A report on the establishment of a center of violence and oppression.
The CARA of Mineo was a reception structure for asylum seekers that should never have existed. It was established in 2011 during the ‘exceptional situation North Africa’ in former barracks of the American military in Sigonella. The place became a symbol for the reception ghetto that had a grave effect on the lives of the asylum seekers. We have observed and documented this again and again during the last years.
Abuse, violence, and exploitation – these are the key words that can be used to describe the center. There are hundreds of cases of violence and structural suffering that are related to this place. Up to 4.000 people were accommodated in it, double the maximum capacity. Thousands of people have passed through the center. They come from Africa or Asia. Here, they have been parked, without any respect for their rights, and here they have been humiliated during the extremely long waiting time for the result of their application for asylum. A succession of scandals related to investigations, trials, and parliamentary investigative commissions and notwithstanding, the federal funding of the center as well as its management have never been suspended.
A center like this, designed according to an emergency model and based on a marginalization of refugees, should never have existed. Since the day of its opening, we have persistently demanded the closure of the center to protect migrants’ rights that have been systematically violated in there.
With the closure of the center, which the interior minister of the Lega promised today, the circle closes. Eight years ago, another interior minister of the Lega caused its opening. Contradictory choices but both emerged from the same propaganda politics. Today, Salvini continues to carry out a measure that aims at producing illegality, victims of criminality and exploitation without rights. So even after the closure of the CARA of Mineo, a lot of people remain without reception or any other option of a valid and dignified accommodation.
Deportation of Migrants and Violations of Rights
Last summer minister Salvini announced the immediate shutdown of the CARA of Mineo. This was yet another act of anti-migrant propaganda. The relocation planned to empty the center started on December 9th, 2018 and continued until July 2nd, 2019, day on which the last group of migrants who survived the languishing center left it.
During these months, several buses have left the center every two weeks with regularly punctuality. Their destinations were different – CARA and CAS (extraordinary first reception center) of various Sicilian and other Italian provinces. The affected migrants had not been informed with regards to the destination until the very end. Many of them ended up in even worse places. This practice shows clearly that there has never been a plan about the close down of the center in a way that would be a benefit for its inhabitants. To be able to clear the center the people were relocated to other facilities with the sole political purpose of making this fight against migration, announced by the government, visible for everyone.
From Pian del Lago in the province of Caltanissetta to the former barracks of Gasparro in Messina, migrants have told us of the unacceptable conditions in which they have ended up. Photos, videos, and reports testify the hard conditions in the new centers. Here, the discomfort they have already gotten to know in Mineo continues. On the last relocation to the Calabrian center at Isola di Capo Rizzuto in Crotone on July 2nd, migrants told us following: in spite of their protesting, they had to spend their first night in a hangar. “Even death is better than living here” is written on the wall of the hangar. A photo sent to us by a migrant shows this graffiti.
Numerous migrants have refused their relocation in another center and many left the new center shortly after their arrival to find themselves a better place. This happened almost always in two different ways: either they go to a different Italian city or to another country (which means that they lose their right for asylum), or they return to Mineo, where, a group of official and unofficial guests have organized themselves in the meantime. The relocation of the last months have led to a slow emptying out of the center in Mineo without reducing the number of people actually living there. While hundreds of migrants have left the center via the main entrance, hundreds of people continued to enter and exit through the big holes in the fences that delimit the area, with or without badges.
Photo: A migrant leaves the CARA of Mineo. Photo by Silvia Di Meo.
The main entrance, which is constantly controlled by the military and police, is, in fact, only a covering façade of a structure that has neither security nor protection to offer to its inhabitants. In recent months the CARA has been characterized by fires, collapsed roofs, and dog attacks. These problems existed before this transition phase as well. Oppression has always cast its shadow on the lives of the inhabitants of the CARA of Mineo.
Among the abuses that we continually document there are the absent social and legal advice and information on the options that asylum seekers have. After a while illegal practices became normal: the pocket money was paid in form of cigarettes, there was not enough food for everybody, a lack of clothes, and of healthcare. Even especially vulnerable people, such as people with physical or psychological problems and women that have been victims of sexual exploitation, were not sufficiently protected. This situation deteriorated even further in the months previous to the closure of the center, as more and more services were cut partially whereby Italian language classes and other additional training courses was cut entirely. Especially during the last weeks, the situation in the CARA of Mineo has become even more chaotic. The group of migrants who remained there – most of them especially vulnerable people – was living in precarious circumstances in a facility without any maintenance.
