Donnerstag, 9. Februar 2017

Serious Violations of Rights on Lampedusa

In these times, so arid from the standpoint of humanity, the question which we keep asking of ourselves is at what point can we push ourselves further. The direction is clear: walls, rejections, abandonment. Those paying the price of these inhumane political choices are migrants themselves, ending up as cannon fodder in Libya (a country which never signed the Geneva Convention), dying at sea, or being exploited and abandoned in Italy. Today the situation is worse still, after the migrant hunt has been officially opened, and the raids are already taking place in our cities.

Migrants landed at Porto Empedocles from Lampedusa. Ph: Alberto Todaro

Humanitarian organisations have spoken out against the recent deal between Italy and Libya, making a very clear accusation of inhumane and ineffective agreements which put the lives of thousands of people at risk. We too have expressed our own deep concerns about an agreement which is already being enacted against the first migrants tracked down by the Libyan Coast Guard and taken back, only to be again violated, tortured and, in many cases, killed. The accounts of various organisations are quite clear: 90% of migrants in Libya undergo torture and inhumane detention; a practice agreed upon by traffickers, mafia and, through such deals, also governments, especially our own.

None of this will stop the flow, but only increase the violence. There will simply be more atrocity and deaths, the number of which we will no longer be able to calculate. The traffickers will thank us for these agreements: the keys to people's destinies will be laid in their hands, men, women and children alike, who are fleeing from their countries because of it has become impossible to live there.

Last weekend, despite the rescue operations, many people drowned at sea. The dynamics are clear enough: now that the deals have been signed, the traffickers are cramming ramshackle boats with still more people, and sending them off despite the bad weather conditions. If 1,600 people have been saved and brought to Italy these past few days, many others have perhaps died. Many rubber boats cannot be reached, for reasons of time, and the people die. There have been several calls from relatives who say that they haven’t received any phone call from their child, husband, sister when they left Libya, and then had no news of their arrival. Unfortunately we know nothing about these people. All that will remain is the family's anguish and desperation, but we won't hear about this. The dead no longer make the news.

There are currently around 1,000 people in the Lampedusa Hotspot at Contrada Imbriacola, sleeping on the ground without any mattresses. Even blankets and other basic necessities are difficult to find. Every year there are the same problems: people arrive, the ferries don't leave, and the centre fills up. It fills up so much that incivility and violations become daily life. A country like Italy should not allow people to sleep on the ground, in a corridor, under a canopy, not a single person, simply because the government does not want to plan for any serious, rapid intervention. It's not human. The emergency is created simply because it works as a business which does not stop even when faced with so many human lives.

Around 1,000 people arrived over three days at Lampedusa (440 on Friday, 50 on Saturday, 441 on Monday, while 29 people have been present in the Hotspot for some time), men, women and children, all living together without appropriate divisions, without clothes or blankets and sleeping on the ground in an overcrowded and malfunctioning centre. Yesterday 150 people were taken off the island via the ferry in order to be taken to Villa Sikania, another centre which is already overcrowded. At the time of writing there are still around 800 people in a situation of enormous difficulty, who we hope will be transferred very soon (if the weather helps the relevant authorities), and will no longer sleep on a dirty floor, exactly as they slept in Libya before, as well as on the boat, in an odyssey without end.

Furthermore, it is feared that this weekend many other people arrived in other places, who have been treated in a similar way, experiencing the great challenges facing initial reception. Perhaps the deal with Libya means that we are reaching Libyan stands.

In this context the police stations have been given free reign, and are carrying out rejections all too easily: the number of Moroccans on the street is ever higher, and volunteer groups can no longer manage to carry the weight of replacing the institutional agents, that is, providing a hot meal, a piece of bread, the possibility to take a shower or have a bed. These people, which include women, are simply left in the street. In the last 10 days more than 650 Moroccans have arrived in Sicily, people who are no longer worth anything to our system, simply adding to the number of invisible people across the country, while peaceful messages are sent to the worst kinds of people, who have an easy role thanks to the Italian state.

After the circular which launched the tracking down of Nigerians without documents, the police stations were able to go even further: last week a number of Senegalese and Ivorians who had been held in the detention centre (CIE*) at Caltanissetta for some time were left on the street, to make space for the infamous Nigerians. Twenty-five such Nigerians, who arrived very recently at Lampedusa, were taken directly to the detention centre at Pian del Lago. Without forgetting about the small vessels which manage to reach the Italian shoreline directly from time to time, especially in the provinces of Trapani and Agrigento, where groups of 10-15 people arrive directly on the beach only to then continue their journey to the police station to be identified, as with the Tunisians tracked down in Sciacca last week. For these Tunisians, as for all those others who have risked death, crossing the sea with small, rickety wooden vessels, the final part of the journey is the Falcone Borsellino airport in Palermo, before being returned to Tunisia, where a future of abandonment and frustration awaits the luckier ones. Collective repatriations: a practice which is now carried out periodically, and not only for Tunisians but also, as with the circular, even for Nigerians.

Human rights are by now no more than a torn piece of paper, and values simply illusions. The violations occur on a daily basis. The only directive is to accommodate the powers that be, who play with the lives of people, people who continue to suffer the atrocities of a deplorable system.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
*CIE = Centro di Identificazione e Espulsione (Identification and Expulsion Centre)

Translation by Richard Braude