Freitag, 4. November 2016

Hard to Accommodate: Palermo

In the past few days we have read about the announcementsby the mayor of Gorino and the protests held by its citizens, and many of us have condemned such acts. Without doubt, racism and ignorance have created some monsters for the front pages, but in the end it has been too easy to “pick off the easy targets”, and no one in the media has examined the errors committed by the Prefecture and other institutional agents, who were unaware of how to set up a reception project: there was no plan prepared for any interaction between the new arrivals and the indigenous community, but instead they were inserted into a situation of emergency, causing simply the latest social conflict which has served to demonstrate quite clearly the true face of migration policies and to continue to reap its harvest of victims.

In Palermo too, a city defined by many as welcoming, the difficulties are numerous, as are the situations of illegality which harm migrants. During the landing of October 24th, in which 1,096 migrants landed on board the Siem Pilot, the critical problems of an emergency system were made all too clear: it took 48 hours to complete the identification procedures for everyone who had arrived; the minors and women slept on the ship and then on the quayside. In the end, a good number of the arrivals spent the nights of the 24th and 25th October either in the courtyard of the Questura, on the quayside under a gazebo, or on board the ship. Beyond the slow pace of the landing operations, it was also the case that many nuclear families were broken up (despite the efforts at the quay of workers from the International Organization for Migration) and relatives sent to different Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS*), all while passing through the strong emotional state pushed to the edge by the violence of a life-threatening journey.

It is unacceptable that people can be treated like this, people who have travelled next to death for so long and carry the signs of the journey on their bodies. At this landing, some of the migrants descended in their underwear. From this detail we can only assume that they spent their two days on board the Siem Pilot nude, sleeping on the ground, only to then receive the same kind of treatment on arrival in Palermo. They stare into the middle distance, into a void which is useful for making them more convenient subjects.

We call this convenience “emergency”, and in Palermo it comes to light above all with regards to minors. Until Wednesday evening, the destination of the newly arrived minors was still unknown, because no one had managed to find available centres. At first around fifty of them were to be taken to the Caritas centre in Monreale, a centre without any workers present, it having fallen to the Red Cross in the past to watch over the minors. But this time the managers had removed themselves from this emergency runaround, and it was necessary for the institutional agents to find alternative solutions. A response to the city council and the Prefecture came from the Caritas of Palermo, which hosted 38 minors in its structure in the locality of Ciminna, after which the other minors were placed in the centres of 'first reception' in Partinico (managed by Sol.Co) and Via Monfenera in Palermo (managed by Assante), and the remained in other structures in the province of Palermo.

Seventeen bodies also arrived at Palermo. The survivors, who experienced the death of friends and relatives during the journey, received no special attention or treatment, neither from the rescue nor first aid teams. Everyone was put on the buses headed to North Italy. There is so much pain that you loose track of it, as much as those lost at sea.

According to the outburst of one of the port workers, the 17 bodies were of a number too slight to have the correct resonance in the media: “what does it matter if there's an 8-year-old child among them, who probably died from beatings!” “These are small numbers, there won't be pictures for the television, we won't remember October 24th, only October 3rd, because there were more people that time. But I'm going to ask myself how come an 8-year-old child can die? I felt more disgusting than usual after this landing. When I left there were still loads of people sleeping on the pier, on the ground. I felt complicit in this fucked up reception system, and I ask myself, can it be right that I keep on going? Maybe I'm worse than them because I go, and I'm paid by a system which I don't agree with.”

Fortunately there are some people in this system, like this woman, who still question themselves about the path we are taking, and in silence continue to give a smile and some support to the numerous victims of this unjust system.

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