That Old Hotel at Geraci Siculo

Geraci, famous for the clean waters which flow from the nearby springs, has been host to an Emergency Reception Centre (CAS*) since 2011. During the North African emergency, the owners of the old Ventimiglia hotel decided to change profession and the hoteliers/restaurant owners became instead a coop which – first under state protection, and then with the Prefecture – manages an Emergency Reception Centre. And despite the fact that since 2011 the situation has remained unchanged both in terms of numbers and dynamics, in Geraci Siculo there is still an overwhelming climate of ’emergency’, thanks to a state which looks the other way and abandons those have decided to live within the reception system.

The truth is that the managing body had already been converted to the third sector since 2009, transforming the former hotel into a home for the elderly, then divided into two separate structures and from 2011 onwards additionally to migrant reception.

As I told the managers of the CAS, I did not get a good first impression when entering the complex, given that in order to reach the office of the director for the migrant centre, we had to pass many doors, two under lock and key, in the department for the elderly. It felt like walking through a prison, confirmed by the fact that we were then welcomed into a room protected by bars, as were other locations like the laundry room and the kitchens (closed and caged in). The managers justified these “precautionary” measures to us saying that in the past they have been subjected to severe acts of intolerance by the residents, which ended with the kidnapping of a (female) worker.

The fact remains that this does not seem a good start to a journey of social inclusion, made more difficult still by an area of very few inhabitants, extremely far from Palermo. Yet it is exceptional that one of the complex’s cooks is a former resident who has had leave to remain since 2015.

The complex officially has 44 places (even if it could contain many more), but currently has 56 residents. These extra 12 are involved in the juridical proceedings against presumed people smugglers/boat drivers, sent here by the Palermo police station, far away from prying eyes, as is also the case at the structure in Isnello (another site among the mountains, far from any inhabited centre).

The kinds of residents is varied, all waiting for information from the Prefecture of Palermo: two asylum-seekers have been present since 2013 (3 years!), many have received negatives, and a few migrants have already received protection.

The managing body complains of the difficulties met in explaining to the migrants brought in May that the police station in Palermo, due to the weight of its workload, has still not scheduled any appointments for filling in the C3 forms. For their own part, the residents are extremely restless due to this bureaucratic delay, which only adds to their geographical isolation, rendering them more vulnerable.

At the CAS in Geraci Siculo, as at the centre in Piano Torre in Isnello, there are cases of serious health problems without adequate attention: it cannot be the case that for someone who has a tumour or is affected by HIV, or who has psychotic attacks, must stay in a CAS, despite the frustrated attempts by the centre’s managers to arrange transfers to specialist SPRAR** centres via the Central Service.

This is a system based on exploitation, one which has no respect for those who suffer and does not offer any psychological support, a system which does not even provide a reply to those centres which request the transfer of migrants with psychological difficulties, even of a very serious nature, and which make do instead with such people running away because perhaps they understand that they would die while waiting for a response. It is a system which hands out permits to stay for juridical proceedings to three young Liberian men, and then after the investigation leaves them in the street with nowhere to go. It is a system which pushes people into depression of acts of violent rebellion, or to protest for their human rights, as was the case last week in the SPRAR centres in Castelvetrano managed by the ‘Insieme’ (‘Together’) cooperative – due to the lack of pocket money – or in the CAS at Marsala (‘IPAB Giovanni XXIII’) due to problems with the managing body.

Migrants who protest are then treated like animals causing problems, problems which are actually made by so many of us, earning a living off their backs, the backs of the poor migrants!

It is enough to contemplate the most recent conversion of a hotel into a reception centre for minors: the old and glorious hotel Azzolini in Carini (province of Palermo), recently brought back to life thanks to an agreement between the owner and the ‘New Life’ cooperative, which has got back into the reception system after the closure of the Green Paradise centre in Piana degli Albanesi some months ago.

Former hotels like that in Carini, or in Geraci, live on thanks to migrants – but the mode conjured up by the Italian ‘welcoming system’ to thank them is far from ideal, at least not for the lives of the migrants themselves.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia

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

* CAS = Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria
** SPRAR = Sistema di protezione per richiedenti asilo e rifugiati (System for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees)

Translation: Richard Braude