The asylum seekers in Pergusa have been waiting a year and a half for their asylum request to be examined

Last Friday we visited the CAS* in
Enna within the district of Pergusa. The CAS is situated in the facilities of
the former “Villaggio del Fanciullo” which was managed by the “Care centre for
the elderly Santa Lucia of Enna”. About one hundred young asylum seekers of
African origins live in the centre, mainly from Gambia and Mali, who are
between 20 and 30 years old.

Almost all of them have been in this
centre since last July 2nd. Only twenty of them already had their
hearing at the Commission, while the majority is still waiting after a year and
a half to be convened by the local Commission.

The reason for such a long waiting
period, which is longer than the already inacceptable average time of about
8-12 months, can be traced back to the continuous transfers from one CAS* to
another – most of them have been transferred from two or more facilities from
the province of Trapani, Palermo and Enna.

As these constant transferring cause
the change of the responsible Commission, they reset for many of them the
months already spent waiting for the convening by the local Commission, thus
causing a severe condition. Indeed, it is the first time that we find ourselves
in front of asylum seekers who are still waiting for their convening after a
year and a half time. Considering that after the convening there will be
further months of waiting and that the outcome of the hearing will need some
time as well, we fear that the waiting time for actually examining the asylum
request of these asylum seekers may take up to two years.

Such arbitrary transfers with no
criteria from one CAS to another appear to have no actual logic, because CAS
are the primary reception centres and transfers should be predisposed towards
SPRAR-centres**, and they have serious consequences for the process of
requesting asylum. This way, once again, the rights of asylum seekers are
violated by a reception system based on the irresponsibility of the governing
institutions and on the economic speculation of private actors.

In order to underline the seriousness
of this situation (which nonetheless reflects a general state) it is always
worth remembering that the legal time limit for the examination of an asylum
claim is 6 months. In this regard it is no exaggeration to define the treatment
of asylum seekers who are in this situation as “inhumane and degrading”.

Last March 25, the local Commission
of Enna has been inaugurated, but it is still not functioning. The same day of
the inauguration the head of the Commission went to the centre in order to meet
all guests and reassured them that their claims will be examined as soon as

Clearly, this was not enough for
easing the exasperation of all these persons, considering that one month after
the visit there has not been one single convening. The atmosphere in the centre
is indeed very tense and the guests have a complete distrust towards the
management staff.

This is confirmed also by the social
worker with whom I speak (the only one in service on an early Friday
afternoon), who tells me about various heated protests by the guests. It is
actually asking him some questions that my visit of the centre begins.

The first questions concerned the
canteen service, because the first group of young people I met outside told me
that there were no social workers despite the cook and complained about not
being allowed to cook themselves.

The social worker confirms that a
cook is responsible for preparing food and that the canteen has the following
opening hours: 8.30-9.30 breakfast, 12.30-13.30 lunch and 18.30-19.30 dinner.
It is clear that this timetable has the imprint of the old centre, an Ipab*** facility
for hosting elderly people.

I continue by asking some
information regarding the staff. Since the facility is an ex-Ipab, during its
conversion for the new usage the operator had to keep the former employees and
it is therefore evident how the centre has plenty of cleaning staff with the
result that the social workers actually responsible for coordinating the
reception of migrants are only 4. Of these four, one is the person with whom we
are speaking, who underlines that he is seldomly physically present at the
centre and that he doesn’t speak English; another is a cultural mediator who is
in service only infrequently.

Thus it is quite easy to understand
that the critical aspects which characterize the reception at this centre
correspond to the absence of essential services which should be implemented by
professionals. Indeed, there is the lack of a legal counsellor of reference, of
a social assistant and a psychologist as well as of a reasonable number of
cultural mediators.

After the conversation with the
social worker the visit continued in a big hall where I met almost all the young
men who are living at the centre and who ensured to put a table at the centre
of the room with chairs and armchairs around it. They wanted me to talk also
with them and when I made it clear that it was crucial also for me to have a
confrontation with them they told me that it was not taken for granted, because
they had seen representatives of organizations for migrant’s rights to walk in
and to meet only the head operators, without asking them a single question although
they are the ones directly concerned.

