Dienstag, 25. Oktober 2016

Diary from Campobello di Mazara

We are Simon and Verena, two anthropology students from Bolzano who decided to visit one of the many social realities of migration which our friends at Borderline Sicilia had “narrated” to us. We wanted to see it with our own eyes, and accompanied by some of the activists from Campobello spent more than a month in a village which today is host to a large number of migrants during the olive harvest. We tried to maintain a diary to record our experience.

September 3rd: visit to the farmhouse and the camp

Around thirty Senegalese, Sudanese, Malian and Nigerian men live near the farmhouse near Erbe Bianche. Some of them stayed in Campobello after the end of last year's harvest, having managed to find occasional work in the area. Before they lived in the “Ciao Ousmane” camp, until the local council decided to kick them out in the spring, as the space was used to contain heavy waste.

They now all sleep inside two farmhouses and wait the opening of the camp. The houses lack electricity, running water and hygienic services. They cook outside on a fire or with a gas cannister.

[Photo: a kitchen set up in a shack outside of the village]

The gates to the camp are open, but we do not see anyone there. There are three large rubbish containers and the right side of the camp is full of heavy waste, including fridges and wardrobes. The space would have been, however, more than enough to host thirty people in tents. The structures for hygienic services – a wooden construction without a roof and with ten squat toilets and ten showers – is filthy and lacks water. The local council spent €20,000 on this building. In the fire area, where the guys cook with gas cannisters, there is a pile of mattresses and other trash.

[Photo: Heavy waster left in the camp]

September 8th

An article is published in Mazara News saying that the Campobello council will receive €60,000 from the Ministry of the Interior “for expenses relating to migrant reception.” According to a councillor, by September 26th this money had still not arrived.

September 15th: Visit to the camp

Returning to the site we see no differences from two weeks before. The Council had said they wanted to open the camp before October.

September 20th: visit to the farmhouse

There are now around 60 people in the farmhouse. They have set up tents and two gazebos. The migrants are asking for the opening of the camp and both they and the volunteers are predicting a rapid increase in the number of people and a worsening of the situation.

September 21st: Meeting with the Vice-Prefect of Trapani

A delegation from the Vice-Prefect of Trapani has held a meeting with associations and volunteers connected to the camp, as well as one of the Campobello local councillors. Unlike last year, the camp's management will be given over exclusively to the Council. It will be officially open from October 1st, at which point six “light points” will be installed, and the Council will switch on the boiler already present at the camp so as to guarantee hot water.

September 23rd: visit to the farmhouse

It is already dark, so we are unable to see the place very well. The people we meet say there are around 150 migrants present. Angry voices ask us about when the camp will open.

September 24th: visit to the camp

Arriving at the camp to set up the tents which some associations have donated, we find the gate closed. We made an inspection of the “Ciao Ousmane” camp: there are only 7 days until the promised opening. The camp is full of heavy waste, televisions, fridges and mattresses, all of which should be removed before the opening. But until now there has only been one day, last Thursday, when a worker from the Council has been on site.

Inside we find around twenty migrants who have come here to take material to build some shacks at Erbe Bianche where they can sleep, with the consequence that much of the material is scattered all over the camp. At the back of the camp, inside a largely broken wooden shed, there are baths and showers. The conditions are inhumane, dirty and without water. As for work on the hot water boiler and the light points, still nothing has been done. The covered area of the camp which serves as a fire place for cooking is full of dirty mattresses, which also need to be removed. Beyond this, for several days water has been pouring out of a tube because the tap is broken, without repair. Some people have started to enter the camp and build little sleeping places, reusing the material thrown around about.

[Photo: the camp's “fire zone”.]
Visit to the farmhouse

Seven days away from the promised opening of the camp, there are around 200 migrants at Campobello who, finding themselves in front of locked gates, have begun to put up their tents at a farmhouse near Erbe Bianche. Visiting the guys there every day, we note a constant flow of people arriving from all over Italy.

