More Vulnerable People, Less Protection. Prolonged Detention in Pozzallo and Augusta.

Fifteen migrants dead at sea, including women and children.

The notices of death in the Mediterranean are ever more frequent and standardised, and the images of rescue missions and the disembarking leave only a minimal functional space to call into question European responsibility and to commend Italian work. Faces and bodies quickly disappear, usually destined either for a far-off burial away from the view of friends, or to eek out an exhausting survival in a country which is shown to be ever less democratic and welcoming.

On Monday night, more than 1,000 migrants arrived in Palermo, including 40 minors, in a rocky landing operation in the rain, interrupted throughout the night for reasons which were not readily understandable, while the following morning 355 migrants arrived at the port of Augusta on the MOAS ship Topaz Responder. Seven corpses also came in with them, including those of two minors, one of whom was a 3-year-old child. A clear and endless massacre, all the more obscene for the manner in which it is continuously ignored, for despair and all the useless words and promises, still no concrete action has been taken to end it.

Migrants will continue to die so long as Fortress Europe continues with the construction of its walls, and concedes non possibility for safe and legal entrance. Everything else is only an attempt at managing a migratory phenomenon in the political and economic interests of the few, those who have decided to maintain a status quo on the back of the death of so many.

The hypocrisy of the Italian and European system can be seen well enough in the guarantees of protection offered to migrants who arrive on dry land. At Augusta, dozens of unaccompanied minors who have survived the massacres like the recent one, and other vulnerable subjects, have been housed for weeks in the tent-city at the port. This is a completely illegitimate practice which has by now been undertaken for three months here; an “emergency” and “exceptional“ situation in which the checks and investigations by the police seem to be more quick and efficient than any of the help and individual protection offered to the migrants themselves. To put the cards on the table: the institutional actors justify the illegitimate detention of subjects in an inappropriate place, despite their right to protection, through recourse to the lack of other available places. The government provides laws which it allows then to be disrespected, and the migrants pay the price, along with any citizens who believe in a democratic society.

The situation is equally serious and concerning at Pozzallo, when up till Sunday there were more than 500 people recorded inside the Hotspot, which is meant to contain no more than 180-200 people. The unaccompanied minors, both male and female, account for around 200 people and have been present in the centre for more than a week. Along with them, there are many “vulnerable” subjects, such as pregnant women, single women with children, people with illnesses and those who are psychologically fragile. It is they who are detained for the longest, with the usual excuse of how difficult it is to find appropriate places. We have to ask ourselves how this can continue to be the case after years and months of denouncing the situation, and why such denunciations are not ever more pointed and frequent, faced with the complicit indifference of those who declare that they have no other choice. The situation of detention at Pozzallo seems only to be getting worse.

We know that some of the migrants have even spent the night in the centre’s courtyard, in collapsable tents set up by the Civil Protection service, or simply with blankets. In the one large room of the hangar, there is space to sleep on a bed only if the maximum capacity has not been reached; as soon as there is overcrowding, you sleep on a mattress on the ground or, in fact, end up outside. We can only imagine the hygiene conditions and the other structural limits of the centre; despite the hygiene kits handed out every two days by the new coop, and the clearly more competent personnel, the situation remains intolerable.

This morning we met some young people housed in the Hotspot; they had few words to offer, among the rush to return under the promise of the imminent transfers they have been awaiting for days: “Good luck really matters here too. When it rains and you can’t go outside, you can’t move because everyone’s in the room together. Today there’s sunshine and we can go outside to play football. I’m happy to have got here, I left with a friend who died in Libya. I didn’t think there’d be camps like this in Italy however. For me Europe still lies ahead.”

The Hotspot approach – the political expression of Fortress Europe’s system of non-reception – is directed towards the control, identification and “selection” of migrants: there is confirmation of the continued rejection of the Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian citizens both at Pozzallo and Augusta, the traces of whom remain, unfortunately, only between the papers issued by police and Prefecture. The maximum length of stay allowed in such places is three days. The choice to illegitimately detain minors and the vulnerable for weeks and months at a time, without any appropriate divisions, and with a lack of adequate structures, can only be justified in the above way, but not along with any attempt at providing superior protection.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

Translation: Richard Braude