From Pozzallo to Mineo via Ventimiglia. Migrants detained, deported and isolated.

The images which arrived from Ventimiglia and Genoa this week are images of a police state: beatings, evictions, raids, deportation flights and forced identifications imposed on around a hundred migrants, including pregnant women, children and vulnerable persons. Identifications, barracks detentions and deportation orders have also been distributed to a large number of activists and citizens deemed “guilty” of having given assistance, legal information and solidarity to the refugees camped along the beach at Ventimiglia. At the French border another dark chapter in Italian history is being written, precisely because, whether we want it to or not, the violation of rights, the repression and implementation of political liberticide affects all of us.

A week ago around 50 migrants were transferred on board an airplane from Genoa to Catania in order to be housed at the CARA/Hotspot at Mineo. Among them were some young Eritrean and Sudanese men, who we met in the evening at the Catania train station, already preparing themselves to make the journey towards other destinations, determined for not accepting these decrees made from on high to control their movements and to neutralise their subjectivity. Whoever risks their life to be free is quite aware that the famous relocation program, which up to the time of writing is a complete failure, is nothing but a new European contrivance to better manage economic relations between member states, and to maintain the life of a security system which would be entirely dismantled if it were to give way to a real reception system.

“I arrived a few months ago at Pozzallo” one of the migrants at the train station tells us, who claims to be a minor and does not look more than fifteen years old. “They took my finger prints, pulling me around and using force, and after a bit I was transferred, and made the journey alone to the French border.” Communication is extremely difficult because the main languages known by the migrants are Tigrinya and Arabic, but a few of them also speak English and we stay with them the most. Having broken the ice, they nonetheless remain reticent in recounting the story of their journeys. “We arrived by plane with 52 others, now we want to go to Rome, nothing more than that.” While speaking, we realise that they have been identified many times over, the umpteenth on their arrival at the CARA, and also that almost all of them were brought into Sicilian ports a few months ago. They are eye witnesses to the madness of a system which pretends to govern them like pawns to be moved across a chessboard of their own plans.

Yet again, in the middle of these moves appears, not by accident, the mega-centre at Mineo, now officially included by the Ministry of the Interior among the Hotspots in Sicily, the managing body of which receives the corresponding payment from the Italian state for “reception” for the first three days, even if the individual immediately abandons the complex, as did those who we met at the station. “We know that Italy has our fingerprints but we’ll keep on going, we have a journey to finish.” The same words are repeated a week later during a discussion with a small group of Somalian minors who are wandering around Pozzallo. “We’ve been at the centre for nine days. They transferred everyone except the minors, in total we’re about 100–120 people, and at least 12 of us are less than fifteen years old. They’re not allowed to go out and return to the camp like us.” These extremely young men also want to run away, so as to join friends and family in England.

Notwithstanding a minimal amount of media attention this past month, following the visit by a group of MPs to the Hotspot, the illegal, drawn out detention of unaccompanied minors continues, without any legal validity, with the single concession that they are allowed to go out. This is simply the latest confirmation of the lack of will to protect the minors’ best interests and their security, which would instead rely on their transferral to appropriate centres and an adequate following of the procedures. The young men we spoke to were exhausted by the heat and the beginning of Ramadan, even if they told us that they had the opportunity to eat a regular meal after sunset. Since their arrival they have had only one change of clothes, which they manage to wash regularly: “fortunately it’s hot hear, so we don’t always need all the clothes at once.” The phone credit they had at the start obviously ran out after the first call.

They tell us tat they have spoken with workers from various NGOs – “the only people who speak good English” – and of being informed of their rights and many duties, but nonetheless that their intention to move away is growing all the time. “Maybe we’ll be transferred when we become adults, if we wait that long!” M., who has just turned fifteen, speaks fluent English and translated our discussion for the majority of the group. “I was lucky enough to have studied in Mogadishu, and I want to continue studying, to graduate in history. And to play basketball. They,” – he points to three friends – “are fugitives like me, thanks to Al-Shabaab. I even learned English, what can I do in Italy where no one understands me?” Clear ideas and a great deal of determination, which are now accompanied by smiles and joking which alternate with signs of suffering, and we ask ourselves for how long they can take this interminable waiting.

The same cannot be said for the dozens of migrants who alight periodically at the bus stop very close to where we are; they come almost every day from the “Alessandro Frasca” CAS (Emergency Reception Centre) at Rosolini, and complain about the endless days they have spent waiting, without even knowing very well for what, a period which does not seem destined to end. “We can’t go from our camp into town on our own” – an arbitrary restriction on their freedom which we have already denounced a year ago, and which seems to be still practised. “The managers tell us that it is for our own good, because the townsfolk are racist. So instead we come by bus to Pozzallo, even every day, so that we can get out and see people, even if only in passing.” At the CAS they get Italian lessons only sporadically and nothing more they say; some of them were recently transferred from the Umberto I centre in Syracuse, now closed, where they spent several months, and now listen to the stories of isolation and abandonment with anguish, stories which seem to signal their future.

Even in their case, this anxiety and desire for self-determination goes hand in hand with the risk of falling into new networks of trafficking and exploitation, those which Europe has forced them to put their trust in if they want to cross the borders, and to which they are constantly exposed through politics of control and oppression. Europe is imposing an undiscussable division between those who are and are not included, with the media constructing ad hoc sketches of migrants corresponding to each group, with the direct consequence of illegitimate, discriminatory selections, rejections, deportations and the total abandonment of whoever is considered to be without human rights – rather than being recognised as living witnesses to a situation which has to change.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation: Richard Braude