Salinagrande CARA (Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers) and Caritas Centre full, asylum seekers sleeping alongside railway tracks

It is the first day of our monitoring project at the CARA (Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers) in Salinagrande (Trapani). We arrive around 7pm after a meeting with the local Anti-Racist organisations. There are not many migrants outside the gates. The running of the centre has now been taken over by the Cooperative Badia Grande, the same organisation which runs the CIE (Immigration Detention Centre) in Milo and compared to last year, surveillance has notably tightened. It’s almost impossible to gain official access for the purposes of inspecting the situation. The gates are closed and the migrants can only go out one at a time. At the entrance there is a guard, an employee of the cooperative, who asks the migrants for identification before allowing them to enter back into the camp. There is a type of curfew at 8pm and anyone arriving after this time must spend the night elsewhere. From a first glance the CARA seems very crowded, in each of the rooms we can see, there are several people, clothes are hung at the windows and there are a number of migrants on the terrace, which is on the right hand side of the building. They go back inside soon after we arrive. We don’t know if this is spontaneous or if they have been invited to do so by staff.
In the internal yard, we catch sight of a group of around six minors. They look under 18, but as we are unable to enter we cannot verify such details.

We get talking to a couple of young men from the Ivory Coast who applied for asylum a few months ago. They speak French and don’t understand much Italian. They say that inside the Centre they offer Italian lessons three times a week, but the learning process isn’t easy. We ask them if they are aware of any unaccompanied minors in the Centre. They say there are youngsters but they are with their families. We ask for some information on the living conditions. They confirm that the structure is quite crowded but that everyone has a bed to sleep in.

A group of Pakistanis come over. First there are two, then another two join us. They speak English and we are able to communicate with them for a while. They confirm that the rooms are crowded. They say as well that there are sometimes problems between the north Africans and the sub-Saharans, as can be known to happen, and with the police. Sufficient amounts of food are provided by the Centre, but the quality and the variety is poor. Even though there are around a hundred muslims in the Centre, none of the meat is halal, ie. butchered according to the dictates of the Koran, so they are generally served pasta and boiled or tinned fish. Alternatively, there is also chicken, but many of them don’t eat it as neither this is halal. The young Pakistanis arrived in Bari, Italy in the autumn of 2011 and they are still waiting for their hearing for asylum which has been fixed for July. One of them complains about the long waiting times, which can be anything up to a year just for the appointment with the Commission. It may be even longer, however, if they request the interview in Pashto, due to the Commission’s lack of interpreters in this language.

Their story seems far from simple. They fled Pakistan due to problems with the local authorities, one of them in particular says he received threats and intimidations on returning to Pakistan after a period spent abroad. They are part of a group of thirty migrants who arrived in Bari after a long journey: on leaving Pakistan they arrived in Greece after having crossed Turkey; they then took the boat to Bari. There, they were informed by other Pakistanis who had arrived shortly before them, that there were no spare places in the local CARA and followed their advice to go to Caltanissetta to find shelter. Therefore, they chose to relocate at their own free will. When they arrived in Caltanissetta there were turned away, again due to lack of space. They spent five days sleeping outdoors in the countryside near the CARA in the hope that some spaces would become available. They had no food or shelter or even water at a time of year when it was very cold. Then some Italians, possibly employees at the Pian Del Lago, told them about Salinagrande and they made their way to Trapani. On their arrival in Salinagrande, only seven of the thirty were offered reception and were therefore able to request asylum. Most of the rest returned to Bari with three staying on in Trapani to look for somewhere to stay.

While we are outside the Centre, we see various cars that pass by and stop. In each, the driver is Italian and there are one or two migrants inside, the majority of whom seem to be sub-Saharan. As they get out of the car, it is clear to see that their clothes are dirty with sand and earth. One of them has a bag of mandarins which he shows to everyone who greets him. He looks very tired, but content. At the entrance, the guards ask him if he has been to pick the mandarins. He replies “yes” and goes inside. Shortly afterwards, the scene repeats itself, first with a further two sub-Saharans and later with another African, again with clothes covered in sand and chalk. We ask the Pakistanis if it is easy to find work from within the CARA. They reply that there are very few who do, and that they are paid little. Sometimes part of their wages is paid with agricultural produce, which the migrants are able to exchange amongst themselves or re-sell. Yet not knowing the place well enough, the Pakistanis don’t know how to go about getting such work; they don’t even realise that in theory it is possible for them to be employed with a regular contract, neither are they aware that there are working regulations in place for asylum seekers.

The CARA employees begin to look insistently in our direction, to the extent that the migrants ask us if we can move out of their vision, but at that point two of them thank us for the visit, say goodbye and choose to go back inside. One of the two, just before saying goodbye, asks us if we have a jacket or a coat for him- he only has a cotton tunic and feels the cold.

The other two Pakistanis stay with us, one of them is unable to go in. He is an asylum seeker but is not registered within the Centre because there is not enough space for him. He shows us his temporary pass which confirms his status. He comes from a city in the north east of Pakistan, a continual fighting ground for Taliban and NATO forces. He tells us he is sleeping in a small hut alongside the railway tracks. He insists we go to see where he is sleeping. It is to all effects and purposes, a miniscule hovel amongst the undergrowth, 10 minutes from the CARA, with terrible hygiene conditions. One side of the structure is open and exposed to any bad weather. It is also dangerously close to the train tracks (less than two metres without any protection). The “small room” as they have come to call it, is an old ANAS (national railroad maintenance company) box, next to the train tracks on the outskirts of Trapani. It has no doors and the Pakistani and the other two Afghans who live there with him have put up a thin cardboard protection, which does little to stop the rain from flooding the place. Inside it is dirty, damp and cold, despite the fact that outside the weather is good.

This man’s life is further made difficult by the fact that he has a kidney problem. He tells us that time and time again he has been to the CARA, the local police headquarters and the Prefecture to ask for information. They send him to the local Caritas, who not having enough places available, send him back to the CARA, who in turn send him back to the authorities. And this is how he has spent the past four months, sleeping in the open air and being sent back and forth from one office to another. It seems as if, since arriving in Italy, he hasn’t received a proper check up and that nobody has picked up on the fact that he has a problem with his kidneys. No one has even bothered to inform him that he has the right to visit his local hospital to seek assistance. He has no money or food and survives thanks to his fellow Pakistanis in the CARA, who share their food with him. It is difficult for him to get access to drinking water (someone with his condition should be drinking between 1.5- 2 litres a day). He has to make do with the water from the drinking tap in the local park. He transmits the bitterness of a person who has escaped from a war to arrive in Italy in search of help, only to be left completely to their own devices. He says he knows of two others in the area, living in similar conditions to himself and that the authorities and institutions have been informed of the situation.

After giving us permission to film his shelter, he asks us to take him back to the CARA in time for the canteen. We stop on the way to buy him some food. When we drop him off he thanks us sincerely and seems slightly embarrassed. We tell him that we did it to enable him to complete the half meal he receives from the CARA at least until the following Monday. We want to accompany him back to the Centre, but he asks to be dropped off a little way beforehand. He doesn’t want to be seen getting out of our car. We ask him if he has a safe place where he can keep the food and he says he does. We leave him on the main road. We are soon back at the CARA and already it is dark. It is around 7pm. A bus passes in front of the CARA, the stop is just a few metres from the main entrance. Around 20 migrants get off and run quickly for the entrance. They are probably running in the fear of being refused entry and therefore also dinner. Before leaving we notice another migrant, who also seems to be from Pakistan, heading slowly away from the Centre towards a small wood. He disappears before we have time to interview him.
Valentina Caviglia and Giorgia Listì