us Eritrean minors, now there's only 8 of us at the centre” says 'G', “many have left saying that they wanted to carry on the journey to Rome and other cities, others I don't know. Also some of the really young ones went on their own.” The minors complain about the lack of clothes, because they have been provided only with one change on arrival; the lack of shampoo, to the extent that they wash only with water, which is almost always cold; the impossibility of seeing a doctor in case of necessity because “the only response is: you need to wait”, and others say there are skin problems for which they have been given no remedy.

The lack of places in centres for minors cannot justify the permanence of unaccompanied minors in these places. According to the law, minors should be taken to primary reception centres immediately after arrival, and then transferred into SPRAR*. Beyond the violations of law relating to their remaining in juridically inappropriate complexes, there are the terrible living conditions within the Hotspot: “We are always together in one big room. They gave us some paper with information but we want to be able to call our parents.” Until a week ago there were still people who had not been able to communicate with their own families in an understandable way, and we remember we are talking about the survivors of a shipwreck!

The institutional justification is that which we have heard for years now, being the lack of available posts for unaccompanied minors. This is a discourse which does not take account of the context of the events within this so-called 'welcoming' system, which is completely inadequate, and which demands an urgent revision of the entirety of the migration policies of recent years, including the necessity of allowing legal access to refugees and to open humanitarian corridors. This is simply an excuse which legitimates the existence of one rule of Italians and one one for those without fundamental human rights, those depicted as part of an unavoidable fate, in the face of which it is impossible to adjust oneself.

The necessary of restoring a status of rights and humane practices is a responsibility from which no one can exempt himself or herself; the conviction of being able to do so is probably one of the points of departure in fleeing to rhetorics of powerlessness, simply in order to continue to defend other interests. “I'm very disappointed by Italy: they save me, but now I found myself here, without any rights. In any case I still have hope, which is why I've decided to stay. Because sometimes situations have to and can change.”
Lucia Borghi

*SPRAR - Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo: protection system for asylum seekers and refugees, municipal reception centre on a volunteer basis (no governmental duty), space for approx. 3,000-3,500 people in throughout Italy, for integration purposes of refugees.

Translation: Richard Braude