After the Latest Eviction: An Update on the Camp at Pian del Lago

In mid-March the police yet again evicted the camp at Pian del Lago (Caltanissetta). All this achieved was the temporary removal of some of those who had found a precarious sanctuary under the motorway overpass. After the police operation had been carried out at dawn, some of the migrants were taken in by the reception centre at Caltanissetta, while many others – not having anywhere else to go – had no option but to reconstruct the camp-site the very same night.


The Evictions: A Futile Way to Solve the Problem

We have already reported on the result of the previous eviction in December, criticising the pointlessness of the by now cyclic practice, one which does not in any way deal with the underlying causes which push migrants to live in these conditions. The evictions perhaps represent simply a show of strength necessary to placate public opinion in the area, but it certainly does not represent any kind of adequate response to the fact that so many migrants, for different reasons, are forced to sleep rough. To really find a way out from the conditions in which so many people are living – without basic services, and thanks only to the solidarity of other migrants and voluntary associations who hand out food and blankets – it would be necessary to overturn a series of administrative practices which are creating this situation. The response would, in fact, be a political one, and not left up to the police.

Among other problems, living in this condition puts people at great personal risk, not only due to the inevitable tensions which the atrocious living situation creates among the migrants, but also due to other dangers: a few weeks ago, for example, a piece of cement broke off from one of the motorway pylons, hitting a young migrant, who luckily escaped any serious consequences.


The Roots of Exclusion: Slow Bureaucracy and Unpredictable Practices

The largest nationality group of those forced to live in the camp is surely Pakistani. There are a range of different situations. There are those who are waiting the formalisation of their asylum request and a place in the centre for asylum seekers and refugees (CARA*). Then there are many people who have come back to Caltanissetta in order to renew their ‘permits to stay’, waiting for months at a time for a simply bureaucratic procedure. As far as asylum seekers are concerned, the long waiting period for the process are due to the time taken by the Caltanissetta section of the Territorial Commission, which is headed up by that of Syracuse. The Commission, in fact, holds hearings only once a week – a schedule entirely inadequate for the number of requests made in the province.

The issue of renewing the permit to stay is quite different however. The Pakistanis should be able to obtain it also from the police stations in the provinces where they live and work (many have in fact come from Northern Italy), but have no way of first obtaining a certificate which can prove their residency in a fixed abode, and so are forced to return to Caltanissetta and live in these conditions for 5 or 6 months. Despite the fact that they are holders of some kind of international protection by the state, what should be a simple formality has been transformed into a black hole which can last for months. It is quite clear, therefore, that it is these bureaucratic problems which necessitate people to live in undignified conditions, only 300m from the police offices.

Rejections on the basis of nationality alone: a practice which creates marginalisation.

The majority of the African men who now find themselves in ramshackle tents constructed under the pylons of the S640 are from Ivory Coast. The group we reported on in the previous report have now been taken into the CARA*. Having ended up in a detention centre*, the period of detention ran out and the young Ivorian men were shown the door with an order to leave the country within 7 days. Thanks to the legal assistance provided by staff from Oxfam Italia – who are constantly monitoring the situation of the camp within the remit of the #OpenEurope project – these migrants have been able to make an appeal against the rejection notice (also thanks to the legal assistance of the Sportello Immigrati – an association in Caltanissetta which has been provided free support to migrants in difficulty for many years, along with lawyers and linguistic mediators). Two weeks later they managed to present their desire to ask asylum, taken on board by the police station, and were consequently – after around a month in the camp – taken into the CARA*, where they are now awaiting their hearing in the Commission.


Unfortunately, in the same moment in which these young men left the tent-city, another 15 Ivorians were let out of the detention centre* and found themselves in the make-shift camp. Their story seems to be an exact copy of that which we have already recounted. The 15 Ivorian citizens landed at Trapani, probably on March 23rd, after a rescue operation of the Libyan coasts in which 313 people were saved by the merchant vessel Val D’Aosta. They spent around 6 days in the Hotspot at Milo, and were then transferred to the detention centre* in Caltanissetta, where they spent another 2 nights before leaving with a rejection notice in their hands (of which they had been notified earlier) and the order to leave the country within 7 days.

The account of what happened in Trapani to these young men is deeply concerning, and entirely contrary to the necessary procedures for guaranteeing access to the process of claiming international protection. At the moment of landing, in fact, no one asked them the reason for their journey, and no one provided them with any adequate information about their rights. They simply received a piece of paper with some very general information about international protection, which they nonetheless did not understand, given that many of them are illiterate. They were then forced to sign another paper, without anyone translating what was written there (this was very probably the rejection notice).

This is the second time that we have borne witness to this extremely serious practice faced by Ivorian men. If the authorities dropped this practice of deciding who has the right to international protection based on their nationality alone, instead valuing every individual personal history and respecting the right to be appropriately informed about the asylum procedure, this baseless exclusion of migrants from the reception system could be avoided. It is entirely paradoxical that those rejected after the landing on the basis of their nationality then obtain some form of protection from the very same public authority which had previously shut them out.

It is these practices of depriving migrants of their fundamental rights which increases the cycle of invisibility and fills up the informal camps such as that of Pian del Lago. A political solution to these illegal practices is the only real way to avoid these forms of exclusion which are periodically “fixed” through police intervention, without gaining anything other than further pain and marginalisation.

Nicolas Liuzzi
Borderline Sicilia

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*detention centre = CIE, Centro di Identificazione e Espulsione
*CARA = centre for asylum seekers and refugees

Translation by Richard Braude