Montag, 3. Oktober 2016


I was sitting down with two workers from an Extraordinary Reception Centre* in the province of Trapani, to discuss some of the problems which noiselessly repeat themselves within the centres (and not only those in Trapani), looking for some possible practical solutions. In these situations, the analysis often ends up being expressed in all its rawness: “They're mincemeat. It doesn't matter if they're adults or children, men or women, most people don't give them any attention, starting with the institutions and ending with the stressed and confused workers. And in these moments of stress, the migrant always takes the blame, and pays for it. The workers are always more distant from the needs of those who are being welcomed, because they're not paid, and they're pressed from all sides by endless requests from the migrants, who end up having mincemeat made of them, without any possibility of getting out unharmed.”

Similar situations, all too analogous, are showing a deterioration in a system which had already fundamentally failed. For this reason, the presence of some good workers and the few good practices are coming to an end, because the foundation has no solidity, because the system is adjusted to our needs (earnings, jobs, welfare) and not to those of the migrants themselves (reception, interaction, opportunity).

In order to describe the atmosphere we are feeling and living through, we can turn to some words from our friend Francesco, attached to the “Mediterranean Hope” project on Lampedusa: “This Summer we've seen two lines converge: the migrants bathing at the beach with the tourists, without any damage to the local economy, despite the fears of some about what would happen. We've seen them walking along a Via Roma full of people, chatting with tourists seated on the benches, discussing European football with them. Until some weeks ago, the tourist season marked a record presence on the island, and coincided with a general tolerance towards the migrants, at least those who could leave the Hotspot. Many of these young people have come to our office to call home and connect to the internet, hanging around in the park next to our building without causing any kind of problem. In these past months, we have seen that those coming via sea to search for a better life do not damage tourism. We have had an opportunity to understand that for these young people, it is not easy to live inside a Hotspot such as the one on Lampedusa, and quite likely it wouldn't be for anyone. Recently we haven't seen them walking through the town any more, without understanding the reason fully, but we know that they are there, waiting to undertake an even more precarious journey.”

Many people on Lampedusa are under the impression that people no longer go out because the transferrals are more regular and rapid than ever before. The case is that since August 31st, when 1,200 migrants were landed on the island, the centre completely broke down – partly because the Hotspot's two pavilions, including the one for minors, which went up in flamesat the end of August, are still uninhabitable – and the transferral were made not only with the ferry line but also by hovercraft, and will have been intensified in the past few days with the imminent arrival of October 3rd. The day marks the National Day in Memory of the Victims of Immigration, and with the spotlights focussed on the island, everything has to be spick and span. But this is not the only reason. In the next few days the guests will arrive for the “Prix Italia” (the longest standing Radio and Television award in Italy, organised by RAI), with their own TV crews, politicians, red carpets and no doubt a handful of migrants will be shown on TV too, to tell the world how great we all are.

The island's Hotspot currently houses around 200 people, including many minors (both male and female), who live without any appropriate separations. Among them there are 48 Eritreans who arrived last Sunday, truly in a terrible condition regarding both their physical and mental health, likely due to the ever more traumatic conditions in which they are forced to live in Libya prior to their departure for Italy. The average waiting time within the centre at Lampedusa now seems to have been reduced, but currently there are still people within the hotspot who have been illegitimately detained for around a month.

As Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier teaches us, nothing is lost, nothing is created: the continual arrival of the hovercrafts and ferries from Lampedusa can only mean the overwhelming of the Hub at Villa Sikania, which is periodically emptied out thanks to autonomous departure of many of the migrants housed there. And those who leave are above all the Eritreans – who can then be seen on the long march along the motorway which leads to Agrigento – their trust and courage broken by the extremely long waiting times for the conclusion of a relocation process which has never worked: people spend even more than 9 months in an extended limbo.

This meat factory of a reception system becomes even worse in relation to families, couples, who manage to cross the desert, Libya and the sea unharmed, but are then divided up on arrival at the Sicilian ports through administrative errors on behalf of the Prefecture and police, and then the waiting time becomes heavier still, frequently intolerable. Last week a young Eritrean mother demonstrated her worsening state by cutting herself, because she had spent so long waiting to be reunited with her husband.

The system does not spare minors either, as has been denounced so many times. The limbo becomes hell when they turn 18, and have to begin all over again in an Extraordinary Reception Centre*, where the atmosphere is always more hostile, and thus many leave, looking for opportunities, and often without any destination. There is no immune system here against inefficiency and break down: the latest emergency relates to the 18-year-olds still in hostels for minors. Around 20% of them are in 'first' reception structures, in community hostels or other emergency centres, where minors and 18-year-olds are forced to live in a situation frequently characterised by high tensions, because while the minors are dealt with by local councils, the 18-year-olds – who in theory and by law ought to be transferred, but due to a lack of places remain for long periods in the centres for minors – are dealt with in a different way by the Prefecture, even if they are all in the same centre or community. Situations like this generate conflict between the residents, as well as between them and the workers, conflicts which generate further misunderstandings at best, and protests and violent fights the rest of the time. The final stage in these recent acts of injustice is the escape. Two Sundays ago we met 4 young Eritrean women on the motorway between Palermo and Trapani, seemingly wandering aimlessly, who we flagged up to the police as well as the communities in the nearby area, asking if they had “lost” some minors, hearing back in many cases the words “but what can we do about it.”

Unfortunately migrants are ever more at risk of becoming the “reason for all our problems”, exposed to a national politics of exclusion and exploitation, exactly as reflected by the words heard in a bar in Trapani: they are simply mincemeat.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia

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

*Extraordinary Reception Centre = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (CAS)

Translation: Richard Braude