(AGI) – Trapani – “I climbed over the gate and onto the perimeter fence, but then I fell down and in doing so broke both heels. A policeman then grabbed one of my feet whilst I tried to escape. I could see everyone else getting away while I was lying on the ground. Just me and five others didn’t make it. I had decided to try and escape because I had no other option.” This is the statement, translated from the French, of a 26 year old Tunisian who at around 5.30pm last Saturday attempted to break out of the Milo Immigration Detention Centre (CIE) on the outskirts of Trapani, with around 40 other co-nationals.
It was an incident which, for the young migrant, ended up in the San’Antonio Abate Hospital. The young man agreed to talk to us from his bed in the orthopaedic department, where he is staying whilst awaiting surgery tomorrow and where he is under no kind of surveillance. “We chose that time to escape because there was a football match on, so many of the guards were distracted,” he continued before telling us his story which began in Tunisia. After having taken part in a political rally, he was forced to leave his job as a painter and decorator and pay 2,500 dinari (€1,800) to cross the Mediterranean together with 90 others. “I arrived in the Milo CIE on 27th August,” he said, “three days after I had arrived in Lampedusa. The man who had organised the crossing and been in charge of the boat was also caught and taken to the CIE. He denied any involvement in the affair but has already been repatriated. I ended up in Milo because they were unable to identify me. But when they eventually did clarify who I was, I went to see the officials to ask if I could begin my application for political asylum but no one would listen to me.” Speaking about life inside the CIE, the young Tunisian said, “All together there are 163 of us from Morocco, Tunisia and Central Africa. There are up to 7 or 8 people per room and some have to sleep on mattresses placed on the floor. The hygiene conditions are pretty bad and our religion gets little respect. We are often served pork at meal times.” The Tunisian showed us his mobile phone which had had the camera broken. He said it was the officers in the CIE who had done it on his arrival. He spoke as well of other cases of maltreatment. “Everything that happens there is terrible,” he said. “We are not allowed to go outside even for fresh air and we are controlled and searched 3 times a day. Once, after having asked for some shampoo, I banged on the bars just to get some attention. The police responded by beating me up. One of the very same officers fractured the skull of a Moroccan who was taken to hospital and then brought back to the CIE. There are 60 to 70 police officers on duty each shift.”
According to the Tunisian, there are 3 minors present in the Centre, as well as some detainees who suffer from diabetes and mental health problems. “They are given injections to calm them down,” he states. “They don’t stay in separate rooms, they are mixed in with everyone else.” In hospital, the young man has been left completely by himself. He said that he had received no phone calls or visits from anyone from the CIE. Even the police, who kept him under surveillance for the first few days, left him from the moment he was immobile in bed. “I’ve been treated well in hospital, even if there are difficulties to understand exactly what is going on because nobody speaks French. The only person who helped me was another patient in the same room as me who knew some French. Now, he is the only one who comes to see me,” he stated. “If I have understood correctly, the doctors say that after the operation, I’ll have to wait another 30- 35 days before walking again.” And afterwards? “I don’t know where they will take me. I am afraid of having to return to the CIE.” The Tunisian doesn’t want his own country to be a part of his future, “there is not much freedom. We are all afraid of the Salafis.” Yet he doesn’t want Italy, which he mentions with disappointment, to feature in his future either, “it’s just like all the other countries”. His intentions are to go elsewhere. In France he has an uncle and a brother who are waiting for him. “It’s a better place,” he says. Fulvio Vassallo, member of the Association for the Judicial Studies into Immigration, has also recently spoken about escape attempts. Yesterday, together with Alessandra Siragusa from the Pd (Democratic Party), he paid a visit to the Milo CIE.
(AGI, Vincenzo Morfino)