Dienstag, 6. Dezember 2016

Forced Stopover: The Time That Doesn't Pass in Agrigento

We spent a day with the migrants in the Villaggio Mosè in Agrigento, meeting both the managers and residents. The dynamics and practices will be familiar given that the system has generalised them, and in many cases creates conditions which are not suitable for living a dignified life. Our visit began with the “La mano di Francesco” Extraordinary Reception Centre (CAS*) on Viale Cannatello, the road which leads from Villaggio Mosè down to the beach. Thus, aside from a few shops and a supermarket, there is nothing in the area.

The centre was opened in 2014 and, even though it was authorised for 60 people, the Prefect made an agreement for 40. The same cooperative simultaneously opened two others centres (CAS) in Naro and Palma di Montechiaro, but had to close them in 2015, due to structural problems as well as following protests by the residents.

The same cooperative runs a centre of First Reception for minors, again in Villaggio Mosè.

The centre's paradox is that those present there have been “parked” there since September 2014, since it was opened. In fact, at the time of writing, out of 40 people present, 15 are Bengali men who arrived on the day the structure was opened. All of them were interviewed by the Commission in 2015, and are currently awaiting appeal hearings, scheduled for Summer 2017.

Another ten African asylum seekers managed only to complete their C3 forms over 2015 and 2016, and are awaiting hearings by the Commission.

But what is particularly strange about the centre is that there are no only men present (despite the agreement that there would only be men) but due to an emergency situation the Prefecture has also placed a Pakistani family with a young daughter in the centre, as well as a woman from Mali with a very small child. In addition a young Nigerian woman recently arrived, having been discharged from hospital following an operation for apendicitis, who has been flagged up to IOM* staff. Beyond this, amidst all the confusion there is also an Iraqi man with suspended subsidiary protection due to being under police investigation.

There are also five young Gambian men, witness in a case against suspected boat drivers, who – after having spent some time on Lampedusa – have been at the “La mano di Francesco” CAS for three months, but have still not seen a lawyer nor begun any kind of bureaucratic process, a situation about which the UNHCR have now been informed.

It is clear, therefore, that there is a serious problem regarding the lack of appropriate divisions based on age and gender, even if the managing body maintains that everyone lives together very well.

Given that the Prefecture is 7 months behind in its payments, they are starting to have problems with distributing pocket money (already 2 months' late), something which had never happened before.

The other important issue which the migrants told us about relates to the general lack of meetings with the lawyer and the psychologist (only two women claim to have had a meeting with the psychologist thus far). Only a single Nigerian mediator is present at the centre, and just for a few hours each day. Obviously, the time passes at the slowest of paces. The residents sit on the stairs and watch the cars drive by, and in winter even fewer pass by than in summer. A few do small jobs in the supermarkets or the fields, and in summer at the beach. For the remainder, the need to find work is very real.

We can now turn to “Alfuras”, the only centre for minors “under the control” of the Prefecture, financed by the FAMI* fund (a three-yearly project for €2,600,000) and opened in March 2015. It is managed by the A.GRI.CA group, which comprises the Sanitaria Delfino cooperative, Giostra di Benevento, Siparia di Gravina in Puglia and the San Marco non-profit in Palma di Montechiaro. All are cooperatives which work not only with unaccompanied foreign minors but also, as at San Marco, with adults.

The centre is also on Viale Cannatello, in a rented three-storey building. We met the manager of the cooperative, who told us passionately about how much they believe in, and how much they push the Ministry for, transferrals within 90 days, without which their work cannot be considered adequate.

Indeed, as with other centres of very first reception for minors, “Alfuras” ought house people for a maximum of 90 days, but since the beginning of the Summer the transferrals have stopped, with the result that there have been minors present here for 6-7 months.

We don't want to act like police, but we have employed procedures to understand who in fact is an adult”, the manager told us. “Our mission is as a centre of very first reception for minors, so adults can't stay here.”

A problem emerges regarding those who have not begun their asylum claim (which ought be made in the “second reception” centres); but given that there are no transferrals, the residents turn 18 in the meantime and lose their right to a personal guardian as guaranteed by law, instead risking being shut out from the reception system altogether, becoming invisible. During the day the centre has staff and mediators, while at night there are only two security staff. A lawyer and a psychologist are always on site, who underlined not only the presence of adults, but also cases of vulnerability.

Such a long period of time at the centre means that the residents lose the importance of living together; this is the reason that there are always so many fights among them, fights which the workers manage to calm down after much effort, even if the changing conditions make their work much harder. “Back when we worked here in more stable times, everything worked perfectly, but now the difficulties have piled up its changed our work, and also what's necessary.”

Due to an 'educational' choice, the centre does not give pocket money but instead provides a telephone card every 10 days.

The day of our visit we could see many of the young guests bust with their morning Italian lesson which were being given by some of the centre's staff (even if not all them go, the residents complain that it's always the same, and that they aren't making any progress); in the afternoon the only thing to do is play with a ball or sit inside waiting for dinner.

Lots of them play football in skippers, because playing in cloth shoes would mean ruining the only pair of closed shoes they have, and then they would have to go out in the slippers. “It's not good to be seen like that. We like dressing like the other guys our age, and don't want people to think that we're cavemen.”

Alberto Todaro
Borderline Sicilia

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

*CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centre)
*IOM = International Organisation for Migration
*FAMI = Fondo Asilo, Migrazione e Integrazione (Fund for Asylum, Migration and Integration)

Translation by Richard Braude