Not Only At Sea

Last week, we marked the day of remembrance all over the world with horrific memories, and worthy proposals, from those who lived through some of the most brutal pages in the story of our poor world. A world so lacking in values, values which we lost long ago, that it can celebrate the suicide of those from whom we have taken everything; because, unfortunately, life is so intensely hard for so many young people impoverished by the system enacted by today’s ruling powers, that they have lost all hope of a dignified life, and the only way out from so much pain is to take their own lives. Death does not meet them only at sea, because the violence which they have gone through cannot be wiped away. And without support, they remain alone with their pain, and decide to end that pain once and for all.

Migrants transferred from the Lampedusa Hotspot to Villa Sikania, via Porto Empedocle

“Too many young people are forced to lose all hope. They have been abused by militia, by politics, by indifference, by those walls which force them to finally leave this terrible pain behind, a pain with no escape.” These are the words of a young man from Ivory Coast who has lived in Palermo for years, commenting on the latest article on the suicide of a young migrant, very likely of his same age. By comparison, he feels lucky: “I was lucky enough to meet some angels, who supported me along the way, otherwise I would not have been able to climb over that mountain. For so many, it’s far too high.”

Another week has gone by in which we have just thrown people away, creating a mass of the invisible, people yet again stripped of their dignity and their rights, yet again rejected and abandoned on the street. It happened in Trapani on Thursday and Friday last week: 200 Moroccans were handed ‘deferred rejection’ notices, the famous “seven day paper”, in groups of 50 at a time.

200 people who, in Italy’s eyes, are not really people; 200 people are seemingly worth nothing more than for begging and exploitation, because that is their future here. Many of them slept in the train stations at Trapani and Palermo, where some had the possibility to get on a bus and continue their migration, a journey which means that you have to leave everything behind you at every stage in order not to be recognised or draw attention. In fact, as ‘M’ told us, a 21-year-old man we met at Trapani station: “We had to split up. Aside from the sweeps by the Italian police which leaves us in groups, we have to split up again, sometimes walking far away from each other, otherwise they call the police, because people are scared if there are 15 of us walking in the middle of your squares. In twos, or threes at most, people don’t notice us. That’s why we often leave behind the bags they give us in the centres, because then we’re less identifiable.” Invisible people, we suggest, and ‘M’ says: “Exactly that. We have to be invisible if we want to keep going without problems, we have to hide ourselves, but what kind of a life is lived out in the shadows?”

A bag left behind by a young Moroccan man at Trapani train station

‘M’ slept under the arches at the Palermo train station, having taken the train from Trapani, helped by some volunteers who brought food and blankets for him and 70 other people between Friday and Saturday night. But someone perhaps still more desperate than ‘M’, or perhaps simply less informed, went the wrong way, and walked towards Palermo along the motorway, running the very high risk of being hit by drivers oblivious to the fact that there are invisible people who make such choices. The luckier ones, one hopes, had already organised themselves with friends who helped them make their way to other cities.

The Moroccans arrived alive, and now have to face those walls which politics has raised up before them, but there are other victims who landed this weekend, many of whom did not manage to arrive alive, such as the two young siblings, aged 5 and 8, whose bodies were brought in to Trapani on Sunday. But no newspaper wrote about the murdered children, no newspaper told of the 200 people who had been rejected, no newspaper reported the landings at Lampedusa, Messina, Catania, Trapani and of the multitude of situations of exclusion which we have so unfortunately created in our cities for migrants both old and new.

This system is not content with only killing people at sea, but breaks up lives in our cities too, moving on without hindrance to find new ways of ending people’s existence. Bureaucracy becomes yet another insuperable wall, a road which imprisons migrants in centres, as in Palermo, where the police station has decided to block the collecting of documents showing humanitarian leave to remain, by asking for the demonstration of a passport. Thus a migrant who has claimed asylum and has indeed been recognised as deserving of humanitarian protection after two years of waiting must, on requesting their new documents, show a passport, otherwise they will remain parked in an Extraordinary Reception Centre (CAS*) or some other kind of forced accommodation. This is a clear abuse, which renders the waiting even more bitter, a waiting comprised of false hopes which explode against a deaf politics.

So we ought not be surprised if they then kill themselves in total exasperation, or die from the cold to total indifference in some abandoned shack, or if they become victims of human trafficking. And today it is not only young Nigerian women who get solicited, but there are more and more cases of young men who are sexually exploited for a few Euros. And this again might be considered another reason to commit suicide!

A young migrant being solicited near Mineo

The centres in Palermo, and elsewhere, are full far beyond capacity, because the Ministry fails to organise transfers, nor have the centres received payment these last eight months, putting the managing bodies in huge difficulty. And on top of all of this we have to listen to politicians who rail against migrants living in five star hotels where, in reality, those who complain get a notice of eviction from the reception system, a practice used with ever greater frequency to clamp down on acts of rage by people who have been beaten down for far too long.

And now there is a plan for a new Hotspot in Palermo, ‘the most welcoming city in Europe’, a place to contain people, to identify and reject them. We ought not be surprised if people run away from the emergency centres, nor if minors flee from their centres, nor if young people turn themselves in to the jailers from whom they once fled – because the emergency system cannot hold. In order simply not to die, the only solution is often to keep running, searching for something which we do not want to share: freedom. And for this very reason, death hides behind every corner, and not only at sea.

Alberto Biondo

Borderline Sicilia

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary Reception Centre)

Translation by Richard Braude