Crossing the Mediterranean to become “crazy”

We receive and publish from a former social worker.

We last spoke with K. on May 25th. He had just returned to the extraordinary reception center (*CAS) where he lived after being hospitalized for almost a month after yet another mandatory health treatment (*TSO). Three days ago, another TSO, the last one probably.

I met him about 4 years ago, when I was working as a cultural mediator at the reception facility for unaccompanied foreign minors where he was placed after disembarking in Italy. With K. I shared a love for Guinea, his country, where I had spent a long period of my life. Many had told me to be careful with K. “He is crazy, don’t talk to him. Who knows what happened to him. Don’t get too close. Indulge him because he’s violent.”

K. had already been hospitalized after TSO twice when I met him, and he spent his days sleeping because of the medication. He woke up because we operators had to wake him up and give him medicine, even though it was not our field of expertise. When he woke up and I was on duty he looked for me to talk about his country, in his language, the Fula. He would digress and tell me about his family. A lover of music and dance, K. has a contagious laugh.

When he laughs, he reminds you of a child and makes you happy. He speaks English, French, Italian (very well), Fula, Mandinka, Wolof, Arabic. And maybe two or three other African languages. Lazy by birth, however, it was not difficult to involve him in internal activities at the center. But the good days were scarce in recent years and although he had obtained humanitarian protection in 2017 and was entitled to be placed in a protection facilities for asylum seekers and refugees (*Sprar) for vulnerable people, we could not have him transferred because of his psychiatric problems.

His “case” has been reported several times to the prefecture, the social services, the Supreme Judicial Council (*CSM), the Juvenile Court.

K. was still a minor when he was granted humanitarian protection and was trapped in the first reception center which had become CAS instead of a center of initial reception (*CPA) in 2018. Despite numerous reports, calls around Italy trying to find a suitable structure for him, we had always received negative responses. The Prefecture, as soon as he was over 18, advised us to throw him out. On the other hand, why is a humanitarian protection holder still a guest in a CAS?

And so, K. turned into a hot potato. Thus, we’d better forget about him, pretend we don’t see him. Make him even more invisible. But K. got tired one day: of being treated like a fool, like someone who has to be appeased, like someone who is scary.

He asked to be transferred without getting an answer. And then he stopped taking his medication and began to lead a life of wandering and poorly adequate to his state of mental health. He started taking drugs again, coming home late at night, sometimes not coming at all. Sometimes he called me for help. He wanted to go home. Then he wanted to leave for another country.

COVID-19 gave him the final blow. He was lonely. He went out but he didn’t meet anyone. He was nervous. He was still off his medication. At the beginning of May he was hospitalized again with a TSO and the responsible CAS worker did everything she could to find a facility where he could be transferred. A structure that could offer him a future, because for 5 years K. was deprived of a project that would make him grow and allow him to lead a dignified life.

He was treated like a person who lacks something. A poor mental patient who has to be hidden, who cannot be cured, who doesn’t deserve attention. In short, if there were still madhouses today, K. could very well rot in a cell in Via La Loggia.

I’ve just received confirmation that nothing good can happen to K. Although he left the last hospital ten days ago, yesterday he was hospitalized again and this time he was taken away in handcuffs because he was “uncontrollable”. His fate is now in the hands of the CSM.

Perhaps K. is just another case of “madness” coming from Africa.

Giulia di Carlo
Former social worker

*CAS: Centro di accoglienza straordinaria – Extraordinary reception center
*CPA: Centro di prima accoglienza – Initial reception center
*CSM: Consiglio superiore della magistratura – Supreme Judicial Council
*Sprar: Sistema di protezione per richiedenti asilo e rifugiati – Protection facilities for asylum seekers and refugees
*TSO: Trattamento sanitario obbligatorio – Mandatory health treatment

Translation by Sandra Krause