After a long discussion on the
timings of the Commission – which I could hardly bring to an end considering
that, comprehensibly, it is a problem that frightens their lives more than
anything else – I tried to understand the quality of the services at the centre,
particularly the one most closely related to the asylum request, the legal

In contrast to what I had been told
by the social worker, who had assured me of the presence of a lawyer at the
service of the guests, all those who participated at this meeting agreed on the
fact that legal assistance is completely missing and that none of them has ever
seen a lawyer – despite those who are part of the 20 who already had the
hearing and received a rejection against which a lawyer lodged an appeal.

Considering that free of cost legal
assistance is foreseen, there is no doubt that there are lawyers willing to
follow those who were rejected. But because of the obligation implied in the
agreement with the prefecture, the reception centres have to ensure the service
of a counsellor who guarantees the legal consultation and support to the asylum
seekers hosted.

Another crucial service on which the
operator of this centre is economizing
is the Italian language course. The course started only a few weeks ago
(the centre has been active since July) and it is run by volunteers from an
association from Enna.

Regarding the pocket money, the
guests tell me to receive it through a credit on a prepaid card, but they
complain that they get only 40 euro a month while for all the months before it
had been 40 euro every 16 days.

In regard to the distribution of
clothes they all complain to have received clothes only once since their
arrival. Many of them said to have no shoes and told me that they signed a
paper in order to receive them, but still didn’t see any of them.

Furthermore, they say not to be followed
in an adequate way in relation to the
medical care. They also tell that a doctor comes to the centre every three
weeks, but explain that they don’t feel to be really examined, that as a remedy
for every kind of discomfort they get the same pain reliever, and that their
indispositions have been neglected for a long time. At this point the social
worker intervenes in order to remember the youngsters of all the accompaniments
made to the hospital to make the checkups and analysis they necessitated.

At the end, the guests talk to me
about the missing laundry service and tell me that they receive soap in order
to wash the clothes themselves.

I end the meeting (not without
difficulties and tense moments between the guests and the social worker who was
present) and the guests themselves invite me and accompany me to see the
facility, showing broken or completely missing roller shutters, incrusted
showers, and water leaks caused by ill functioning drains.

After the visit of the facility I
find outside the centre the social worker. He asks me to speak on the phone
with the director of the centre, who invites me to go back and verify on
objective data the services offered by the facility. I take the opportunity to
remind him that the serious critical aspects related to the reception
correspond to the lack of crucial services that should be ensured by adequate
professionals, first of all the legal counselling.

In respect to the distribution of
pocket money the director was willing to demonstrate the contribution of 40
euro every 16 days through documents which show the bank credit on prepaid

On the contrary, when I talk to him
about the sporadic allocation of clothing he tells me that some winter clothes
have been distributed. (And again something is wrong, because almost all guests
arrived at this centre last July 2nd, and thus in full summer).

Finally, I report to the director
what I learned from the guests concerning the signed paper for getting some
shoes which they never received and that the objective fact, in this case,
could be that at that moment almost all of them were wearing plastic slippers,
which they declared to be the only ones in their possession. At that point the
director responded that “if they sell even the shower gel we give them, what
can we do?”.

My visit at the centre comes to an
end, the guests accompany me to the car and up to the last moment they ask me
to do something about the Commission. Some of them even wrote to our editors. They can’t
understand how it is possible to be waiting for months and months and years,
without even having an idea about the timings and modalities through which they
will get out of this waiting, take hold again of their lives and finally have a
future (and a present).

Giovanna Vaccaro

Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Chiara Guccione

* CAS –
Centri d’Accoglienza Staordinaria: Centres for Extraordinary Reception

– Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo: protection
facilities for asylum seekers and refugees

*** Ipab – Istituto pubblico di assistenza e
beneficenza: Public Institute for Assistance and Charity