The reception centre for minors in Villa Montevago of Caltagirone reopens with a new management

The first reception centre for minors in Villa Montevago of Caltagirone has reopened in October. After what happened during the summer ( the young migrants, exasperated by the long waiting times and by waiting conditions, had been hastily transferred to nearby centres and the facility was shut down. (

In the following months and after long restoration works the co-operative “la vita è adesso” (life is now), founded by former members of the co-operative “la forza della vita”(the power of life) which was managing the centre, assumed responsibility for the facility. New staff, new rules and an agreement with the social workers of Augusta in order to welcome most of the minors landing in the area of Siracusa who are mainly transferred here since last October. Indeed, other facilities in the area are still at the limit of their capacities, like the centre of Priolo and especially the centre “Zagare” in Melilli, where about 100 minors are still sharing living spaces with adults who were already there before their arrival.

Villa Montevago is situated on the outskirts of Caltagirone and is connected with the city centre by numerous buses that are also shuttling between the nearby hospital. I arrive at the facility in the late morning of a festivity day and find about thirty youngsters in the main room watching a football game on television. A staff meeting is going on in the room right next to it and Dr Spinello, who is in charge of the centre, invites me join in order to participate to the concluding remarks of the meeting. As he explains me afterwards, the staff comprises 10 people of whom 5 are psychologists or educators hired as educational staff, while the rest of the personnel is responsible for cleaning and for the distribution of food. The coordinator, a psychologist, takes care of the organisation and supervision of all activities at the centre. There are plenty of proposals, although their organisation seems to be still in the beginning and not in their fourth month, considering the uncertainties regarding timings and persons of reference that should be contacted in case of necessity. Trays with the meals arrive, and my question about the issue of food is anticipated by Spinello, who clarifies: “In the beginnings there were a lot of complaints regarding the quality of the food, but now the menu has been agreed with the youngsters and things are going definitely better”. Indeed, the youngsters seem to appreciate, or rather, talking about it later with them, food doesn’t seem to worry them. “The important thing is to avoid having pasta every day”, tells me one of them.

Meanwhile, Spinello depicts the current situation: “At the moment we host 74 youngsters, most of whom are from Gambia, Senegal, Mali, some Egyptians and from the Ivory Coast and a Bengalese. Those who have been here the longest arrived in late November, the most recent about 10 days ago after landing in Augusta. Our main aim is to guarantee them a stay for no longer than 90 days, as should be according to the law and as we did until done, but it is a difficult undertaking.” Hence we find ourselves dealing with the thorny issue of tutors: “Recently we have almost been forced to adopt the order through which the attorney office of the tribunal for minors of Catania allows staff of all facilities to become tutors for the hosted minors” – he tells me while handing over a document which was sent to the main reception centres for minors of the province, which is valid for the whole district comprising also Ragusa and Siracusa. “For us this thing is only worsening”. Also the coordinator of the facility agrees on the inefficiency of this practice: “Concerning the tutors, we are already negotiating with the Arciper in order to guarantee every minor a tutor in the shortest time possible. 11 of the current guests already have one. Personally, as a psychologist and coordinator, I have various talks with them and for each one I fill out a form, which will accompany him also in future transfers, with the hope that it is going to be helpful for those who will welcome the minor in the future”.

The order issued by the attorney office of the tribunal for minors of Catania last December seems to be as the umpteenth measure resulting from the emergency and harmful for a series of fundamental rights. The text explicitly refers to the unstoppable und persistent flow of foreign unaccompanied minors on the oriental coasts of Sicily, with the intention to authorize the reception centres to exercise the custodial powers on the minors until an actual tutor is nominated. Such derogation is legitimized in a juridical sense by art. 402 of the Italian Civil Code, to which the attorney office refers. Despite its intention is apparently positive, since it wants to accelerate the starting of the procedures, it actually brings to life an extremely serious practice which in fact eliminates the only external and independent subject within the frame of reception for foreign unaccompanied minors. The order, which legitimizes the conflict of interest between managing the facilities and the function of tutors, risks to silence all allegations and criticisms that have been expressed regarding the management of the centres – accusations that are often voiced by the presence and role of tutors, whose primary responsibility is to protect the minor. And the particularity and delicacy of the moment has to be highlighted – a moment in which considering the various judicial inquires on the management of funds destined for reception, it would be necessary to strengthen external controls instead of eliminating them.

By talking with Spinello it emerges that also the relationship with social workers needs to be improved in the near future: “Unfortunately, we do not have any social workers here and they come visit from the town of Augusta not more than once a month”, he continues, “ and this is one of the issues on which we want to act, always and especially with Arci, same as for offering juridical assistance”. Hence, we walk around the spacious and renovated facility. There are several rooms organized as common spaces for prayers, for watching TV and for socializing activities, which are carried out with the support of staff from “Save the Children”. The youngsters sleep in heated rooms for about 12 persons with bunk beds. Many are still in bed, others go around the facility or watch TV. In the afternoon most of them attend Italian classes at the Eda centres of Caltagirone and attend football training with local teams.

A sour note is still represented by the timings of the transferring. “Here it’s not bad”, tells me M., who I meet later in the TV room. “The problem is that I have been promised to be transferred to a smaller and equipped centre within three months, but I’m afraid it won’t happen I arrived shortly after Christmas and I have seen kids who were already here and who arrived with me being transferred somewhere else, so I don’t really get it.” While we talk, a group of youngsters rush into the courtyard following the coordinator. “They are talking about transfers”, continues M., “but also this time I have to wait.” I ask M. if he has ever talked to his tutor, if he has a tutor, or if he talked to someone who explained him the procedures that awaits him for obtaining the documents. “Actually no. The food here is ok, people are nice, but they never say anything about documents. And I don’t know what a tutor is.” I hear similar views from a group of youngsters from Gambia. “Since they tell us that we’ll stay for maximum three months I don’t understand why we still have to wait.” In this respect, I ask some of them to talk about the peaceful protests about which the news are reporting lately regarding the centre. Because it is of last week, that the news of an attempted self-management by some of the guests of the house became public, who apparently prevented the staff to enter the centre by blocking the gates. News of occasional and peaceful protests within the centre seem to be experienced by the minors as a necessary demonstration of their unbearable frustration. “We don’t do anything wrong, we just ask not to be cheated and to be transferred as we were promised.” About this same issue Spinello wants to express some clarifications. “It was an isolated incident in which some youngsters blocked the gates to the centre in front of the coordinator, who they regard as the person who is in charge for the transfers and thus responsible for the long waiting times of some of the kids. But it has been a peaceful protest that quickly ended, and which has been resolved for the best considering that the next day some of the minors who had participated went to the social services of Augusta where the reason for such delays was explained to them – caused mainly by management and organisational problems. It was an important meeting, also because in their return these youngsters were able to explain to their comrades the real reasons for their waiting times.” As if the many explanations received until then, one has to think, had not been enough. But time passes by, also in the long waiting of these youngsters, and before I leave I spent one more hour with some minors from Mali. Stories, anecdotes, jokes about everyday issues for those who don’t speak Italian.

The migrants seem to be calm, but also not very keen in confiding in, and I prefer not to profit too much from their patience with my questions. “I arrived three months ago. Since then I just think about the documents and to leave this place. I don’t have anything else to add. For now I don’t even have more to say about my life.” A statement to which there is no reply, heard from a boy of sixteen years, two of which he spent gambling his life in the desert and at sea in order to reach a land, which he thought to be free. And that now, against all odds, is trying not to lose his determination. But how long will he resist?

Lucia Borghi

Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation: Chiara Guccione