Minor voices

Yesterday another catastrophe happened on the Turkish coast that cost many lives, when refugees tried desperately to flee violence and a sure death in the hope to get to a place where the struggle for daily survival is not an issue. Among those who died are more and more children, so that the media increasingly focuses on them. Images of pain and grief that should be met with respectful silence and serious self-reflection are instead used to stir pity and sell newspapers full of articles that do everything except for sharing correct information.
As the public opinion seems to be increasingly used to dead people and tragedies on sea, media focuses on more and more violent and shocking details that only create scandal instead of an authentic change of mind. According to data of the IOM, the number of dead people in the Mediterranean Sea reached as high as seven human beings per day on average. A catastrophe per day that leads to little more than most people concentrating on the young victims and refusing to understand how they died, what the unaccompanied minors who luckily made it are experiencing in our country as well as that it is our duty to act immediately.
The unaccompanied minors also quickly become a number and are treated accordingly from the moment they arrive in Italy until various first accommodation centers take care of them, because they see the minors as a worthwhile business that pays better than caring for adults, because of the higher subsidies.
There are also unaccompanied minors among the refugees that are deported this month, because of the police’s discriminating and unlawful separation of refugees into so-called economic migrants and potential asylum seekers. Many of them aren’t even being trusted when they tell their age and try to prove it with documents. Instead, they are registered as adults and left out on the streets where a world of exploitation and illegal activities waits for them. The most recent unlawful deportation practices function accordingly to the increase in available labor while officially politicians speak of taking action against human trafficking. The minors join other migrants of the same age who have been on waiting lists for clandestine employment for years while waiting for documents in accommodation centers that first and foremost are supposed to protect their futures. The situation and the attempts to rebel of these minors surely do not bring money or are put on the front page of a newspaper. Instead, they could even unmask the many false ‘benefactors’ in the first accommodation system or at least are able to point out the hypocrisy of some of the activities that are mainly set up for the primitive receptionism to help the discriminating and exclusive system.
Thus the minors’ experiences disappear in silence, when the teenagers are forced to stay inside the CPSA* and the future hotspot of Pozzallo for weeks at a time. There, practices that infringe on asylum and basic rights are systematically enacted, starting with a lack of proper legal counsel, then, continuing with an arbitrary separation of the migrants, and finally ending with accommodating vulnerable individuals in definitely unsuitable places which they are not even allowed to leave. The new guidelines that allow for force if necessary when recording fingerprints and an increasingly important role of the CIE* show the severity of the situation.
We know that the CPSA in Pozzallo is currently accommodating dozens of minors who arrived here last month by boat and are still waiting to be moved to a suitable place. According to the law, moving should happen 48 to 72 hours after arrival and as soon as possible especially for vulnerable individuals such as the minors. This timeframe however is hardly ever observed. We can only imagine the heated atmosphere in the center where until a couple of days ago renovations took place in some of the restrooms and common rooms. Some minor even managed to “escape” from these centers as Save The Children mentioned, also reminding people of the Somali and Eritrean minors who fled the CPSA last Thursday. MSF reported the CPSA in Pozzallo, giving a detailed description of the conditions the migrants in the center have to endure, and presented their report to the parliamentarian committee for asylum affairs. Yet until now nothing seems to have changed for the better.
M., an unaccompanied minor hailing from the Ivory Coast, who arrived in Italy on October 5, had to stay in the CPSA of Pozzallo for four weeks before he was able to move to a center for minors, where we met him. Now he is attending a language class for Italian in a nearby village and seems to gain trust in other people, at least enough to have a short conversation with them. “In Pozzallo, I wasn’t able to do anything. Only sleeping and waiting, but I didn’t even know for what. I didn’t expect to still wanting to flee after arriving here.” Few words that convey the severity of the situation and how inhumane the silence of the institutions is in the face of clear infringement of rights that they even sometimes try to justify. The protesting voices of dozens of minors we met are ignored or, even worse, are labeled as “exaggerated” by the different protagonists of the reception system. The breaking of law becomes an everyday practice and the minors become numbers instead of humans with a past and a future that remains to be realized. They are not neutral subjects, instead we have to listen to them and we do have to interact with them to be able to break the asymmetrical power structures that exist.
Like other migrants, the teenagers strive for relationships and living conditions that allow them to stay in Italy permanently. Often the fact that they are minors elongates the procedure to attain documentation because of bureaucratic obstacles although it should be the opposite. And, it still happens too often that minors who attain a permission to stay for 12 to 15 months neither learn Italian nor get to know their surroundings because they are confined to isolated centers and are left alone waiting. It does happen that in some small centers in the backcountry, in villages such as Ramacca or Francofonte, minors or almost adults spend their days on fields and save money to leave the countryside. The lack of a reception system that works towards a future integration of the teenagers and helps them to interact with their surroundings already manifests itself in the location of the centers. These aspects, however, the prefectures do not seem to notice, as the numbers of centers located in cities is small. “I have my documents and now I go to school, but in my class we are all refugees. I know no one here, because they are quite racist in the town. When we meet people from the town in the streets, they yell at us and no one tries to get to know us, the adults as well as the teenagers,” D. says. He has lived in Ramacca for approximately five months after having been sent from one center to another in the course of a year while waiting to be able to apply formally for protection. “Before, I was in a kind of cage but with a lot of people,” C. says in contrast. He came of age recently and shortly stayed in the CARA* in Mineo before coming to Francofonte: “Here, I am in a good center, but the town is the cage. You can’t move, there is no public transportation, and the people treat us badly. I know that the people behave that way because they are ignorant and stupid, that is also what they told me in the center, but how am I supposed to live with them then? How do I find work if there is racism?”
These kind of experiences unfortunately add to the bad experiences the minors had before coming to Italy. They become even more violent and unexpected to those who risked their lives hoping to arrive in a free and democratic country in Europe. Determined voices who are lost because they are too uncomfortable to be heard. Many are willing to speak out on their outrage when seeing pictures of dead minors in the ocean, but they are quick to close their eyes and ears to those who survived and simply search for a better life.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*IOM – International Organization for Migration
*CSPA – Centro di Soccorso e prima Accoglienza: Center for primal care and first accomodation.
*CIE – Centro di Identificazione ed Espulsione: custody pending deportation
*CARA – Centro di accoglienza per richiedenti asilo: First accomodation center for asylum seekers
Translation: Annika Schadewaldt