The Machinery of Illegality and Invisibility
On July 2nd we were able to be eyewitnesses of the final clearing of the CARA of Mineo. The last 80-90 regularly inhabitants had to leave the center. There were as well many non-registered inhabitants who had entered the center through holes in the security fences. Before the directory locked down the main entrance, employees made sure that all non-registered migrants had left the center. Until that moment they had lived as invisibles within the center. Now, without any adequate legal support, they risk ending up on the streets and losing their right for asylum. Migrants transported their personal belongings on shopping carts and in suitcases to new destinations. Many of them ended up on the streets of Catania where they were given a ride from the last passing ‘Ethnic taxi’.
The Bishop of Caltagirone organized accommodation in a variety of Sicilian provinces for 26 migrants with or without regular residence permit. This happened in agreement with the directory of the CARA of Mineo and with the support of local parishes and the Caritas.
On July 5th, we visited the Villa Mantelli near Caltagirone. The church used the house as a temporary accommodation for some migrants who were not regularly registered until a new place will be found. We listened to the stories of some of the people there, offered legal advice, and intercepted a few especially critical cases on which to intervene. Some of the people were still waiting for a response from the asylum commission, others already received a negative response, and yet others had been left alone by their lawyers. Among them there were people in need of medical treatment. Three people were psychologically vulnerable and were being taken care of by MEDU (Medici per diritti umani – Doctors for Human Rights). Thanks to the work of MEDU another person with mental health problems was found back in the closed center. The person was found there with a head injury and brought then to Villa Mantelli.
Here, Sister Chiara made sure that everyone was relocated to a Caritas’ dormitory of Sicily.
We know that many migrants with similar problems are still out on the streets in the area around Mineo or Catania and do not have access to any kind of help or other resources.
Although the center of Mineo was closed, it is obvious that a closure down of this manner can cause grave consequences to deal with.
Against the CARA of Mineo and SAlvini’s Criminalization The Politics
For tomorrow, July 9th, the minister of the interior Matteo Salvini has announced a press conference taking place in the previous first reception center of Mineo. He is planning to celebrate the closing down of the center or rather to celebrate himself in the flashlights of the media. During the press conference he will talk about his success in closing the center as well as how the fight against migrants is taking shape more and more. However, Salvini will not tell the story of D. who, after the closure of the center, left for Crotone with a book written by Alessandro Baricco in his hand which was given to him by good friends. Salvini will also not tell the story of H. who was deported to a different center with her small son, and he will even not tell the story of M. who has become vulnerable due to his journey and due to his treatment in Mineo. He will not do it, because he does not know these stories and because he is not interested in the people who lived them. He is also not interested in the complex reality of the center. Salvini will be there to show shameful and ignorant political propaganda for his criminalizing actions, which aim at creating an uncomfortable situation for the migrants. He will come here to celebrate the hundredth act of violence that will be spread via Facebook and Twitter.
Once again, he will celebrate a closing down. This time it is not the one of a harbor but of a center, of an entrance gate that should never have opened up and certainly should never have been closed in this way. Once again, a closure to negate, to de-legitimize, to criminalize, and to consciously ignore stories of migrants that we want to remember and tell through an active memory.
We will be at Salvini’s press conference as well, tomorrow on July 9th, not to celebrate this disaster but to tell of how things really are. We want to inform people about the awful truth of Mineo and testify on the day on which the migrants’ rights were trampled in a media propaganda spectacle. We want to remind people that it is exactly this non-reception by the government that has generated this social violence and will continue to generate it. We will stand by the migrants as we have done throughout all of these previous years to support the victims of this unjust reception system – a reception that ghettoizes and excludes people like we have seen in Mineo.
We will continue our work by denouncing these practices and supporting the successful examples of reception that we can and should build up. So that no further centers like Mineo will exist and so that we can soon celebrate a speedy opening– and not a closure – of a migrants and reception system as well as a cohabitation for the benefit of everyone.
Silvia Di Meo