During the summer, headlights are usually aimed at embarkations, and this year is no exception. However, due to the Coronavirus, alarms about potential ‘invasions’ are raised particularly often, resulting in ideal conditions for the nth hate speech against migrants and messy, disastrous processes of embarkations.
Lampedusa – Photo by Silvia Di Meo
It’s been a year since the minister of interior who had prohibited the embarkation of ships has resigned from office. The discontinuity of decisions which was broadly announced by the following governments, hasn’t been realized yet, not even rudimentarily. We strongly question whether it will be adapted at all. The list of errors goes on: the security decree has neither been repealed nor modified; sea rescue operations only take place delayed or aren’t executed at all; NGO ships are ceased for administrative reasons; the [so-called] Libyan Coast Guard still receives financial support; and the right of residence for migrants has been legalized in a way that is plain fraud. This incomplete enumeration demonstrates that apart from rhetoric and some acts of strength, the current government cannot be distinguished from its predecessor, the Lega-led government, in regard to migration policies. We like to continue telling the stories of people we meet and who have experienced this awful moment from up-close.
Sana is a young man from Gambia. He keeps looking downwards lightening his nth cigarette, he cannot keep the lighter in his hands still. He says: “I’m leaving. I don’t want to sit on my bed and wait any longer for someone granting me an appointment in order to put my papers straight. I have already been waiting too long. At my residential facility, they told me that the police station is not yet scheduling new appointments but keeps postponing. However, I need to know what to do, too many people rely on me.”
He is only 19 but had to grow up very fast. He is still young, but he seems to be much older as well as extremely tired. “During the lockdown, they put me in jail, in a cell without anyone giving me an explanation for this. They have locked us up and we learned about the reasons only much later. Months of silence resembling the Libyan camps where you do not know whether there will be another morning. At least we haven’t been beaten up here, nor have our testicles been burned. Nevertheless, we still experienced violence here and we are exhausted.”
He smokes one last cigarette before we say goodbye. We already don’t know where Sana is or what he does. He presumably enqueued the long line of the Invisible and Exploited, joined by thousands of unaccompanied minor refugees, who went missing in Italy. According to the latest estimate, more than two children disappear every day.
Moussa is a young Senegalese who had been working in a restaurant in Palermo for years until his employers fired him without hesitating: “I was been friendly with everyone, worked in every area, sometimes 14 hours a day, and everyone liked me. At least that was what I was thinking or wanted to believe. It felt good imagining that someone wanted the best for me and did not only need my strong arms in order to lift heavy boxes filled with food. My whole life took place in the restaurant: Cleaning toilettes, tidying up tables, pursuing orders, cleaning the cutlery after the restaurant closed its doors. They’ve treated me well, but the moment I asked for a work contract because my residence permit was about to expire, they put me on the street. They told me I was ungrateful, a profiteer, a thief. They humiliated me and put me on the street.”
We currently experience plenty of these situations because the alleged legalization paves the way for fraud and speculations – at the expense of migrants. Despite many attempts by charity organizations to inform and warn the people, the majority of them adhered to every sign of hope they could find and consequently have fallen victims to fraud.
Fred is from Gambia. He works in agriculture near Agrigento, for twenty days straight, twelve hours a day, harvesting vegetables, cleaning, and transporting it. In exchange, he received a fixed amount of money which was set in advance and without a contract as Fred has no papers and is in financial distress. After twenty days of hard work, Fred demanded his salary. His employer only wants to pay 100€ and even expects Fred to be grateful for an opportunity to work which he hasn’t been given from anybody else. As Fred made a stand against this fraud and abuse, he was beaten up by three friends of his employer. We heard his story from an acquaintance who told us, that Fred doesn’t want any help as he lost his faith in humanity. He still lives in misery, yet with another injury.
Ebrima is a young man from Ghana, dainty and with mental problems resulting from his stay in Libyan detention. Via custody, he was admitted to a psychiatry in Palermo and released one month later. Nobody informed the friend who had accompanied Ebrima to the hospital about his release, as he was considered healthy. During the peak days of the lockdown, Ebrima strolled the streets of Palermo like a ghost because he was not doing well. He needs medication, but it is only available at the psychiatric facility he was released from. Ebrima is black, alone, sick and he wasn’t permitted a bed in hospital. He is considered surplus in our society.
