Activation of self-management at Pian del Lago

The immigrants are getting organised inorder to alleviate the long waiting times in front of the Office for Foreigners, which has been transferred to within the Centre.
From – the site of the three-in-one Centre of Pian del Lago (which includes an Immigrant Detention Centre (CIE), a Reception Centre (CDA) and a Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers(CARA)) is so perfectly suited to that of a ghetto. It is at least an hour’s walk away from the nearest inhabited centre and any commercial activities. In the last couple of years even the Immigration Offices usually found in the Police Headquarters have been transferred to the Centre. This has caused many problems especially for the foreigners who have been granted the right to stay in Italy as the entrance to the building gets completely blocked on the days when the Office is open. In the handling of the various procedures to renew permits of stay, issue the numerous types of documentation and the many other types of paperwork that are required, the migrants must go back and forth to the nearest town in order to pay the necessary stamp duty and get photographs done etc. And this is obviously the case regardless of the scorching sun in summer and the cold winter rains.

The overcrowding outside of the gates is getting more serious daily as foreigners are continuing to request the formalisation of their asylum status and to have access to the reception system. But the overcrowding within the Centre means that many of the reception requests cannot be granted and the waiting lists are growing by the day. There are some people who, in order not to lose their place, wait for up to 24 hours outside the building, sleeping on the ground next to the entrance. The main gate opens directly on to the road. There is no square for them to wait peacefully just the great risk that they may be hit by oncoming traffic, especially during the night.

During the last couple of weeks, however, the immigrants have started to attack the organisation of the Centre. They have set up a kind of parallel reception centre which is equipped with a couple of two man tents. There are also large water containers and some cooking equipment. The camp has been set up in order to making the long waits slightly more comfortable but it has been done so on private property. The owner of the occupied land told us that they had likely chosen that site as it followed the viaduct, locally known as the bridge, which provides an added protection from the rain. The landowner told us how he has alerted the authorities, not with the aim of getting the immigrants removed but to let the police the know the seriousness of the situation. However, the response he received was simply to erect a fence at least 4 metres high in order to prevent them entering his property. Yes, the authorities took no action even after receiving information by a member of the public. The local government is completely absent. There has been no interventions to support the hundreds of people who come everyday and wait in front of the Centre’s gates. There has been not even the slightest indication of any aid being offered to those who spend days and nights on the street in the hope of attaining access to the reception system. There is an absolute absence- guilty and total. It was only a year ago that organisations such as onlus and ipab were filling this monstrous and indecent gap by providing temporary accommodation, which at least guaranteed a place to sleep and a warm meal. But they have had to close due to a lack of funds. “There is no more money,” the public administration are already giving early warning signals. Often, where immigrants are concerned, excuses come in very handy.

We have decided to (metaphorically) baptise the new reception centre The bridge. Finally, maybe for the first time in the world, there is a reception centre which is being run directly by foreigners. They are managing the situation themselves with all the humanity they can muster (those who have actually managed to enter the state run reception leave what they can- covers, jackets, tents) but they have no services. For despite the enormous self-sacrifice on behalf of the initiators, there are no toilets, no medical assistance, no food. Nonetheless, there is a guaranteed morale assistance, which works on the premise of equality not that administered in the government run centres, and above all there is the guarantee of a place to sleep- some have a view of the bridge, others are under the stars (there are only two tents available). It’s true that there is a minimum assistance or of human complicity which has been shown by the owner of the land who lets them stay there and allows them access to water. Yet it really is a minimum, nonetheless this does absolutely nothing to dampen the spirits of the foreigners who are organising this alternative form of reception.

This is probably the reason why here in Caltanissetta the loud cries of “NO BRIDGE” can be heard: we don’t want a bridge over the Straits of Messina underneath which boats could seek shelter while waiting for a place to become free in an Italian port.

Giovanni Annaloro