Sonntag, 26. Juni 2016

The Parliamentary Commission Fails The Pozzallo Hotspot: New Minors Accepted Yesterday

On June 23rd the parliamentary commission for the inquest into migrants visited the Hotspot of Pozzallo, in order to investigate the reception centre given over to official identification. The inspection revealed a critical and concerning situation within the centre: structural inadequacies, problems with the water supply, violations and privacy and prolonged detention of unaccompanied minors. Major “attention” is given over only to the identification procedures, perfectly in line with the logic of the Hotspot approach.

After this visit to the Hotspot, the presentations by Borderline Sicily were sent to a Senator, a member of the commission, which had been given to the court of law and the court for minors (within the remit of the OpenEurope project, jointly with the regional section of the ASGI*), so as to make a criminal charge for the extended presence of unaccompanied minors in the centre, and the general conditions. The Commission's response was quite clear and came soon enough, namely, that had been no change within the Hotspot.

Indeed, yesterday 456 migrants landed at Pozzallo, among whom are 17 unaccompanied minors, male and female, who have remained in the Hotspot along with 60 people already held there for a week, while the transferrals to central and northern Italy related to only around 300 of the new arriving adults. The violations and unacceptable conditions within the Hotspot, denounced this week by Human RightsWatch, are not only continuing but appear to be getting worse with the entrance of new people, and situations of overcrowding and inappropriate mixing in housing men and women, minors and adults all together.

The migrants arrived yesterday on board the Enterprise, flying the Union Jack, originally coming from Bangladesh, Ghana, Sudan, Senegal, Cameroon, Nigeria and Egypt. They were rescued from four different dinghies of the coast of Libya, in a sea in which there seem to be ever fewer ships occupied with rescuing, and where the task of saving people's lives is left to the vessels of private organisations, and over a few days in which around 5,000 people arrived. The landing operations have seen a mass presence of Frontex, with at least 25 officials at the dock, ready – along with the police – to meet refugees as soon as they arrive. The search for witnesses and presumed people smugglers is still the priority in these situations, in which migrants are not given any possibility whatsoever to calm themselves down, nor to find a moment of peace before being checked and investigated.

The first, rapid medical screenings on board the ship were, in fact followed by interviews, searches with metal detectors, checks on personal effects and immediate transferral to the Hotspot. The quay still lacks chemical toilets, while plastic slippers and a small hygiene kit are distributed by the Red Cross, along with toilet roll, disinfectant and water. Some pregnant women, probably victims to violence, were immediately transferred to hospital. Workers were present from OIM*, UNHCR*, Save the Children, Terres des Hommes, Emergency and a team from MEDU*, charged with the task of meeting and guaranteeing greater protection to vulnerable subjects prior to transferral. Witnesses and presumed smugglers were isolated and kept under the watch of the police: we ask ourselves who, and in what way, was informing them about what was happening, what their rights are, and what to expect in the coming hours, beyond being put in a police car and turned into another number for the daily news, which reports today that there were a good 57 arrests for aiding illegal immigration in Ragusa over the past year. Nothing about those who have then been let out after several months in prison, nothing about the events which force so many to choose between survival and certain death.

Furthermore, another 765 migrants were taken to Catania yesterday on board the Spica, among whom there were also the body of a pregnant woman, mother to an 8-year-old child who survived the journey. A new grief that will not break through the general indifference and the new inhumane activities observed by those at the port. The drivers of some of the buses who were charged with taking the migrants out of Sicily protested at being ordered not to take breaks until Cosenza, during the long journey transferring the migrants to centres in central and northern Italy. It was of little concern to the police if the buses had toilets or not, nor that the refugees on board – already weakened by the journey at sea – were provided only with a bottle of water and a sandwich. These are the rules imposed by a democratic state that actually says that it is 'welcoming'.

Another 1139 people were landed at Augusta on the MSF's* Bourbon Argos, which undertook 10 rescue operations from 9 dinghies and a small boat. Among them were at least 30 migrants who reported burns from contact with fuel in the saltwater; some seem to have thrown themselves directly into the water in order to reach the Bourbon, by now at the very limit of their endurance. For many of them the first significant pause remains the tent-city at the port of Augusta, which for months has housed migrants for many days in conditions of overcrowding and structural inadequacy. At the moment there are more than 1,000 migrants kept in the large tents, which officially have a capacity of 400. There is a complete lack of individual assistance, providing information is impossible, and it is extremely difficult to quickly identify the most vulnerable cases and maintain the unity of family groups. These are only some of the consequences arising from such an abhorrent system. It is a place that acts as yet another symbol of illegitimate practices, where the number of new arrivals continues to rise, who is by now living witness to the necessity for change, a change which is entirely possible.
Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*IOM = International Organization for Migration
*UNHCR = United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
*MEDU = Medici per i diritti umani = Doctors for Human Rights
*ASGI: Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione = Association for the Juridical Study of Immigration
*MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières = Doctors Without Borders

Translation: Richard Braude