The Pandemic and the Factory of Irregularity

In Palermo, the Mission Hope and Charity [Missione Speranza e Carità] has been declared a red zone for the cases of Covid-19 positivity found. After a whole summer in which thousands of tourists circulated freely and without any control, encouraging any kind of gathering, to unleash unimaginable violence and hatred, it is the news of migrants positive for the virus. Even Palermo, a city defined as welcoming par excellence, is losing itself among the deepest fears and the most vulgar cruelty.

Why haven’t any of the institutions taken action in time, given that the associations in the area – the Circolo Arci Porco Rosso in particular – have been alerting and pressuring the authorities since March, denouncing the situation of all the poor and vulnerable who have no way to protect themselves from the disease and who go on trying to survive day by day? Perhaps because then we cannot unleash the hunt for the plague-spreading immigrant and the moralists who help them.

The comments you hear on the street are frightening: “Let’s lock them in, they shall not come out and if someone comes out let’s shoot them”; “let’s set them on fire so they get out of the way once and for all, they are a danger for our children, they are ruining a city”; “Covid is nothing to us and now they have brought it, they are dirty and don’t wash themselves, that’s why they got sick!” Other comments cannot even be transcribed, as violent and vulgar as they are.


Hunting the plague-spreaders

The search for a scapegoat and the hunt for a plague-spreader are, as always, the perfect expedients to – on the one hand – justify our lack of interest in what happens outside of our borders, where people continue to die at sea and humanitarian ships are blocked, and on the

other hand, not to ask us how the Covid-19 emergency is handled with respect to arrivals by sea and reception.

Every day hundreds of Tunisian citizens arrive in Sicily (95% of the cases), who land with autonomous boats on the coasts of Trapani, sighted on the coasts of Marsala, Mazara, and the islands. The Tunisians intercepted are transferred to the detention and repatriation center (CPR*) of Milo in order to be identified, although it is closed for restructuring. After the days of quarantine, as happens to Tunisians leaving the Covid centers on land or the quarantine ships, these people are left on the territory with a decree of rejection, because – as explained by the prefectures – there are no places in the CPR or other viable solutions. Thus, a very high number of people find themselves in the streets, wandering among the ghettos and abandoned farmhouses in the countryside or in the mission Hope and Charity.

On 21 September, the police commissioner of Agrigento issued five hundred refoulement decrees against the migrants – landed in Porto Empedocle from the quarantine ship – who will now pass through the island trying, who can, to continue the journey. These last five hundred are added to the numerous Tunisians who already for months, every day transit to Palermo after being released from the structures in Trapani or Agrigento, who do not have the opportunity to continue the journey to relatives or support networks. Many of them are enlisted as a workforce to pick grapes or olives, increasing the number of exploited people who live in unhealthy places, in conditions of extreme poverty and promiscuity.

However, no one is supposed to say that ghettos exist. Among them, the one between Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano is the most visible since it reaches up to 1,200 migrants. No institution to date has thought or provided for something, no one has thought about what measures should be put in place to protect the health of those who work in the fields and, therefore, of the entire community. The employers who exploit these people (3 euros per box of 15 kg or more), in order to save money, do not even raise the question of the spread of the virus.

“It is a shame! They are pissing all over the place, not washing and bothering. They drink and eat and leave dirt everywhere. They are the ones who are bringing us the Covid!”, these are the words of an old man from Alcamo – a town in the Trapani area where the grape harvest is taking place – while he observes about forty Tunisians and Moroccans sleeping under the arcades of the main square of the town. This year, in fact, the gym has not even been set up yet. For the past five years now, it has been used to provide a place for seasonal workers to sleep and to wash themselves.


Covid-19 emergency centers and quarantine ships 

In the insane management of Covid centers and quarantine ships, it also happens that migrants landed in Puglia or Calabria, after the period of isolation on a ship, are brought back to Sicily and then released from there or transferred to other regions. The situation in many quarantine

centers is critical: overcrowding, promiscuity, and no assistance to the most vulnerable people. And again, as in every moment of crisis, since the Sicilian police headquarters and prefectures are left alone to manage everything, the old methods of mass rejections and expulsions, which of course are only on paper, are returning, preventing thousands of people from accessing the international protection system and feeding the circuit of irregularity and exploitation.

“My father had to undergo surgery, an operation that had been planned for some time, but because of the migrants he was sent home and now, if he dies, I kill all these cursed n***!”, says a man at the hospital in Trapani, complaining about delays and making them depend on the need to carry out tests on the quarantine ship moored in front of Trapani.

Hate, racism, and loss of humanity are increasing alarmingly every day, and if even one day this virus should be defeated, we, however, have already lost.


Editorial staff Borderline Sicily


*CPR: Centro di permanenza per il rimpatrio – Detention and repatriation center


Translation by Sandra Krause