Mittwoch, 29. März 2017

Caltanissetta. After the Eviction, the Shanty Town Returns. Shacks Without Water: The Asylum Seekers Speak Out

Six days ago the police guaranteed a relocation process, one which nonetheless only took place for some. The others came back to live under the bridge, near to the migrant reception centre at Pian del Lago. They brought water bottles in shopping trolleys from a supermarket, and looked for wood to burn to warm themselves up.


According to a communication from the police some days ago, all eighty migrants, who have lived outdoors for months, under an overpass of the 640 motorway (near the reception centre of Pian del Lago, in Caltanissetta), were meant to be relocated to reception centres. But only 20 asylum seekers were taken into the initial reception centre.

The others, after the eviction of the camp on March 17th, have returned to live under the same bridge, without running water or washing facilities, sleeping in camping tents or in shacks made of wood. They commute to the supermarket to bring back water drums in shopping trolleys. Some of them carry bundles of sticks on their shoulders. They need them to make bonfires at night to keep warm.

There are 35 Africans, mainly from The Gambia, 42 Pakistanis and 8 Afghans currently living at the encampment. Many of them came to Caltanissetta to renew their permits to stay at police station, the immigration office of which has for some months been situated at the reception centre for asylum seekers* at Pian del Lago. A long time ago, they stress. Some people have been living like this in the city itself for three or four months; some of those under the overpass have been there for six months.

Farouk, originally from Pakistan, sits crouched down all the time while we talk. Then we explains to us that since he has been living in the open air, he has had excruciating back ache. They are all very polite, and throughout our afternoon visit you could already smell the food being cooked on the ground with braziers made from rocks. They were welcoming and hopeful that their voices, amplified to the outside world, might shift some of the bureaucracy. Amal, a political refugee from Afghanistan, has spent 4 months in Caltanissetta to renew his permission to stay. According to his own account, he left Greece, where he worked as a cook, to come back to Italy and renew his permit. But too much time has passed to get a piece of paper, meaning that he lost his job in Greece. There are those who have even been tricked. Another Afghan explained that he was working in Belgium as a baker, and they offered him the possibility of renewing his permit without returning to Italy if he paid €250. He made the payment but then they palmed him off with a false document, and he had to come back to Italy. He has now spent 3 months in the encampment. He is planning on going to Norway once he gets his renewal, because by now his job in Belgium will have gone.

These are tragic stories, situations which freeze human dignity. There is Shazam, 31 years old, who has had no peace since when he lost his place in a SPRAR centre* in Catania, where he had lived for 7 months. He has spent 3 days on the street. We have no idea if the reason for his exit from the reception system truly was arbitrary, as he says, or if his time in the centre simply came to an end. The fact remains, however, that this young Pakistani man is not used to sleeping rough, and after three days he now risks a total physical and psychological collapse. There is Niza, again from Pakistan, who is a still an asylum seeker. He has lived under the overpass, and his hearing by the Territorial Commission has been set for May 2017. In the meanwhile, he is forced to live on the street.

The problem of the timings for the renewal of permits to stay, according to sources from the police, derive from the sheer mass of demands made on the offices in Caltanissetta. Being the headquarters for a reception centre as well as a Commission for the recognition of refugee status, the provincial capital has become a destination for migrants in need of renewing their documents. But since 2014 it has not been necessary to make a claim in the same office which distributed the first permit. With a different house address, it is possible to make a demand on police stations elsewhere. The habit, however, has remained, and the offices are overwhelmed. Furthermore, the permit renewals are printed by the state mint, and this stage alone takes a month. Along with this, there is the time taken to receive an identity card from the council office, which states one's house address.

The fact remains that all of these people are shut out from any kind of reception or assistance, which is not provided for those requesting a renewal of their documents, but reserved only for new asylum seekers. And even for the latter there are problems. There are 165 people in Caltanissetta alone currently waiting to enter the reception centre for asylum seekers* or in one of the seven Extraordinary Reception Centres* in the province. The immigration office allows people into the structures as soon as any places free up.

In the end, the competition between the right-wing parties has kicked off in the city, against the presence of the immigrants in the province, who currently number 50,000. The Brothers of Italy ('Fratelli d'Italia') are running a campaign against the new quotas set down by the Ministry of the Interior which would see another 1,500 migrants in the area (6 for every 1,000 inhabitants). We're With Salvini ('Noi con Salvini'), on the other hand, are organising a conference at the weekend simply called “Caltanissettans First!”. The main speaker is Alessandro Pagano, MP.

Alberto Sardo

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
* reception centre for asylum seekers = Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo (Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers)
* SPRAR centre = Servizio Centrale del Sistema di Protezione e Accoglienza per Rifugati e Richiedenti Asilo (Central Service for the Housing and Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers)
* Extraordinary Reception Centres = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centre)

Translation by Richard Braude