“Half a Human”

It is already 7 pm but the sun is still blazing. Not a single shadow on the highway that leads from the tiny city center of Marina di Modica to the heartland. In front of us, S. rides his bicycle with his backpack on. He is soaked in sweat and forced to to cover the distance to downtown Marina di Modica as quickly as possible. Since recently, he is accommodated with another 27 migrants in the new first reception center of the province of Ragusa. The cooperative Azione Sociale, which has operated the hotspot in Pozzallo until a month ago, manages this newly opened center as well as a new facility for migrants in Modica.

Ph. Lucia Borghi

The facility is an old farm in the middle of storehouses and greenhouses, a couple of kilometers away from Marina di Modica. The only way to reach the farm is by unpaved road that, branching off of the main road, leading through twists and turns into heartland. Upon our arrival, we introduce ourselves to the group of 5 migrants sitting at the entry. Immediately, an employee joins us and tells us to ask for a permit to be able to visit the center.
She explains to us that the center is in its initial stage; it has only been open for a month. They were aware that the facility is located in a remote area and were planning on organizing vans for transportation to the city center. At the moment, 28 male adults were hosted by the center, some of them coming directly from Pozzallo. We are unable to find out anything else about the cooperative. In the following days, we try to reach the people in charge via phone and in writing yet unfortunately unsuccessfully.
However, we are able to have a short conversation with the migrants present. They are happy, since we are the first visitors with the exception of the facility’s management. They have been isolated here for a month and suffer from being in no man’s land.
Most of them come from two recently closed first reception centers: the Opera Pia Istituto Rizza Rosso in Chiaramonte Gulfi and the cooperative Virtus in Modica. Most of them have been in Italy for several months or years. Some have been transferred here directly from the hotspot in Pozzallo. Before we say goodbye, they repeat that all of them suffer from a feeling that can be described similar to being buried alive because of the total seclusion they live in. They say that many leave on their own after a few months, fearing for their mental health.
We know that the migrants do not have a choice but fortunately are strong-willed. Some of them who have survived the journey across the sea have to wait for years to obtain documents. They have tried to survive and have settled, trying to break free from this nonexistence and social exclusion to which the current practice of receptions condemns them. We meet some of them again on the streets of Marina di Modica where they go on an almost daily basis—to do errands, to buy phone cards, and to meet other people, in spite of the many kilometers they have to cover, by foot under the glaring sun.

Ph. Lucia Borghi

“We don’t want to live in luxurious houses or own who knows what. We accept to sleep with six people in a room, where there are also sometimes snakes, because we live in the countryside, we accept to not have clean restrooms and to get bad food, like in the hotspot in Pozzallo. We only need the bare minimum. The only problem that we have is that we are completely isolated and far off of everything,” one of them says.

Because of the transfer to the newly opened first reception center many of them were forced to sever ties with the people they had met and the place where they had been accommodated for months. For others, the distance they have to cover to get to work (such as illegal work on the fields or handouts instead of wages) has become too large so that they cannot walk or go without a bike.

This way, an especially insecure living situation and exploitation has been replaced by an even more humiliating and dangerous one. Among the “new guests” of the center are at least 5 teenagers that are registered as being of age who have been trying to explain for months that they are minors. They were only told that they have to wait until the commission has settled their case. Being minors, they would have the right to certain supports. Instead, they are left on their own, invisible to the responsible institutions, NGOs, and the community. The same happens to other vulnerable migrants that have been in psychiatric or therapeutic care. The transfer to a SPRAR, a facility with service offer, does not seem to even be considered.

“We eat and sleep in the center. If we don’t go to the city, we have to stay inside in the evening, otherwise we are eaten alive by the mosquitoes and flies. They give us pocket money for phone cards. We never had an Italian language lesson or any other school lesson so far. There are many empty beds here, that means even more people will come and the individual will count even less,” worries A. who has been in Italy for a year. “A group of people has already demonstrated peacefully twice to be transferred to a less remote location. As a response the police showed up. They took the protesters to Ragusa where they were supposed to sign a document that was written in Italian. Many didn’t understand anything that was said. They recommended to them to sign the document since it was said to be necessary for the transfer. After that they were out on the streets. Only three of them were brought back to the center by bus. That’s when they realized that they have been excluded from the center—crossed off from the list for meals and a place to sleep.” One of the three people from this group shows the written revocation of their staying permit for the center. Did they try to start a conversation about the needs and wants of the migrants before the police was called? Did they inform people on their right to appeal against these measures or about the possibility of transferring into another first reception center to ease their rehabilitation into a local community?

According to the residents none of this happened. We will see how the responsible people will answer. Incidents like this one happen on an increasing basis. The lack of regular work and primary caregivers leaves the door wide open for such extreme measures to exclude these who do not passively subject themselves to orders from above. The continuing new arrivals will replace the excluded migrants whose rights remain unprotected.
The choice of locating a new first reception center at a place like this clearly show that it is not rehabilitation and interaction between migrants and the local community that is important to the authorities but merely to provide the bare minimum of care and support.

The permanent emphasis on a state of emergency does neither justify the choice of such inadequate places nor the lack of taking into consideration the vulnerability of the migrants and their needs. What we hear is the ‘ear-piercing silence’ of institutions and organizations that praise themselves for advocating for the rights of refugees while all the while gaining much more publicity for themselves than for the powerless for whom they are supposed to act as agent. We are waiting to get in touch with those who are responsible for this.
“Most likely, they see us as half a human, without any needs except for eating and sleeping,” C. surmises before we say goodbye. “To send us to a place like this means not to see that we are humans.”

Lucia Borghi

Borderline Sicilia

Translation: Annika Schadewaldt