Montag, 28. November 2016

They're Not People, They're Moroccans!

We have taken some time to write about what happened in Palermo around three weeks ago, when the Coast Guard vessel Dattilo brought 1,048 migrants into Palermo. It has taken some time to digest the violations adopted as a systemic, inhuman practice, and above all we were concerned with providing some relief and support to those who are otherwise forgotten, to those who Italy and Europe considers as worth less than animals. We can write about it now by starting from the anonymous letter which was provided to us by a volunteer present at the port.

This happened, unfortunately, in Palermo, in my city, and that makes it all the worse, because each of us basically wants to think we're better than the others, just like our city council which says that it represents Europe's most welcoming city. But at the landing of November 7th it didn't show that. Instead, with the blessing of all the institutions which were present – from the Questura to the Council, all the way through the Prefecture and the Provincial Health Service (ASP*), Palermo managed to employ mechanisms which we do not consider to even be human.

The landing, as has now become the rule, lasted 40 hours. It put everyone to the test, from the sailors who had to spend two days at port, to the policemen who had to stand under the rain in order to watch over the “extremely dangerous subjects” ready to make a run for it, to the doctors on rotation and the volunteers who were frequently not made aware of the schedule and dynamics, but turn up at the mercy of a system which they are trying to stop from imploding.

An accepting city – which this time didn't even accept the bodies. Usually when the bodies arrive there's a queue of TV cameras and journalists, who bring in the local institutions, from the Mayor to the Bishop. This time though, strangely enough, there was almost no one, probably because the bodies had not been “announced”, so there was no time to roll out the red carpet. The city did not even know how to welcome the victims, including two very small children, killed at sea, sacrificed by our laws in a climate of our total indifference.

Only one missionary, who I often see at the port, received and embraced the bodies for a moment.

But this time we went beyond the norm. This time the institutions failed to provide any psychological support at the port, and the organisations which usually carry out this work – despite a thousand challenges – were absent. Not special attention was given to the survivors, not even to the mother of the two children who had lost their lives. They were simply provided with an unnamed destination, and abandoned to their pain.

We went even further with the two Ivorian children (1 year old and four years old) who lost their mother in the crossing: they were given a health check and then sent to a community for young children. They too were given no psychological support. Fortunately the usual news circus was absent this time, not only because there weren't TV crews and journalists but also because the manager from ASP* seems to have tried to protect the children's privacy.

The landing was extremely tiring because there were people on board the Dattilo for three days and two nights, and so were severely tested. The crew themselves were quite on edge, and you could feel the tension across both days of the operation, partly due to the lack of coordination between the Prefecture and the Questura, and the bucking of responsibility, which had a noticeable effect on how people were treated.

The people who alighted form the ship were barely dressed, many of them in drenched clothing. But in a situation like this the needs of the police always come first, that is, to identify the boat drivers and witnesses. The agents on the Dattilo had already picked out the boat drivers (including a young 17-year-old man) while the police squad took on the task of finding the witnesses.

The paradox showed itself on the afternoon of November 7th, when the ship captain made 50 Moroccans disembark, without any permission from the Questura, who then complained because they were tired and soaked through. As soon as the representatives from the Questura identified the nationality of the group who were getting off the ship a conflict broke out between them and the captain, with the doctors from ASP* caught in the middle. In practice, no one wanted to take on the responsibility of dealing with the Moroccans, regarded by both sides as animals ready to do anything, as uncontrollable subjects. The captain was scared that they would start protesting on board the ship, while the Questura did not want them to remain on the quayside the whole night, with the risk that they might run away, as they only had ten staff available to watch over them. ASP*, on the other hand, was not prepared to take a clear position, apart from the fact that everyone – even Moroccans – ought be seen by their doctors, and that to make them seep under the rain, on the pavement of the port, with wet clothes, could create more victims. This was an idea which the captain repeated, asking the institutions which were present if they would take responsibility for any further deaths resulting from frostbite on board his ship. The captain complained that, despite the fact that everyone knew of the ship's arrival at port, no one had organised any provision for those who would remain on board: for example, no gazebo had been brought on board the ship to shield them from the weather. Just as in other ports, no one had thought about how to provide a dignified reception. But this is the best city in Europe.

And so, following this clumsy piece of theatre, the Moroccans (including some women), having been branded as dangerous, violent criminals, were made to get back on the ship, although the captain managed to barter them for a different hundred migrants who alighted so as to make some space. The Moroccans remained composed, suffering the abuse of a failed reception system in patience.

Furthermore, we heard the complaints of some migrants who said that the soldiers on board the ship were extremely violent while trying to calm down a fight which broke out among them, and seeing their marks of having been beaten (which could also have been signs of maltreatment in Libya) finished off a shocking scene. Every now and again I ask myself why, if we don't want them, don't we just leave them in the sea. Instead we just pretend to be something we're not so that we can sleep well at night.

