When reception is improvised: violated rights and inhumane practices also in "phase two"

The 4th May 2020 will be remembered for the beginning of the so-called "phase two", which brings hope of a slow recovery. But this will not be the case for 183 people who for 18 days were held in hostage by the Italian state that confined them on a ship because of the virus, as if the thousands of deaths in the RSA* had taught nothing. But as it always happens in Italy, no plan was made, everything was left standing still for more than two weeks and then the emergency had to be chased after following the usual script.

porta lampedusaThe gate of Lampedusa – Photo by Silvia Di Meo

Yesterday was convulsed and spent looking for information, in order to understand what the plan of the prefecture of Palermo was, only to discover that there wasn't any. The Ministry of the Interior had no clear indications, and everything was left in the hands of the usual unfortunate executive on duty, on whom, in case of errors, all responsibility would be discharged.

The prefecture asked for the availability of places at the extraordinary reception centers (CAS*) of Palermo and province, but without success, because, as some reception entrepreneurs told us, "do we wait for them to pay us from the first quarter of 2019 and put more meat on the fire? We are not stupid!"

The period of isolation ended yesterday and the prefecture summoned the Asp* for the triage at 9 am. Operations didn't start until 12 am, due to problems related to the outbursts of three Moroccan boys who had been hospitalized for acts of self-harm in the past few days, and then brought back to the ship once discharged. After overcoming these problems, the doctors with the mediators were able to get on board. Some of the operators of the Asp stressed that "the danger that they get sick always comes from us and not the other way around: they are certainly fine and each of them has done two tests". The police officers also boarded the ship, setting up the immigration office in the lobby. The usual checks were carried out, starting with the minors, who went from 43 to 33, repeating a practice that often characterizes the identification operations during landings. In the end the 33 unaccompanied minors managed to leave after 8 pm towards Salerno and Campobasso.

Only late at night it was decided to transfer people out of Sicily and look for buses. As usual we have to record the lack of attention towards human beings who are only seen as bodies to be confined and hidden, staging the usual ballet of shift and reject of responsibilities, delays and illegitimate practices, despite the fact that we were faced with a situation that could be handled and programmed from the first day of quarantine. And we are astonished how the mayor of Palermo made triumphant statements when people were still on board, and – with the complicity of a few journalists – the conclusion of the disembarkation by lunchtime was told.

The National Red Cross, which carried out its mandate assumed for the quarantine period, ended the latter and left the ship, not legitimising further detention outside the law. The Palermo Red Cross has given the disposition to take over from the National Red Cross and to be "nursemaid" until 1 pm today, May 5, allowing people not to stay on the dock waiting for the identification operations at the police headquarters, which finally ended just before midnight on May 4. After all, nothing has changed since the last landing: only the journalists, the photos on the politicians' pier, the humanitarian organizations and some tearful stories are missing. For the rest, it is still the usual violation of people's rights.

As it also happens in Lampedusa, where people who disembark, including children, are left on the pier for one or two nights. The center of the island is still quarantined for the 116 people inside. The 136 people who arrived yesterday with two different landings remained on the pier.

Within two days more than 200 people arrived in Lampedusa. People who arrived without warning, who allowed themselves not to die, who decided not to respect the Italy-Libya Treaty. Someone has to take the responsibility of deciding how to manage the arrivals of the migrants, how to welcome them with dignity, and not treat them like garbage, as Don Carmelo La Magra, parish priest of Lampedusa, says and who gave the possibility to some of the migrants to sleep at the house of the fraternity.

If we had the possibility, we would like to ask the Minister of the Interior and the government what they intend to do in the coming days and months when the landings will increase. The solution cannot be to continue to use Libya as a shield, because this only means death and violence for thousands of people. Will it be possible to implement a human plan of prompt reception and distribution throughout the country without leaving exhausted people in the open?

Another day that we will remember for the cancellation of rights, yet another day in an Italy and Europe that unfortunately do not lose their old, inhuman habits.


Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicily


*RSA: Residenze Sanitarie Assistenziali – Assisted nursing homes
*CAS: Centro di accoglienza straordinaria – Extraordinary reception center
*Asp: Aziende sanitarie provinciali – Provincial health companies (Sicily)


Translation by Sandra Krause

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