Mittwoch, 30. November 2016

A Future Deferred: Visit to an Extraordinary Reception Centre in the Province of Trapani

As you enter the “Vulpitta” CAS* in the Province of Trapani, it feels a little disturbing knowing that this was once the “Vulpitta” Temporary Stay Centre (CPT*), one of the first detention centres for migrants. It was here that, 17 years ago in December, six Tunisian men died in a fire which tore through the structure after a break out was heavily repressed by the police. That centre was a trailblazer for many other situations in which migrants continue to live. The new CAS shares the name of the old CPT (which then became a Identification and Expulsion Centre, CIE), as well as its proximity to a group of bars which are gathered behind the former hospice, which is still closed and falling down.

Making our way into the centre, we note a small deserted football field and an endless row of bicycles which the migrants use to get around. We meet some of the young men in a small “relax” area, despite the rain. “This is the only place we can talk, other than our rooms”, they told us.

The structure is a former social welfare centre (IPAB*), which has passed through many more or less tragic moments since 2013, seeing people abandoned to their own fate by a system which seems unable to function properly. Some of these people have been present in the centre since it opened, in ever more unstable psychological conditions.

The managing body, which comprises one part of the Gruppo Insieme, feels abandoned by the state, as happens so often. “We make the reception system, not the state; we take on the debt with the banks, we take out the loans to keep a centre open and not leave everyone in the street who, after 3 years, are like family to us. We can't go on like this.” These words do not, in fact, relate to a familial treatment of the many problems, but rather to a difficulty in managing situations which can no longer be described as “emergency”, but instead are every day occurrences. In effect, the Prefecture of Trapani is eight months behind in payments, and this has become a problem for those structures which are lowering their standards of service even more. In its turn, the Prefecture is finding it difficult to control these lack of services due to the number of people required, and everything then collapses into a vicious circle impacting on people's lives, who nonetheless manage to put up with a vast amount.

Lack of services makes life impossible in a centre, because if the migrants do not have documents and cannot manage to find work, they cannot send money back to their families. 'M.', from Gambia, a large man who asked us to help him with tears in his eyes, explained his situation to us: “I've been here for three years and two months. On November 28th 2014 I was given a negative by the Territorial Commission of Trapani, and I'm still waiting for the results of the appeal. I've been sleeping and eating here for three years, and occasionally work. At 4am I cycle to the fields at Paceco and if I'm lucky I come back at 9pm with €20 in my pocket. I send this money home to my 8-year-old son who lives with my mother. I don't understand why they keep me in suspense like this, I'm just so confused, I'm worried that I'm going mad.”

There are many situations like M's at the Extraordinary Reception Centre of Vulpitta, where there are currently 95 people, the majority of whom have received negatives from the Commission. Like most of the CAS*, the Vulpitta centre is running on extended time, because the new contract has been awarded and the Prefecture is awaiting the verification of the structure which has won the tender to then make the official transfer. Even if Vulpitta, as a former IPAB*, will always remain an active centre within the reception system. We have to ask ourselves what is exceptional, 'extraordinary', about a reception system which has not changed an iota in three years, aside from worsening. And how can the new managing bodies maintain themselves, given that the delay in payment is by now standard practice?

The CAS*, aside from the endemic delays, exists with constant and evident problems, such as the lack of communal spaces which form another obstacle against even holding discussions between staff and residents. Due to there being no dining hall, the resident eat in their rooms, spaces which lack cupboards, with their clothes on the floor, bags and food all over the place. This creates still more loneliness, despite the presence of 95 people, as well as a detachment from the managing body itself who, in practice, is reduced to simply speeding up the bureaucratic process. When we make note of this problem to the managing body, the response is that there used to be furniture, but over the years the protests have brought about this worsened situation. Today they cannot even buy anything due to the lack of funds, and focus only on the pocket money, “otherwise we risk breaking their nerve.” The lack of communal spaces, on the other hand, is dealt with by claiming that the corridor/entrance hall, next to the bathrooms and opposite the bedroom doors, makes up the communal room, even if there aren't even any tables!

I go and sell flowers every evening in the restaurants in Trapani, because I've got a wife in Bangladesh, and a child who needs to go to school. I don't always manage to earn enough money for my family, and I've been stuck in this place for far too long.” 'A' told us this with complete composure. He is also making an appeal: for many of them, the appeal hearings have been postponed to July 2017, prolonging this limbo further still.

This is no 'welcoming', and the difficulties are seen across the board, just as at the centre in Triscina, the Aerus hotel, again managed by the Gruppo Insieme. Since August the centre has been without a boiler nor video surveillance because, as the managers tell us, a lightening strike during a summer storm hit the centre, putting various systems out of order. From August to November, they have not been in a position to repair or replace them, and today the residents still have no hot water and if in September this wasn't a problem, it is now. But the managing body can't do anything, and the residents have started to ask for help. We have informed the Prefecture of the situation, in the hope that the latest situation of bad 'welcoming' might be avoided.

The future is not bright, and for many it is simply deferred, such as for 'S'., a young Sudanese man who was let out of prison a few days ago, and who we met while leaving the centre at Vulpita, while he was looking for somewhere to spend the night. He too found himself in the crowd of suspected boat drivers and, as often happens, was let out without any directions after eight months in prison. The future for him is probably not only deferred but in fact scrubbed out, because it will be extremely difficult for him to have any future at all in our country.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia

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

* CPA = Centro di Prima Accoglienza (First Reception Centre)
* CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centre)
* IPAB = Istituto pubblico di assistenza e beneficenza (Public Institute for Aid and Welfare)
* CPT = Centri di permanenza temporanea (Temporary Stay Centre)

Translation by Richard Braude