9 hectares, 404 detached houses, the ‘Villaggio degli Aranci’ (‘The Village of Oranges’) is lost in the countryside around Mineo. It was built by Pizzarotti spa and rented out to the Americans, but they left over a year ago. The ex-Minister Maroni did well to come up with idea to turn it into a C.A.R.A. (Government Shelter for Asylum Seekers), which currently holds “only” 1,400 people waiting for their permit of stay. The barbed wire surrounding the centre once served as a protective measure for the Americans. Now, however, it performs the opposite role, protecting those outside from the danger which these foreigners represent. They have already been described in some “racist” publications as potential criminals who should be “separated” and watched over. It is actually impossible to enter the ‘Villaggio degli Aranci’ which is under police guard, without a special pass.
And integration? Wasn’t that one of the main aims of the centre when it opened? Who can they engage in human and cultural exchanges with?
“They are allowed out during the day between 8am and 8pm, it’s not true that they are closed inside,” Doctor Salvioni tells us. She is the manager of the Milan Red Cross, who ran the Centre as an emergency centre in its initial days and who today is responsible for health and safety. We try again, “But we are in the open countryside, the nearest town is 10 kilometres away, not to mention the larger centres such as Caltagirone and Catania….”
“School-aged children at the Centre, have access to a free mini-bus service to and from the nearest town of Mineo. There is also a car shuttle service that provides transport between the Villaggio and other towns, like Caltagirone.”
The answer however, is not very convincing. One mini-bus every half day and a couple of cars don’t seem quite enough to resolve the transport problems of so many people. It is no coincidence that foreigners can be seen, walking together in small groups along the sides of the roads.
“They can also take public transport, because since the running of the centre passed over to the Province they receive a daily allowance of €3,50 for expenses.” Not in cash, though: the residents have a card which is topped up and can be used to buy things such as cigarettes, drinks, biscuits, phone cards, bus tickets and revenue stamps from the bazar within the Centre.
Let’s do some maths for a minute. A single journey is about €5, while a return is €8. A weekly ticket (10 journeys) comes to about €25. So, yes it’s possible to take the bus, but not a whole journey at once. Especially as there are other things the residents have to pay for. Principally speaking the administrative costs for the application of their permit of stay, which between postage, revenue stamps and photographs comes to around €105.
Therefore, most spend their time at the Centre, without anything to do, except wait for the interview with the Commission, prepare the administration to oppose a visa refusal, the decision of the tribunal. “If they do nothing, it is not the fault of the Sisifo Consortium. Ceramics course have been offered, but no one attends them. Even the course of Italian for adults has inconsistent attendance, depending on the period.”
We don’t know the competence of the instructors and are not here to question it. We don’t know if the needs and sensibilities of the residents, which are different from our own, were taken into account. But somewhere along the line, something doesn’t make sense if the residents prefer to do nothing, which in turn causes them suffering. As far as the ceramics course is concerned, we found out that one of the residents is a ceramicist. Is it likely that he wouldn’t want to participate in the course? Or is it possible that the courses just exist on paper to “sort out work” for a friend of those running the Centre?
“They don’t come to the meetings, they’re not used to having responsibility.” It may well be true for some of them, but amongst the residents there are also educated people and those who have worked. We are not dealing with a uniform “mass”, which is how they most often come to be represented. “Those with the lowest level of culture are the Africans, particularly those from Mali or Burkina Faso”. We notice that they highlight the poorest countries. “Then there are those from the Ivory Coast and Nigeria.”
“The Sol. Calatino cooperative has brought an interesting opportunity to our attention,” Salvioni tells us, “Paid work experience placements.” For €500 a month, the residents can work and learn a new profession as a cook or barman or gardener. We wonder if the pay is adequate. And furthermore, how many people is this opportunity open to? Very few, with the respect to the number of residents currently at the Centre. If it is so limited, can it really be considered a convincing solution?
There are three cases of women with children being given positions at SPRAR (System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) in Ragusa, Padova and Rome. But these figures again are highly disproportionate. A few drops in a sea of uncertainty. So we find ourselves returning to the initial problem, the mistake of putting too many people together, of mixing people of completely different ethnicities and leaving them in a state of isolation. In the past, those who received their permit of stay had to leave the Centre, but since two months they have been able to stay, waiting for a work placement with SPRAR or waiting for the third order of justice or waiting to find a job on the premises. But the majority of them go elsewhere, often abroad to countries where communities of people from their own country are already established. Mainly, the Afghans go to Germany, the Eritreans go to Holland and the Iraqis go to Sweden. Seeing as they have no money at their disposition, they have to get hold of some. They can sell their “credits” to other residents or go and work in the surrounding countryside “picking artichokes” for €5. And the illegal possibilities, from getting involved in the black market to prostitution, are well known. Are the perpetrators really that difficult to identify? Some have been arrested for other types of crime, but we are talking about isolated cases.
Returning to the health and safety service, we learn that there is a walk-in clinic, open daily from 9am to 1pm and 4 pm to 8pm. It is run by one doctor, thereby guaranteeing some continuity, although another deals with emergencies, and in addition there is the nursing staff. If a referral to a specialist is required, these are booked in one of the nearby towns: Caltagirone or the hospital in Catania. Two paediatricians from A.S.P. (Provincial Health Service) provide a service for the approximate 100 children in the Centre. “They have all been vaccinated” we are told with great satisfaction. The high standard of work carried out by the staff can be guaranteed.
It would be better however, to evaluate the efficiency of their work based on the facts. We ask someone again if the death of a 36 year old Pakistani last November was indeed unavoidable.
Around 250 people go to the clinic each day, but only about 20 of these appointments are actual medical consultations. The majority simply receive medicines. In fact, there is a rule for everyone at the Centre, that the drugs must be administered on the spot. The patients arrive (not always) at a fixed time and the drugs are administered. This is the case for both one off usage and long- term usage. We ask why this is necessary. The answer is to prevent the abuse and misuse of the medicines. Is this an abuse connected to the improper use of the drugs, or maybe- who knows- also a fear that a black market could emerge? Are the migrants really that unreliable?
Poor punctuality, lack of responsibility, difficult to manage- is this a true representation of the residents of the Centre? Many of them will face real difficulties in order to legally remain in Italy when the system they find themselves in is so different from what they know. But the most important thing is the necessity to avoid, after having created a system which is difficult to manage, unloading the uphill responsibility of those mistakes onto them.