A difficult fresh start: Visitors in the CAS of Chiaromontes Gulfi

There are many signs that point the way to “Le Mole”. Previously a place for having holidays on a farm (Agriturismo), and now it is an extraordinary refugee centre. It is located in the district of Piano dell’ Acqua in the community Chiaramonte Gulfi. It is managed by the cooperative “La Sorgente”. Situated in a beautiful land full of olive trees, this place is easily accessible by a private vehicle, car or scooter. The bus station is far away, and the secluded little streets are not easy to master on foot or by bike.

I arrive at the centre. After I went through the gate, I am standing in a huge garden with fruit trees, tables and furniture, remnants of tourism. I meet a group of three young people and I introduce myself. They are surprised by my visit. They say I’m one of the few external people that they see for months. “No one comes here” – apart from the employees who are currently in the main building. The boys tell me the situation in the centre: Only nine people, from an average of 20 people, live there today. They are all men from Gambia. The majority has been there for a long time: No, three, five months, and a young man, with a residence permit on humanitarian grounds, has been there for one year!
After the first questions about the centre, the boys point out how helpless and unwanted they feel. This is also confirmed by a staff member passing by. First, a sense of powerlessness and frustration due to the long waiting for the documents: Anyone having had an interview with the Commission, still wait for a response or a residence permit.
In the morning, I had already heard about the critical situation from the director of the centre, Ms Ventura, on the phone. “We try to do everything possible, we urge the competent officials, and we understand the annoyance of the refugees,” says Vera.
“I do not understand what they do,” says E. who arrived in Pozzallo in January. “They solely must complete and stamp one document. It will be decided how and where I can live.” The topic attracts everyone’s attention. “I have an appointment in a few days at the Commission, but I have no idea what to expect,” says L.

We talk about the interview, how it is designed and what kind of decisions the Commission may take. While L. shares his water bottle with me, he tells me how his life was before fleeing Gambia, and especially why he had to flee. The stories of violence and imprisonment sound surreal under the shade of these beautiful trees – but these thoughts come back again every day. “It’s difficult when you have nothing to do, you know.” That is another topic that is being discussed longly during our conversation. Every young person tells me the same story. “This place is beautiful but we eat and sleep only.” To pass the time, we only have the phone and cigarettes. We talk in English with a few Italian words. We have never taken a course, and above all, we have no one with whom we can talk!”. A. Said, “I am only been twice in Ragusa. The staff accompanied me to the bus stop. I cannot and will not think that I have to wait here for a long time without meeting new people, without me walking freely in the city. I’m 25. I fled two years ago from my native country. And after travelling through Senegal, Mali, Burkina and Libya and having lost two good friends of mine in the sea, I do not believe that I still have to suffer, to find a job, a family, a valid document “.
L. leads me through the centre, through the rooms and another garden. He shows a point where the pool was. “I train every day, I run ten times to the end of the field. In Gambia, I was a professional football player and here I’d love to continue playing. As long as I stay in this place, without human contact and documents, I can only dream of it. I talk for two more hours under the arbour with the young people. They ask me many questions about life in Italy, about the nearer cities, about the work and so on. Without noticing, it is lunch time.
Two boys come back home from work in the country: Today, they have been working for three hours, as it happens sometimes, and they are satisfied. “Nothing to do is the same as going crazy” E. brings apples; he still wants to talk to us. “The food can wait today” he says. “Sometimes tourists come here who believe that the restaurant still exists. They say that we must be very happy to be here. True, this place is very nice, but for us it is more difficult to express our loneliness and motionlessness.” This immobility and isolation mean despair and structural violence for those who really want to start a new life here.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translated by Aylin