Minors in the Pozzallo Hotspot. On the “unwelcoming” road.

“I arrived
a month ago, after having been in Sudan and for months in Libya. On arrival I
was locked in a large room with hundreds of other people, many of them my age,
others older. There were also women and children. They gave me a change of
clothes and a telephone card, saying that soon I would be transferred to a
centre for minors. A month passed and I’m still here.” This is the story of
‘Y’, a 16-years-old Eritrean man, describing the reality experienced by
hundreds of minors detained like him in an illegitimate way for weeks or even
months within the Hotspot at Pozzallo. Dozens of minors who arrived in the
nearby port have been housed without recognition of their age, in conditions of
overcrowding and psychological stress within the centre, and without having
received and personal assistance.

Many of
them arrived on 28th May, having survived a shipwreck in which dozens of people
lost their lives: newspapers and TV turned for a moment to reflect on their
situation, only to turn the page in search of the latest scoop, and
institutional actors seem to have don the same in relation to the protecting
them from vulnerability and the greater importance of minors, in whose name
they are meant to act by law. In recent months, 100–120 unaccompanied minors
have joined the camp, among who they is a group of 20 teenagers less than
15-years-old, who were transferred after several days.

We have met
them several times while wandering around Pozzallo with scraps of paper with
telephone numbers on them in their hands, in the desperate search to find
someone who will make a phone call for them, mustering up a few words in
English mixed in with Tigrinya and Somali. People’s general indifference seemed
appalling to us, most of all because there were a good number of the teenagers
and they are clearly very young. Only a group of local activists have taken on,
as in the past, the collection of necessities, listening to the young men and
making the local population aware of the situation.

minors testimony has formed the object of a presentation given by Borderline
Sicily (along with ASGI) within the remit of the OpenEurope project, in
partnership with Oxfam and the Diaconia Valdese, and sent to the Proctor of the
Republic at the court for minors in Catania, and the Proctor of the Republic at
the court in Ragusa. It was also decided to flag up the situation to Save the
Children and UNHCR as well. Yesterday morning, while walking through Pozzallo,
the teenagers seemed to be fewer, not because they have been transferred into
appropriate structures but rather because the majority of the minors leave on
their own, left to the mercy of every possible kind of trafficking and

“When we
arrived, there were about 80 of us Eritrean minors, now there’s only 8 of us at
the centre” says ‘G’, “many have left saying that they wanted to carry on the
journey to Rome and other cities, others I don’t know. Also some of the really
young ones went on their own.” The minors complain about the lack of clothes,
because they have been provided only with one change on arrival; the lack of
shampoo, to the extent that they wash only with water, which is almost always
cold; the impossibility of seeing a doctor in case of necessity because “the
only response is: you need to wait”, and others say there are skin problems for
which they have been given no remedy.

The lack of
places in centres for minors cannot justify the permanence of unaccompanied
minors in these places. According to the law, minors should be taken to primary
reception centres immediately after arrival, and then transferred into SPRAR*.
Beyond the violations of law relating to their remaining in juridically
inappropriate complexes, there are the terrible living conditions within the
Hotspot: “We are always together in one big room. They gave us some paper with
information but we want to be able to call our parents.” Until a week ago there
were still people who had not been able to communicate with their own families
in an understandable way, and we remember we are talking about the survivors of
a shipwreck!

institutional justification is that which we have heard for years now, being
the lack of available posts for unaccompanied minors. This is a discourse which
does not take account of the context of the events within this so-called
‘welcoming’ system, which is completely inadequate, and which demands an urgent
revision of the entirety of the migration policies of recent years, including
the necessity of allowing legal access to refugees and to open humanitarian
corridors. This is simply an excuse which legitimates the existence of one rule
of Italians and one one for those without fundamental human rights, those
depicted as part of an unavoidable fate, in the face of which it is impossible
to adjust oneself.

necessary of restoring a status of rights and humane practices is a
responsibility from which no one can exempt himself or herself; the conviction
of being able to do so is probably one of the points of departure in fleeing to
rhetorics of powerlessness, simply in order to continue to defend other
interests. “I’m very disappointed by Italy: they save me, but now I found
myself here, without any rights. In any case I still have hope, which is why
I’ve decided to stay. Because sometimes situations have to and can change.”

Lucia Borghi

Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo: protection system for
asylum seekers and refugees, municipal reception centre on a volunteer basis
(no governmental duty), space for approx. 3,000-3,500 people in throughout
Italy, for integration purposes of refugees.

Richard Braude