The usual poor management of arrivals and receptions
In stark contrast to any anti-corona measure, migrants are placed collectively in huge numbers and without any protection from the sun, humiliated like animals in order to receive an answer or to simply be let in. This happens behind the gates of the police station in Palermo where migrants have to wait outside without safety distance, solely to hear that their appointments have been postponed. However, this appointment is crucial for many. With the ostensible reason of the Corona-Pandemic, cases of abuse have been increasing remarkably. No rules, arbitrary practices, little or no linguistic nor cultural mediation, and no answers from police personnel at the entrance.
According to Keita, it is even possible that long-desired residence permits are finally issued, only to realize that they’re going to expire within one month. A deliberate infringement of rights legitimated by disastrous and blind politics: “I have to start once again; it does not stop. The first people who exploit migrants are the authorities, the police does because politics pave the way. We are only playing pieces and they play with us.”
The centers which in the meantime have become containers for people who are held worse than animals in a slaughterhouse, demonstrate that migrants are considered less than nothing. On Lampedusa the state of emergency was declared and 900 people were detained in a hotspot with a capacity for 90. Civil protection has set up tents in front of the Favaloro pier where people can stay and wait for their transfer to Sicily. The deportation center in Milo and the reception center in Caltanissetta were reopened to accommodate the many Tunisians during quarantine. In addition, there are other facilities throughout Sicily which are used for the same purpose: to accommodate adults and children, families, and individuals together. As a consequence, families are torn apart as a result of relocations.
Since the returns only start slowly, the end of quarantine simply means that Tunisians are likely to end up on the streets. This is communicated by indicating the “Seven Days” decree on deferred returns and results in a high number of invisibles throughout the whole field. Despite the use of shore-based facilities, the government continues to use ships for quarantine which is very cost-intensive. Learning from a quick calculation, we realize that the cost of maintaining a ship is much higher than maintaining a shore-based facility.
There is one last evidence proving that the current government resembles its predecessors in regard to the disastrous management procedures of the receptions system. The last email sent by the central service SIPROIMI* (formerly SPRAR*) disclosed the possibility to relocate asylum seekers from Emergency Receptions Centers (CAS*) to SIPROIMI facilities. Insofar, it manifests a return to the times before the security decrees, but only in the context of the current exceptional situation and not out of any will to undo the damage caused by the current legislation. Moreover, according to the figures, we are not in an exceptional situation at the moment, but propaganda is maintained by means of alarmism and fake figures.
We would like to be proven wrong, but what currently happens has nothing to do with the coronavirus or the exceptional situation that almost all of us experience. It is a lack of politics which is responsible for the void in precisely those areas that are particularly exposed. This lack creates tensions between migrants and the local population as it has happened on Lampedusa back in 2011. Moreover, people are encouraged to do so by the troublemakers and their statements on TV. The atmosphere is becoming more and more intense, not only on Lampedusa where the headlights are focused on, but also in Pantelleria experiencing an exponential growth in arrivals this month, as well as on Favignana, Marettimo and at the coasts of Sicily: the day before yesterday, the province of Ragusa recorded an arrival at the beach.
Unfortunately, we cannot speak of any changes so far. If our politicians had any spark of dignity, only one spark, they would have to look their children in the eye and apologize for the damage they cause; and afterwards, they had to withdraw into their own private spheres.
*CAS: Centro di accoglienza straordinaria – Extraordinary reception center
*SIPROIMI: Sistema di protezione per titolari di protezione internazionale e per minori stranieri non accompagnati – Protection system for beneficiaries of international protection and for unaccompanied foreign minors (Successor of the SPRAR centers: Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo – System of protection for asyulm seekers and refugees, communal reception system on a voluntary basis, about 3,000 - 3,500 places throughout Italy. Should serve for the integration of the refugees)
*SPRAR: Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo – Protection facilities for asylum seekers and refugees. It is a communal reception system on a voluntary basis, about 3,000 - 3,500 places throughout Italy. Should serve for the integration of the refugees
Translated by Marah Frech