How the denial of rights develops into illegality and abuse of power

Last week four asylum seekers housed at the reception centre at Pian del Lago were reported by the Financial Guard, who caught them selling cigarettes distributed in the centre, at the nearby market place. This is not a new phenomenon in the city and a proper analysis of the dynamics which have led to this situation helps to better understand this incident and to see that there other people responsible for the situation.
In fact, if in Caltanissetta “the activity of black market sales is flourishing” and “in the city there exists a new oasis of black market cigarettes”, it is important to understand the dynamic which has created “this oasis of illegality and unauthorised selling”, in order to be able to clarify that those who sell and acquire cigarettes under the table are not the only ones who have determined “the expansion of this phenomenon and the harm done to the various authorised tobacco vendors.”

Let’s start by clarifying some facts.

It is important to clarify that the cigarettes in question are not ‘assigned’ daily by the manager of the centre, but instead are one of the few products available in the vending machines inside the centre, where one can employ the electronic key through which the daily pocket money of €2.50 is disbursed via a form of a recharge system. (However, to
talk of assigned cigarettes might encourage some to believe
that the guests of the centre, along with their excellent accommodation
in cubicles, have also been allowed to indulge in the voice of

But above all we should note that if the manager of the reception centre at Pian del Lago had respected his obligations and the rights of the residents, each of them would have been granted the daily pocket money of €2.50 from the Auxilium cooperative, ensuring for them the opportunity of having the money in cash and using it in whatever way each sees fit. The problem is that, as always happens, each successive manager of the Pian del Lago centre, for convenience and out of interest (even the vending machines are contracted out to a tertiary company, because obviously, in the logic of speculation on the reception of migrants, it does not want to lose out on a cut of the profits) disburses this pocket money in the form of a recharge system through an electronic key, which can only be used in the vending machines inside the centre.

The choice is between drinks and snacks or cigarettes. Between the diverse necessities that one can have as an adult asylum seeker, far away from home, getting a snack is without doubt the last thing on your mind. And of course, buying cigarettes is of no interest to the non-smokers. As the cigarettes are the only commodity of exchange which represent the possibility of obtaining some cash, they become the objects of a black market for some of the residents, while the majority continue to suffer the consequences of this choice and periodically demand the right to have some cash. The other week some young men of African origin told me they had once again protested against the distribution of the pocket money through the electronic keys. Not one of them smokes, and nobody has any interest in buying snacks. They are adults and need some money in their pocket, considering that this is, for example, the only way of buying a telephone card to speak to their families, something of vital importance.

Not having any cash means not only not having the possibility of contacting families far away, but also of not being able to simply sit in a bar and drink a coffee, or be able to buy a bus ticket – nor, therefore, even though in a small way, of being able contribute to the local economy. It should not be underestimated how much this method of distributing the pocket money, other than representing the denial of a right and human dignity, becomes the cause of segregation and the marginalisation of migrants and represents an obstacle in the route for integration and legality in the city.

Giovanna Vaccaro
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation: Richard Braude