Dienstag, 13. September 2016

Unaccompanied Minors: When Reception Is Seen Only As a Challenge

New guys arrive, but their problems aren't over”, commented some migrants outside the Hotspot at Pozzallo. Yesterday 286 migrants arrived at the Ragusan port, including around 20 unaccompanied minors. Young people of 15, 16, 17 – but also 13 and younger, such as those to whom we had already introduced ourselves. Last Thursday a delegation from the OSCE (Organisation Security and Co-operation in Europe) visited the Pozzallo Hotspot, having already stopped at the CARA* at Mineo. In the hours immediately prior to the visit, we assisted in a large number of transfers from the Hotspot to centres nearby. Among the migrants leaving there were many unaccompanied minors who therefore, due to a coincidence that was predictable enough, were not so numerous during the institutional visit.

Some of the minors we met today told us about being taken five days ago to the new centre of 'first reception', one of the CAS (Extraordinary Reception Centres) for minors opened by the Prefecture of Ragusa, situated in the centre of Pozzallo and managed by the 'Social Action' cooperative, the same managing body of the Hotspot up till the end of July. “There are 25 of us there, split up into rooms with 3-4 places each. The new camp is much better than the one at the port, even if here we haven't understood what to expect and how long we will be here. There are workers who speak English, French and Arabic. Up till today, we still haven't received any new clothes or anything, we're just waiting.” At the bus stop, the residents of the new centre meet up with those who are still housed inside the Hotspot. “We didn't come to Italy to stay sitting down on the dock, we want to go to school, to work, to do something” the guys continue. They ask information about when their lessons will start, they want to know if there's a mosque in the town or a football pitch other than the beach. “We don't have any Italian lessons at the centre, they say that we'll be able to go to school afterwards. Let's hope so!” 'A' is in the new CAS along with other Gambians, as well as young men from Guinea Conakry, Nigeria and Mali. Many of them arrived in Italy a week ago, ten days after the French-speakers who are still inside the Hotspot and ask why this is the case. “We've been in the camp at the port for around three weeks. They took our fingerprints, the police and Frontex have lots of officials who asked us questions about our journey and told us to wait because all the places for minors are full. But we're really tired.” None of them knows that their prolonged stay in the Hotspot is illegitimate; the NGOs present in the centre give information on obtaining documents, the possibility of family reunion and general assistance, but it seems that no-one has explained to the migrants how the Italian 'welcoming' system works, and you can well understand why.

The new managing body of the Hotspot, the Domus Caritatis cooperative based in Rome, hands out a ticket worth €2.50 to each migrant every day so as to buy food and basic goods from the town's supermarkets; everyone has the right to a telephone card every two days, worth €5, which seems inadequate for an actual phone call because it always runs out after a few minutes of conversation. “At the camp (the Hotspot) there's lots of us, too many in fact. They've given us two changes of clothes but unfortunately they're too thick, just like the shoes.” (He shows us the rubber shoes one uses for walking over rocks). “We get shampoo, even if the water in the showers is always too cold, and a meal twice a day, but fortunately we can buy more food with the ticket. Then there's an Italian course once a day. But we want to know where we're going, when we'll finally start our documents, and to have some independence.”

Minimum basic assistance is guaranteed even after 72 hours, including the possibility to go out into the town during the day, and their efforts as the best possible option in a situation of continuing “emergency”: this is how the situation is described to the minors who live in the Hotspot. There is very little information about the system into which they will be placed, and there are few possibilities to become aware of one's rights and duties, a situation which continues the practice of illegitimate detention and the ability to control and manage migrants as numbers rather than people. The protection of minors has become a challenge and rather than a responsibility, a duty and a task of education.

On Wednesday August 31st we went back to the reception centre for unaccompanied foreign minors at San Michele di Ganzaria, managed by the San Francesco cooperative, where the new coordinator and the community's supervising officer spoke to us about recent events and the complex's organisation. “We admit that we made some bad decisions about the management of the centre in the first weeks, but since August there's a new and competent team. Unfortunately the serious limits imposed by the first weeks created some unsustainable situations, including fights both inside and outside the structure, and this has had a bad effect on how locals perceive our residents”, they told us. There were inappropriate organisational choice and new resources, which we will be able to analyse better in the future, and to which we will return shortly. What remains unchanged, however, is the location of the building, whose opening we note was authorised by the Regional government, placed as it is on a small hill in the countryside, and set apart by several kilometres of motorway from the nearest inhabited centres – S. Cono and S. Michele di Ganzaria.

