Dienstag, 4. April 2017

Trapani: Landings, Monitoring, Encounters

The air was tense in Trapani last week, due to the landings and the overall situation in the province. We were there to visit two reception centres in Marsala: Borgo della Pace and the former welfare home Giovanni XXIII.

The Vos Prudence in port at Trapani

The week began with the landing of 558 people, including 61 unaccompanied minors. All had been hard tested by the journey, but even more by the period of detention in Libya, for some of them an extremely long period. So 'R' told us, a young Pakistani man: “May of us were in the Libyan hell hole for almost a year, many people were lost along the way, and some of us saw them die before our very eyes. So many friends who are no longer with us today. Thank to the help of our god, Adinath, some of us manage to get here, even if we have large wounds across our bodies, and not only our bodies, but ones which go deep inside.”

Unfortunately a corpse also arrived with them, presumably another young man in his twenties. From the witness accounts of those arriving, it seems that the latest victims of this silent but unending war are many more than the media and politicians want to admit.

The survivors, the awkward witnesses to the failures of European policies, were transferred to the Milo Hotspot, awaiting their destinations to be approved by the Ministry of the Interior. Even if the cogs are well oiled in Milo and the management of the centre falls within the agreements laid down by law, if the ministry then blocks the destinations indicated by the other offices, this will create a malfunction even in Trapani, simply providing confirmation that the ministry always works according to “emergencies”, in absence of any real planning.

The Extraordinary Reception Centre "Borgo della Pace" in Marsala

Our monitoring work began the the Extraordinary Reception Centre* “Borgo della Pace” in Marsala, a structure near to the departure point for the island of Mozia. The positioning offers a very charming view. The people who have been lodged there made themselves available to talk, all of them quite young but already with important experiences. The managing body is the Francesco D'Assisi foundation, which began the project in 2014, on the urging of the Prefect at the time, Falco. Borgo della Pace is a former hotel/social enterprise, which today is home to 41 adult men (and an agreement for up to 46). Despite the good intentions of the staff, we could see that the system is always in collapse. More than half of the guests are Senegalese and Gambians who arrived in 2014 (when the centre opened) and are currently appealing against negative decisions to their asylum claims. The rest of the migrants are new arrivals, some of them waiting to be heard by the Territorial Commission.

The difficulties in the Extraordinary Reception Centre* we visited are common to such complexes in Marsala, and throughout the province of Trapani more generally. The relate to the number of migrants housed in the area (both adults and minors) being relatively high, and the Commission having huge difficulty in guaranteeing appropriate waiting times which do not “drive people mad” while they wait in first reception centres, and the consequence that often people leave of their own accord.

As 'C' told us, a 25-year-old Sengalese man: “We can't wait all this time, we need to work; the pocket money which comes every 8 days we spend on our families, and it's not always enough for the people we need to feed back home. Why do they make us wait all this time? Every now and again I work, but they give us €20 or €25 for working in the fields the whole day.”

The same view is provided by 'O', a friend of 'C', also from Senegal, who has lived in an abandoned garage near to the Borgo della Pace for some time now. This makes up one of the many refuges which are fortunately found across the area, where people live who have either lost their right to access the reception system, or decided freely to leave it, due to the impossibility of living in a dignified manner in the reception centres. 'O' works for whichever farmer asks him to that day, and he too is badly exploited. He has lived in Marsala for three years and, as so often is the case, admits that “We often don't manage to get to sleep at night, sometimes because it's cold, but most of all because of all the thoughts which eat away at you. Your head spins simply at the thought that this month you haven't worked and sent something home. I'm also waiting for the result of an appeal which will never come, and I got out of that centre where I lived because it was inhuman, even worse than living in this abandoned place.”
The former welfare home "Giovanni XXIII" in Marsala

The centre in question is the former welfare home* “Giovanni XXIII” in Marsala, which we visited the same day. As the managing body's superintendent admitted to us, the centre has many difficulties, ones seen by the staff and reported, above all, by the residents. First of all, the structure is split into two zones, one for the elderly and another for the migrants. The number of staff is inadequate, and the guests are left along at night and in the afternoon. The sorting of rooms and the managing of the communal spaces is left entirely to the migrants' discretion, who by now have lived in the building for years, some of them even for three years. There is no real control, and one of the biggest complaints from those who live and work in the centre, is lack of security, as 'G' reported: “I work here the whole day, and when I come back at night there are people drinking, getting drunk, smoking and making a scene. There's no control, only someone on the end of a telephone, but who doesn't make any checks. I've had to buy a new lock for the door. I lock myself in through fear, and also because theft is a daily occurrence, it's a jungle.” Just as 'G' has decided to sleep on his own in a cabin, the other rooms have also got new locks on the doors, bought by the residents who live there, and they are locked. We were able to see only the rooms of those who were present, and our chaperone (an employee of the welfare home*) told us that the locks are installed by the guests themselves, and that only they have the keys. Today the number of people present in the structure is much less than that allowed by contract, precisely because the difficulties encountered over recent years were obvious. Of 100 people present at the opening (by contract), today there are 30 migrants. The rooms need to be restructured (as the superintendent confirmed) but everything has been blocked for some time. Day to day upkeep is entirely absent, and above all any attention towards the people who live there, who feel abandoned. By now everything seems to be simply out of control, and anarchy and self-management prevails.

The sanitary conditions in the rooms are embarrassing, the distribution of clothing is non-existent, and there is a chronic lack of sheets and blankets. 'F', full of anger, denounces that: “We work all day in the fields, they treat us like animals and exploit us, but it's the only way of getting any money to send to our families, given that the pocket money they give us we use for that which we need to live. We come home and stay in our rooms, which we have to keep closed so that things don't get stolen. The rooms are full of mould and often there's no hot water. The animals get more drinking water than us, just 6 bottles every 15 days. Some people left long ago and would rather sleep on the street than continue to be exploited here. I've got health problems – otherwise I would get out of here tomorrow.”

The legal situation seems to be more problematic still, given that the young men have no fixed lawyer (the welfare home has no legal assistant) and in many cases they entrust themselves to the local lawyer, some of whom – according to the residents' own accounts – ask for €2,000 to present an appeal against a negative response from the Territorial Commission.

On leaving, we told the superintendent that we would be informing the relevant institutions and humanitarian organisation about the situation in the building, in the hope that the conditions might improve sooner, given that at the moment it is extremely difficult to talk of any kind of “welcoming” system.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
* Extraordinary Reception Centre = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (CAS)
* “welfare home” = Istituto pubblico di assistenza e beneficenza (IPAB)

Translation by Richard Braude