The Reception System in Agrigento, Trapani and Palermo: Between Disorganisation, Chaos and Abandonment

The deadly game does not stop. Europe has found a way out, and the only consequence will be the death of an entire society. The refrain we hear everyday is of an “invasion” and “help them in their own countries”. These phrases have contributed to the return of a regurgitated racism, spreading out across our cities in a series of episodes, from Aosta to Palermo, as seen by the latest protests in Castell’Umberto and Porto Empedocle.


Protest by shopkeepers in Porto Empedocle (Provincia of Agrigento) against the opening of a centre for minors


Politics is only about electoral consensus and cornering the NGOs that save lives at sea by attempting to connect them with the crooks in Libya. Yet again, the Italian government is attempting to clamp down on volunteering and solidarity, trying first to criminalise people and then impose an entirely arbitrary set of rules, laying down a code that goes beyond the mandate of those organisations which, for years, have attempted to put an end to the massacres underway.

Massacres which are being verified by all the humanitarian organisations in the field, all of whom have trued to speak out in recent months, underlining that these policies only create instability in places which are already characterised by instability, increasing the number of dead. This year again this number is reaching a new record, a record of which we should all be ashamed.

We will say again that there is only one way out of this situation: to give people the possibility to move freely. This is the only way to stop the human traffickers, who will now be happy to read the decisions that dear old Europe keeps on making, helping them to simply increase the earnings of criminals and Mafia.

While Italy and France are busy providing support to phantom leaders in Libya, attempting to create friendships in order to maintain political and economic hegemony in the zone, migrants themselves are increasingly victims of abuse, violence and torture, as evidenced by the latest witness accounts of those who have managed to arrive in Sicily.

‘B.’, a minor from The Gambia, was arrested under the accusation of being a boat driver. He was forced to drive the rubber boat after the other three young men, other unlucky travelling companions, were killed by the traffickers in cold blood with a shot to the head, people who remain unpunished.

In the meantime, the Italian Minister of the Interior, Minniti, continues to request places in which to park the people who manage to survive, reiterating the mechanisms of ‘extraordinary’ reception, ones which have never functioned. The government continues t act without any forward planning. Thus there are paradoxical situations in which prefectures, like those in Western Sicily for example, are completely blocked and abandoned by the Ministry, which continues to turn look the other way and impede any more acceptable kind of work.

The Province of Agrigento has 1,600 minors in the reception system, as well as the Hotspot of Lampedusa (which is not included in the figures) and thus it has been necessary to tender new contracts to create another 1,000 places, while the number of staff in the Prefecture is slim to say the least. In the province of the most southern border there are only three members of staff who have to work at triple pace: how does anyone think it would be possible to organise a reception system in this way?

Migrants rejected from Agrigento


The Lampedusa Hotspot has always worked badly, it has always needed to be rebuilt and is always overcrowded. In recent months the situation inside has been characterised by inappropriate mixing of ages and genders and an every growing number of Tunisians who arrive on the island on chance journeys, without interception (or wanting to be intercepted) by the naval blockade. Tunisians citizens remain for a long time until the Minister authorises the prefectures to transfer them (when there are agents to escort them or when there are places in the detention centres* or planes).

Aside from this uncertain and flimsy regulatory framework, the police stations continue to casually carry out mass rejections. The most recent happened at Porto Empedocle, when more than 160 Moroccans were dumped outside of the port without any indications, sleeping in the street and abandoned to themselves.

In Trapani the Prefecture has only a single functionary to monitor the entire situation, in moment – between the landings and the Hotspot, the centres for minors and the Extraordinary Reception Centres*, he has to monitor more than 3,000 people spread across the Italian province with the highest number of centres, as well as all the migrants exploited in the countryside between April and November.

Unfortunately this has been a situation well known to everyone in the area for year, but which everyone purposefully ignores in order to keep “using the blacks” in order to keep the prices in the multinational supermarkets ever lower. Blood split for our daily shopping, and to make profits for the few.

This is a system in which exploitative work includes sexual labour. There are increasing reports of buses full of (ever younger) Nigerian women heading for the countryside. Two kinds of exploitation in the same area, sexual and agricultural. Safe money.

The Vos Hestia (Save the Children) arrived in the port of Trapani on July 28th, bringing 13 bodies (and 254 survivors). Three corpses remained lost at sea. Among the dead there were 8 women (2 of them pregnant) and 5 men. This latest massacre has left at least 4 children orphaned (the oldest of them 5 years old), all of whom have seen both of their parents killed. Children who now join the great mass of vulnerable people in our country who are simply abandoned by institutions.

In Palermo the situation is again extremely serious. More than 1,800 places needs to be found to host the adults in the province, and after the last tendering the Prefecture has published yet another, in which the usual names are present. Obviously it will always be the same cooperatives to try and open new structures according to the requirements of the bid. But in order to do this they need time, and for this reason the Prefecture has opened emergency Initial Reception Centres* for adults, entrusted to charitable or institutional bodies like the Caritas in Palermo and Monreale, and the Red Cross.

Palermo also has to deal with the problem of the number of 18 year olds in the centres/communities for minors, which is now more than 250. A further problem is the lack of response from the central service for SPRAR centres*. Cases of serious vulnerability remain in the Extraordinary Reception Centres in Palermo and the province (and beyond) for years, despite the requests made by the Prefecture, to which no response is given.

Catania, July 28th: Antiracist groups protest against the arrival of the anti-migrant ship, C-Star


Fortunately, many people continue to reject this failed system. A hundred activists came together last weekend in Catania for three days of protests, flash mobs and assemblies, in order to say with a united voice that this is not the world we want, and that freedom and social justice represent the only real path to exit from this disaster.

In Catania there is still hope. We were three, and will continue to remain on the streets side by side with those who believe in change, despite all the obstacles.


Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia
Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus*detention centres = CPR (centri permanenti del rimpatrio)

*Extraordinary Reception Centres = CAS (Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria)

*Initial Reception Centres = CPA (Centri di Prima Accoglienza)

*SPRAR = Sistema di Protezione per Richedienti Asilo e Profughi (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees)

Translation by Richard Braude