And it was from one of the managers of the centre that we learnt of the news of the arrest a few hours before of some of the residents of other camps for minors. In a first reception centre for minors, which was up until a few days ago a centre “of high specialisation”, managed by the same S. Francesco cooperative in Caltagirone. A group of migrants had protested, demanding their pocket money, ending with the arrest of two 18-year-olds, and the accusation by another five people by the Carabinieri, who had been promptly called by the workers. These are scenes which we are seeing repeated with an unspoken frequency in recent months, and which only a few weeks' back also boiled over at S. Michele itself. The lack of pocket money, the patchy explanations provided by the workers, and the growing intolerance of the guests; protests by the migrants including the barricading of workers inside their offices; the arrival of the police, arrests, accusations and dozens of revocations of the right to hostels in relation to adult migrants. After the acts of aggression to which some of their countrymen were subjected, all of the Egyptian minors at S. Michele were transferred to Caltagirone, and their places given to those leaving Caltaginone who had been charged there, thus attempting to remove the conflict without ever analysing and confronting it, up untill the next act of violence.

The numerous interventions by the police demonstrate a worrying incapacity for management and mediation, and a lack of the essential educational approach necessary for any community for minors, especially those with histories of trauma and conflict going on. The problems and challenges seem unfortunately to be symptoms of the frayed relations between workers and minors in many centres. In the dozens of accounts we have collected from migrants and workers across the region, we have seen little trace of dialogue, not the will to construct a shared educational journey.

“You can't communicate in this place. Whoever asks for an explanation gets a vague response and if they continue, they get threatened. They say we will be sent out of the centre, that we won't have documents, or even that they'll call the police” some groups of young residents tell us, residents of centres of both 'first' and 'second' reception, who we meet every now and again. Frequently it is not, in fact, the technical/organisational or structural issues which alarm us, but the climate of tension and almost total mistrust in relation to the workers. “If we don't respect the rules or we complain, the bosses can write reports about us and we won't have documents, so we're scared. No one wants to stay here, in fact lots of people leave after only a few days, or try to go back to the centres where they were before” say some of the others. And again: “The police come to the centre at least once a week, for problems about food, documents, pocket money. At the beginning, given that the workers didn't tell us anything about our documents, we asked the police to help us, finding out that they couldn't do anything.” Institutionalisation, a lack of professionalism and control replace protection, turning a positive relation into the management of an ineluctable conflict.

To have anything to do with these guys is difficult. They don't understand their responsibilities, and how lucky they are for what they have. They should be thanking us for being here.” “We're in Italy, so they need to speak Italian.” “They always expect more.” These are some of the phrases most used by some workers employed in the centres from which the minors would like to definitively escape. The responsibility for what's happening is always blamed on the minors or “the system” of managing migration, on institutions, on the courts, on Europe... As if the managers of the centres were not also an integrated part of that politics. When we talk with workers and managers often find that it is impossible to engage with the problems, usually skipped over during descriptions about the activities organised by their centres: football matches, trips, meetings with other communities for migrants. These are all praiseworthy activities, but are frequently not accompanied by the kind of individual support which forms the basis of a dignified reception. The comments we've reported here cannot be taken out of context, but overall they paint a picture of the new arrivals as ungrateful and ready for a fight, reflecting a very closed manner of relating. Why don't we ask the reasons why migrants who are little more than children so frequently have such a strong resistance and so little trust in a system they do not know, of which they do not feel a part and does not protect them? Why are teenage refugees not considered to have their own desires, need for confirmation and change like any Italian teenager? The daily life of those who remain in the centres does not interest the media, nor cause indignation and uproar like the scene of rescuing and arrival, but the migrants at the centre of these scenes are the same. Nonetheless they are frequently destined to remain faces, symbols and numbers for most people, instead of those who ought be protected.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus  

*CARA – Centro di accoglienza per richiedenti asilo: reception centre for asylum seekers

Translation: Richard Braude