Mittwoch, 25. Januar 2017

Pozzallo: Money For Migrants Used By The Local Council For Everything From Fixing the Gym to Paying Overtime

The public prosecutor in Ragusa has requested the indictment of six members of staff at a migrant reception centre. All of them are being investigated for fraud and embezzlement of public funds. They are accused of requesting inflated expenses: only 700 toilet rolls were bought instead of 50,000; the floor mats ended up on a motorcycle racing track.

The Pozzallo hotspot

Money for migrants was used to fix the gym, repair public works, and to pay staff overtime. These are the facts of the matter in Pozzallo, where six council workers – including some in the management levels – are said to have abused funds ring-fenced for migrant reception, by combining them with other capital for the managing body and then finally using the money for projects which had no relation to migration management. The Hotspot lies at the centre of the investigation, the identification centre which has already been the subject of a range of criticisms relating to overcrowding and substandard hygienic conditions.

In the light of an investigation by the Prosecutor of Ragusa, and brought forward by the Guardia di  Finanza between 2013 and 2014, the situation which has emerged is more serious still. The reception centre, which before becoming a Hotspot was an 'Initial Reception Centre' (CPA*), is supposed to have suffered not only from bad management, but also illegal activities by those who ought to have been running it. Those investigated – who have now been indicted – were responsible for all of the tasks within the centre: in fact, the director, the stock keeper, the accountant, the administrator and the coordinators are all involved. The alleged crimes are fraud and embezzlement of public funds.

For the investigators, there are a whole range of accusations. The first is the request for expenses relating to provisions never distributed to the migrants. The requests were made to the Prefecture who, as representative of the Ministry of the Interior for the area, was delegated with the management of economic resources. A representative example is the expense made out for toilet rolls: where 50,000 rolls were reimbursed, the police discovered that in fact only 700 had been bought.

The investigators, however, go further. The cutting of services for the migrants began immediately after the landing: according to witness accounts collected from those present at the port, the Hotspot's managers distributed less products than would have been necessary. In order to do this, they even used the expression “Syrian style”, referring to the brief amount of time spent by Syrian migrants – beneficiaries of agreements for the distribution of migrants among EU states –  in the reception centres, and the consequently reduced need for products relating to initial reception.

In the attempt to hide their crimes, the account books are alleged to have been destroyed, but the police have managed to make calculations of the managing body's storehouses. In this way, it has been discovered that migrants were given only one pair of shoes instead of two. The second pair was never bought, but included in the expense accounts. A final anecdote helps explain how this exploitation of resources for migrants took place even outside of public administration. The facts arrive from the initial part of the investigation: during a normal check on the area's services, the police came across a van parked near to the Hotspot's entrance, loaded up with a vast quantity of mattresses. Products which were meant for migrants arriving in Italy after their long journey across the Mediterranean had instead finished up in a park in Scicli. They were going to be used to protect a motorcycle racing track.

Simone Olivelli

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

*CPA = Centro di Prima Accoglienza (Initial Reception Centre)

Translation by Richard Braude