Every day the tent city is expanding and new people are forced to live without running water, without either electricity nor hygiene services and showers, The piles of rubbish grow every day, and by now cover the whole camp, bringing with it a serious worsening of health conditions. With the lack of showers, hot water is made over flames, the same used for preparing food. The “shower” is made up of towels hung over some palettes.

Many of the migrants have been coming to Campobello for many years for the harvest, and complain that the camp is still closed, unlike in previous years. They continue to tell us that they cannot go ahead in these conditions, even up till October 1st. Frustration and bad tempers weave among the guys, because notwithstanding years of everyone knowing about the seasonal migration, eyes continue to be closed to the situations being created.

At the moment there are many guys at Campobello for the first time, and they find themselves troubled and bewildered about how they are meant to sort themselves out. The urgent necessity of being able to move into and settle in the old olive oil plant has forced the guys to take a delegation to the Council so as to speak with the institutions and ask for the anticipated opening of the camp. An appointment is made for September 26th.

[Photo: a shack inside the “Ciao Ousmane” camp]

26th September: Visit to the camp

When the guys turned up at the Council this morning, it turned out that no one was aware of the scheduled appointment and the relevant officials were not present. It was decided that the migrants' delegation would participate in the meeting with the mayor scheduled for Wednesday 28th September, as well as with the councillor for social policy and all the associations which would be present at the camp. During this meeting the protocol for the management of the camp would be set down.

While making a visit to the “Ciao Ousmane” camp we find the gate open, and inside there are council workers preparing to remove the rubbish container. The tap which is pouring out water has still not been repaired, and the same is the case of the toilets and the boiler. Inside the camp there are around 30 migrants who are recharging their phones from the building's electricity plugs. Inside one of the rooms there are some sleeping people.

[Photo: Truck for the removal of heavy objects inside the camp]

28th September

We are told by telephone that the works are still going on. Nonetheless, a hundred people who had set up their tents within the camp have been thrown out.

1st October

The camp is officially open, but it still not clean and the showers and WC do not work. Unlike in previous years, the Red Cross is not present, as the protocol of understanding has still not been established.

[Photo: Showers in the camp]
10th October

The situation at the “Ciao Ousmane” camp is serious. There has been an increase in people since the previous year. Currently the camp has around 1,000 people and more continue to arrive every day. Available space is starting to run out and the migrants no longer know where to pitch their tents. Around 30 guys lacking tents are forced to sleep on the ground on cardboard. Their is a noted lack of blankets, tents, warm clothes and supplies. There are many people who are without work, given this year's poor harvest. This is creating a climate of tension between the migrants who are, in fact, having difficulty in getting food. While last year there were plentiful donations of food, clothes and supplies, this year there is a lack. The Red Cross has begun a free service guaranteeing their presence on the camp 4 hours per day. Other than them, there are 3-4 volunteers present, quickly tired out due to the lack of material and human resources.

According to the volunteers, the toilets, showers and light sockets have been installed, but there is still no hot water. Even if the repair of the boiler in the camp was listed as one of the more urgent tasks during a meeting with the Prefecture, the Council and the associations, up till now this job has still not been completed and it seems unlikely that it will be done this season. This has given life to a kind of market in hot water, made in tub and then sold for a few cents to the camp's residents.

In the Erbe Bianche farmhouses there are around 60 people still, who currently live inside the two structures. They have already lived for several months without water, an electricity supply or hygiene services. Nonetheless, they have decided not to transfer to the camp as the farmhouses provide, at least, a roof over one's head and are more spacious. Some of them visit the “Ciao Ousmane” camp to use the toilets or take a shower.

October 16th

There are currently more than 1,200 people sleeping in the camp. The situation has gone from 'difficult' to 'serious.' Two days of football matches, organised thanks to the work of Mediterraneo Antirazzista, helped create real moments of interaction. Now all of your help is needed, the most concrete kind possible. Speak about the camp, ask for help. They need provisions, blankets and clothes. If possible, shoes. “Ciao Ousmane” needs us. 1,200 people need us.

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

Translation: Richard Braude