Montag, 5. Dezember 2016

Deaths, Rejections and Vulnerable Detentions in the Pozzallo Hotspot: The Daily Tragedy of Those Fleeing to Europe

On average there are four landings every week at Sicilian ports alone, along with dozens of deaths and an imprecise number of people missing at sea. We're at the beginning of December, but the departures from Libya continue, with ever less certainty of arriving in Europe. The first round of shared training between the Libyan Coast Guard and the Italian Navy has just come to a conclusion on board the navy vessel San Giorgio, carried out by the European Union Naval Force, within the remit of the EUNAVFORMED operation Sophia. At the same time, the various humanitarian maritime missions, including the Bourbon Argos and the Dignity of Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children's Vos Hestia and MOAS*'s Phoenix will soon be concluding their own rescue operations for several months.

Thus the possibility of effective, rapid rescues is diminishing while the probability of military control is always greater within the Canal of Sicily, together with weather conditions which are obviously worsening. It isn't difficult to understand what this means: more shipwrecks and more victims among the migrants, as well as new speeches ready to defend the important work undertaken to combat human trafficking, while the militarisation of Fortress Europe continues to turn back refugees fleeing into the hands of traffickers.

There have been several landings recently, in which the bodies of the dead must be counted along with those of the living, as well as hundreds of people lost at sea. Today the news has arrived that 438 people will be arriving at Augusta, as well as 14 bodies recovered from the sea. This morning 380 people arrived at Pozzallo.

Those who manage to arrive alive then meet with the Hotspot approach, in all of its inhumanity, and the policies of selection and expulsion manifest themselves, which are always more difficult to describe as part of a “welcoming” system. Just under a week ago around 150 Moroccan migrants were abandoned outside of the Hotspot at Pozzallo with a “deferred rejection” notice in their hands, in the worst tradition of photocopied notifications, sending us back to the collective expulsions of which Italy has already been found guilty in the courts. Dozens of people literally thrown into the street in groups of 50 at a time, left under the heavy rain in a city like Pozzallo where there isn't even any structure capable of providing some respite, dry clothes or a meal to the homeless. Getting to the bigger cities after this point is no easy task, if not impossible, at the end of the day and without a penny in your pocket. We stayed with them for several hours listening to their stories and the descriptions of the voyages they had undertaken to arrive here. Some of them were clearly quite young, but already could speak about things which “they would like to forget”; all of them felt the urgent need to find some place where they might be considered as human beings, and not driven out as “illegal people”, as numbers without a past, as people robbed even of their fundamental human rights. We know all too well that there rejections only help the passing of persons from Libyans to other traffickers across Europe, as well as impressment into black market work, with all due respect to the fight against human trafficking and the profits of gang-masters.

Unfortunately North African citizens are not the only ones who are being systematically rejected by our system. In the same days around 20 Ivorian migrants were sent directly from the port of Augusta to the detention centre (CIE*) at Pian del Lago in Caltanisetta, while others of the same nationality, disembarked at Catania were found wandering the streets of the city with a notice of deferred rejection in hand. This is an extremely serious and worrying occurrence, as it throws us back to the use of an illegal practice, one which lacks respect for all international conventions, the right to asylum and the Italian Constitution. The Italian state is failing to guarantee individual protection, instead ridiculing the right to protection in a continuing, systematic fashion, off the backs of those who do not have the means to defend themselves, keeping civil society and its own electorate in the dark about its actions. Among the 20 or so young Ivorian men we met in Catania, at least seven of them said they had been “incorrectly” declared as adults, and some of them were quite clearly very young. The possibility of constructing a dignified future in Italy and Europe has been blocked and compromised from the start even for them.

While the arrivals continue their unflagging rhythm, the daily papers have by now grown tired of reporting about the conditions of migrants, but not of news about the arrests of suspected boat drivers, among whom there are still minors. The investigations, the criteria for selecting and “convincing” the witnesses, and the legal guarantees effected for those who are involved in these operations, are all still issues to be understood much better.

Italy is sending a message of efficiency to Europe, providing numbers, names and faces of suspected boat drivers for public opinion to feed on, but seems minimally concerned with protecting the rights of arriving migrants. Recently some minors were transferred from the Hotspot at Pozzallo to some of the Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS*) in the province, with a notice declaring an incorrect birth date, sometimes corrected by hand, which certified them as adults. These are serious violations which usually people can only correct once they are at the Territorial Commission, forcing minors to spend long periods of time in centres for adults, without the special treatment due to them, and with all subsequent complications. We know that there are still hundred of minors left for weeks in the Hotspot at Pozzallo and held the port of Augusta, while there are now frequent reports about vulnerable persons detained within this structure too. The most recent case relates to a Nigerian women with a serious psychiatric diagnosis, who arrived in the Pozzallo Hotspot on October 14th after having survived one of the past few months' numerous shipwrecks. The young women, flagged up as a vulnerable case by various organisations present both at the port and in the centre, was left for a month inside the overcrowded Hotspot, without any appropriate divisions by age or gender, with the now hackneyed excuse that there are no available appropriate places. This is someone unable to bathe herself on her own, who needs a calm situation and individual, appropriate assistance, who has been abandoned in the first place she was put despite the laws which ought prevent this. We were made aware of the case once her situation took a new, and unfortunately no less worrying, direction: On November 11th the Prefecture of Ragusa transferred her to one of the man Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS*) in the province, continuing to ignore their duty of care for vulnerable persons, who have the right to stay in places designed for them. The young woman has been seen, on a voluntary basis, by a psychiatrist she had already met in the Hotspot, who has provided a first meeting and therapy, while confirming a diagnosis which is no more reassuring than that of the previous weeks. She is currently in the care of the MEDU* team, but her transferral to a specialised structure is still unsure.

The closure and militarisation of Fortress Europe's borders are forcing those who arrive into impossible situations, blocking every real possibility of autonomy and independence. Migrants' futures, even for those who are underage of vulnerable, are not structured according to protection and guidance, but instead remain at the mercy of the political and economic choices of those who, on this side of the Mediterranean, continue to support a system of ignored violence.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

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

* MOAS = Migrant Offshore Aid Station
* CIE = Centro di Identificazione e Espulsione (Identification and Expulsion Centre)
* CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centre)
* MEDU = Medici per i Diritti Umani (Doctors for Human Rights)

Translation by Richard Braude