As volunteers, we decided among ourselves to take blankets and food for the ship, to hand out cardboard and food to the people on the quay; we had to overcome a wall of indifference put up by one of the police officers (for the record, the representative from the Prefecture supported us), who claimed that the migrants ought be grateful “because they're not in the sea anymore, like they're pretending, while we're being rained on”.

As volunteers, we had to help out with the medical attention provided by ASP*'s doctors, work carried out without real engagement, in haste, like stamping a letter, especially for those doctors who we don't usually see at the landings. The doctors from ASP* thus managed to guarantee the failure of the reception system even from a health point of view. It doesn't even bear thinking about what it is like to be the people suffering like that. And while the Red Cross and the other associations took a clear position, ASP* stayed completely silent, perhaps because political interests made them keep their mouths shut.

This was a kind of silence which we did not hear from the Frontex agents, who are increasingly aggressive and present in ever greater numbers. In fact this time, as well as being positioned ready for the pre-identification, they had no scruples about trying to get information our of people while they changed clothes, something we had to flag up, asking the officers to give a little breathing space to the migrants for a moment. They really are without mercy. They've acquired so much power that they even tell off the staff from humanitarian organisations who attempt, despite all obstacles, to provide the migrants with legal information. Every now and again the Frontex agents “confiscate” some migrants in order to question them right up to the end, perhaps even while they themselves take refreshment breaks.

The night of November 7th was made even harder by the cold, the rain and the quayside covered in puddles, and while the city council left, leaving the minors on the pavement of the port, fortunately – and thanks to the humanity and stubbornness of the humanitarian organisations – they were at least allowed to sleep inside the coaches.

We have to ask ourselves, and we also ask the city's Mayor (who was absent) and the Bishop (who didn't bat an eyelid, not even asking the authorities to focus their attentions on the situation): why is no greater pressure made to bring some tents to the site, or coaches in which people can rest, or anything which might help relieve people's discomfort?

We saw the results of this landing the next day as well, when the 250 extremely dangerous Moroccans were given rejection notices, group by group, and let out at night so that they wouldn't be seen. On the night of Tuesday, November 8th, up until the breaking of dawn, the Questura of Palermo handed out rejection notices to women and vulnerable people, including mean and women who had lost their families in Libya. As the sun rose on Palermo train station it was full of Moroccans, as well as five Libyans. Whoever had some money on them managed to leave, and whoever didn't stayed. Yet again, it was volunteers who took care of people. To tell the truth, only the director of Caritas, after he was contacted, in the end made himself available to cook something for them.

We took the guys to take a shower at Centro Astalli, and helped them change their clothes; we bought them food and gave them directions, given that some of them didn't have any idea of the distance between Palermo and Paris, for example. All of them are now invisible people scattered across our country, left to the mercy of those who would exploit them. Among them there were the husbands of three women who had been take to the deportation centre (CIE*) in Rome, at Ponte Galeria. The three men, two Moroccans and one Libyan, were given the run around by the officers at the Questura, who first told them that their wives had been taken to their offices for the night so as not to die of cold, and then would be allowed to return to them the following morning. But to their surprise they told us that they were not allowed to go in, and had then been told that the women had been taken to Rome, and only later found out that they had been transferred to Ponte Galeria. But by now we have learnt that breaking up families is yet another prerogative of this system.

Over the following two days the migrants eventually managed to leave for other locations, to become the new exploitable slaves for our enjoyment.

For those still here, here is the photo of how the vulnerable are treated, people discharged by Palermo's hospitals; in this instance, the photo is of a young man discharged with a a hold in his ankle and a fever. In my opinion, this is a criminal act committed by a doctor who, in the end, has thought that they're not at sea and are thus saved, and so they're just pretending and that, like with the Moroccans, fundamentally these aren't really people.”

We would like to thank the volunteer who sent us their eye witness account, and we emphasise the fact that difficulties remain across Sicily: minors are being kept in some of the “first reception” centres (CPA*) without any appropriate divisions based on their age or gender, including possible victims of human trafficking (a situation already denounced by Save the Children.) There are ever more Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS*) where the staff have decided to give up communicating with the guests, and following that from the Sataru centre in the province of Trapani, we now see that written communication has been provided at the centre in Piana degli Albanesi, in the province of Palermo, that not even pocket money will be handed out.

Winter has arrived, and people are fleeing from this hellish reception system.

Borderline Sicilia, Editorial

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

* ASP = Azienda Sanitaria Provinciale (Provincial Health Agency)
* CIE = Centro di Identificazione e Espulsione (Identification and Expulsion Centre)
* CPA = Centro di Prima Accoglienza (First Reception Centre)
* CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centre)

Translation by Richard Braude