Freitag, 4. November 2016

Contradictions and Violations of Human Rights in the Pozzallo Hotspot


This is the first report from the Overthefortress campaign in South Italy, from the Province of Ragusa.

It includes an interview with Giuseppe Cannella from Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU*) as well as Lucia Borghi from Borderline Sicilia.

Overthefortress's independent investigation and monitoring work begins in Ragusa. We have chosen to start with the Pozzallo Hotspot, where 16,158 people have landed since January 2016. This is the first stop in Italy along the Central Mediterranean route, a journey which begins much further away however, much further south. It begins in North Africa, in Subsaharan Africa, in the Horn of Africa or in the Middle East. Different beginnings which converge in Libya, the country of departure for almost all the migrants who land on Italy's coasts.

The former 'First Reception Centre' (CPA*) in the port is now one of the 4 centres in Italy where the Hotspot procedures are carried out. It should be noted that the Hotspot approach was defined in a communication from the Ministry of the Interior and not via any law, and that the procedures begin already while at sea. The main objective is the identification of all migrants, even through the obligatory taking of finger prints, as well as the picking out of suspected boat drivers. In theory these are only transitory structures, but in practice they are becoming holding sites without any juridical definition. Borderline Sicilia has made official complaints on numerous occasions regarding the violations of human rights, including the lack of the right to individual information, as well as the procedure of “deferred rejection” notices which preclude any possibility for migrants to ask for international protection.

We asked Lucia Borghi of Borderline Sicilia, an organisation which has been monitoring the region for years, to explain the situation to us. The government's main work is to identify the suspected boat drivers: the investigations start on the vessels, and then pass from the rescue operation to another level. The work is based on a pre-planned schema which foresees the arrest of two people for every boat, the news of which is broadcast to the media so as to obtain praise from the EU for the operations. Various contradictions arise from these procedures. The suspected boat drivers have explained that they are, in fact, victims of human trafficking, and of having followed orders they were given only a few hours prior to departure by the traffickers in Libya, in exchange for a deduction on the price of the voyage. This has been confirmed by the fact that many come from countries far away from the sea, and therefore with a total lack of any nautical knowledge. On arrival at port, the government's engagement with guaranteeing a dignified reception is decisively inferior to that of the police operations.

In theory no one is meant to stay in the Hotspot more than 48-72 hours, and then be transferred elsewhere. In practice this is not what happens, and almost everyone is detained for weeks. The official reasoning is that there are not enough places in the reception system, especially for unaccompanied minors and vulnerable cases. This creates the paradox that it is exactly those who, due to their noted fragile situation, should be inserted into a centre first, and the very same who remain for the longest time. We met four minors on the streets at the port, all of whom told us they had been disembarked on September 12th. The migrants are allowed to leave the centre after the first 72 hours. And this isn't good will: before, no one was allowed out, but to leave people locked up in an overcrowded centre for weeks at a time was creating inevitable problems and tensions. It should be emphasised that, in fact, the official capacity of the centre is 180-200 people, but it now hosts more than 600. The complex is made up of two huge rooms, and therefore it is impossible to separate the men and women, the minors and adults, as is however foreseen by various European regulations.

To better understand the situation of those trapped in the Hotspot, we spoke with Giuseppe Cannella, a medical psychiatrist with Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU*). His medical point of view concentrates especially on the trauma undergone by migrants before, during and after the journey at sea. Almost everyone arrives from Libya, which can be described as a living hell. Migrants tell of being faced by abductions and systematic violence. Both armed gangs and policemen arrest people arbitrarily and ask for ransom from their victims so that they can continue their journey. They are tortured in these prisons while in phone contact with family or friends, so as to extort money from them. Those who do not manage to find the money are forced to work in inhumane conditions to repay the debt, or worse.

We note that everyone suffers the same treatment: men, women and children. While arriving with the wounds of this violence they then suffer the horrors of the open sea. Giuseppe tells us that even after the rescue operation, they find themselves again among uniforms and weapons, in a decisively inhuman relation, again provoking a true re-traumatisation for the migrants. This attitude continues at the quay, where their names are replaced with numbers, and they are managed like objects. A clear example of this is when, in an overcrowded room, those with scabies are yelled at to move themselves to the other side of the room.

It is difficult to describe the feelings we experience while listening to these stories, next to the sea which is the stories' theatre, and a few steps away from a disarray of boats and hundreds of life jackets. We have been reflecting on the words we have heard, and remain disturbed by the voices of these young African men who, despite everything, tell us: “I'm fine.” It is difficult to take on board all the information we have heard in the first few days of our journey, but it is clear that the Pozzallo Hotspot, and the inhuman conditions it offers, is a symbol of the failure of Italian and European reception. It is exactly for this reason that this is not the kind of integration that we believe in, that soon we will go on to learn about, and narrate, good examples of reception from below.

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

Translation by Richard Braude