Freitag, 28. Oktober 2016

The Extraordinary Reception Centre for Women in Poggioreale: Vulnerabilities Left Unprotected

13 women, one with a 1-year-old child.
13 women, about whom no one speaks.
13 women, of whom 3 are pregnant.
13 adult women along with 3 young girls.

We are talking about the women housed in the only Extraordinary Reception Centre (CAS*) for women in the Province of Trapani, situated in Poggioreale and managed in fits and start by the “New Horizons” (Nuovi Orizzonti) cooperative since July 2014.


The managing body of a former centre for the elderly, of which only the sign remains, closed its gates in January 2015 to only reopen them and recommence activity with the exact same difficulties as always, to the extent that – as the president informed us – if they do not receive money from the Prefecture soon they will be forced to close yet again.

The women currently at the centre are all Nigerian, both adults and minors, with the single exception of a South American woman, supported as particularly vulnerable.

After closure of the other centre for women in the Province of Trapani, the Armonia CAS*, the Poggioreale centre, as is the case with so many of the more isolated centres, is being used by the Prefecture as an experimental location in which both adults and minors of the same nationality – especially Nigerian, but not only – are housed together. Some of the guests have small children or are women in a state of extreme vulnerability, and most of them are at risk of being trafficked. It seems that this practice collides with some kind of rule regarding the safeguarding of minors and the vulnerable!

The serious situation of inappropriate mixing which we are flagging up is explained by the centre as being the result of a decision by the institutions, which they have to follow: the emergency reception of minors in CAS* for adults since June 2016. This situation is only the latest evidence of the Italian reception system's failure. Since June 2016, dozens of young women have been transferred to Poggioreale, to an isolated centre, in which the only activity is to weave beautiful and colourful braids, but at the same time in a mountain hostel with less than a thousand inhabitants and an average age of 70. Running away from the centre has become the rule, even if you have a wheelchair. You flee from doing nothing at all.

A couple of weeks' ago, in fact, a young Eritrean woman left the centre at Poggioreale in a wheelchair. The difficulties she had met are innumerable: she had had no possibility to communicate with anyone, being the only Eritrean among a dozen Nigerian women, who spoke not even a single word of her own language (Tigrinya) and who could not make herself understood due to the lack of a mediator. The only way the workers could communicate with her was to take her to Castelvetrano to meet up with a mediator who helped her to communicate on a voluntary basis.

The women in the centre share boredom and a general lack of documents, they are women who have nightmares of their past abuse. Some of them have been at the centre for a year already, and only five of them have had their hearing in the Territorial Commission for the recognition of international protection, while the others will only complete their C3 form (the request for asylum) at the end of the month. One of the residents had her hearing in December 2015 and is still awaiting a response due (according to the centre's psychologist) to communication problems between the Commissions in Trapani and Palermo.

According to the centre's psychologist, “to keep a woman here, who doesn't want to be here, for more than a year is too complicated, and the state of frustration is terrible”. We met her together with the social worker and the president of the cooperative, who complained about an 8-month delay in payments from the Prefecture. In no uncertain terms he claims that the Extraordinary Reception Centres have by now become the Ministry's cash machines, given that they are not paid for so long, and that they have to keep up the residents despite these difficulties.

An Extraordinary Reception Centre for adults, as the workers point out, has great difficulties as the centre also has to find legal guardians for the young women and undertake other activities which were not previously foreseen. Thus the social worker is forced to interact with the Court for Minors. Furthermore, the minors have the centre's lawyer as their guardian: a clear case of incomparability which as always is carried out in the name of emergency, and as an alternative to the nominating of the mayor as the guardian, who does not even accompany the minors for medical visits. A pregnant 17-year-old Nigerian woman, for example, went for a hospital visit and the doctor refused to follow her case because there was no legal guardian present, who was, in fact, the mayor.

The frustration of those who live in the centre, along with their long waiting and the thwarted desire to live a normal woman's life, wear down the souls and lead to consequent protests. The last such protest was three weeks' ago, following which three of the residents left the centre, losing their right to a place in the reception system. Since the centre opened, there have been 12 revokings of places from residents at Poggioreale. And the only alternative then becomes to be hosted by a friend or to find a place on the street, situations of high risk for a woman, especially for Nigerians. The situation becomes even more dramatic when the young women leave the centre having decided that the street provides a remedy to the clear incompetence of the state.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia

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

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

Translation by Richard Braude

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