The SPRAR (protection facilities for asylum seekers and refugees) of Aidone’s municipality

We get to know the SPRAR of Aidone’s municipality through an unpredictable meeting with some beneficiaries in a street of the small town centre.
They tell us that their biggest problem is the denial of the application for international protection: they have arrived in Italy in June 2014, had the personal hearing with the competent Territorial Commission in September 2015 and received the decision last December. Therefore, after 18-19 months waiting, they are again at the beginning. In view of the audition with the Territorial Commission for the asylum application, they have been assisted by the legal consulent who collaborates with the project and gave them information at their arrival.

“When you arrive in Italy, you are told that according to the law, your asylum application will be examined within 6 months. We have been waiting for one year and a half, got the refusal and now, after almost two years, we are still waiting” says one of them.
Although it is obvious that the main problem of these asylum seekers (as of all the others we meet in our monitoring rounds in the different sicilian provinces) is the waiting time, we ask them also to talk about the aspects connected to the reception.

One of them is a beneficiary of the SPRAR-Project, while the other two are in an extraordinary reception centre (CAS). They receive every week pocket money of 17,50€ in the form of a voucher and this is a source of dissatisfaction because they would rather receive it in cash.

They live in apartments they find welcoming and they can cook what they like to, can go shopping autonomously, with the 20 Euro vouchers they receive every week: this is also a dissatisfaction reason and when we ask them why, they ask us, in turn, how much do we spend for our weekly shopping. We must admit that this costs us more than 3 euros each day.

Also for the wardrobe, they receive every 6 months one 80 Euro voucher: with this, they can buy the clothes they like. They don’t get a phone card and to obtain it, they use the vouchers of the pocket money. Finally, they reiterated their belief that the real problem are the documents they don’t have and they still don’t know if, and when, they would get them.

One of them accompanies us to the seat of the office, where the educator who is in charge of integration activities is expecting us. We first met her together with them while she was accompanying them to the bank and willingly accepted our proposal to have a meeting. When we arrive at the office, we also find the psychologists and the legal consultant and thus we can talk to a major part of the team.

The Don Bosco cooperative manages in Aidone the SPRAR project, which includes 48 beneficiaries and a project of exceptional reception which includes other 40 beneficiaries. To both reception types are guaranteed the same services, with the exception of the job placement projects (unfortunately only guaranteed to the SPRAR beneficiaries) and of the differentiation of the exclusion times from the structure established by SPRAR and CAS.

In both cases, reception is organized in a “diffused” manner: the total of the 88 residents (which also includes two 6 people households) is divided in 18 apartments, all located in the center of the village.

The countries of origin of most parts of the beneficiaries are: Mali, Senegal, Ghambia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Ghana, but there are also asylum seekers from Bangladesh.

What the residents we previously meet told us about the pocket money, has been confirmed by the workers, who specify that those vouchers can be spent in different contracted shop categories: restaurants, supermarkets, shops, bars. The phone card has been given only at the point of entry and the weekly supply is not expected either from the SPRAR convention nor from the exceptional reception convention.

They describe us then the use of the vouchers, which supports the residents’ autonomy also in the small things as for example in the choice of food. At this stage, we state our concerns about their amount and they explain us that by accumulating various vouchers, they reach in each apartment an amount which guarantees a generous shopping and that for the apartments which host a smaller number of people extras are guaranteed. Moreover, upon arrival of the residents, each apartment is provided by a “shopping pantry”, which includes all essential items (oil, salt, flour, etc.). Anyway, the vouchers serve only for the purchase of food, the products for personal hygiene and of the house are distributed separately.

The equipe is constituted of a psychologist, two educators (one in charge of the italian course and the other of the integration activities), one legal consultant, one cultural-linguistic mediator, one administrative officer and one director who is also in charge of the other reception projects of other SPRAR/CAS, which are managed by the same association in Piazza Armerina. The work of the two volunteers of the civil service and of a second mediator trainee is added to the work of the listed professional figures. The trainee is a SPRAR beneficiary who has showed great skills in terms of mediation and language knowledge (including Italian) and attended a training course for linguistic-cultural mediators and is now gaining project-work experience within the project, with a view to a desirable future job placement.

Every day, the team operators kate turn in two hours of monitoring in the apartments, while the office stays open every day from 9 am until the evening.

The integration activities have been mostly entrusted to local associations, whose projects have been selected and financed by the cooperative, with a view to involving the beneficiaries in sports activities like football and basketball, craftsmanship and theatre workshops. Last summer some of them have been working as volunteers in summers camps for disabled groups.

The integration activity which focuses more attention (even though it can unfortunately only be addressed to the beneficiaries of the SPRAR project) is the one of the internships: during the first year already 45 project works have been activated, which offered work experiences in many professional fields. In 2015, instead, following the realization of the European Plan to fight youth unemployment “Garanza Giovane” (Young Guarantee) which gave many small craftmen in the zone to offer a pseudo working experience to their acquaintances and relatives, the inclusion opportunities of the beneficiaries have been reduced and the activated project works have fallen to 17.

The participation to many integration activities is relative because the residents’ need to have a job and autonomy is more of priority than ever, with regard to the long waiting time. The Commission of Enna has 12 auditions per day, with individual interviews and collegial decisions and the denial percentage is very high.

Lastly, we ask to visit some apartment and are accompanied to a three-floor-building, fully inhabited by the SPRAR beneficiaries.

We enter an apartment which seems to be decent and spacious, only the stairway cleaning is disappointing. Six young men live there. They put all beds in one single room in order to obtain a big prayer room, which has been decorated with carpets. They welcome us warmly and make jokes with the operator. They also tell us about the waiting and the refusal problem, and this is the problem which grips them the most. We ask to tell us something more about the project, but the only thing they complain about is the water, which is often lacking. This is clearly tied to the supply of the municipality and not responsability of the project, they know it very well and laugh about it indeed. The atmosphere is very relaxed and, despite the worries, these young boys seem to be serene. We relaunch again our question, they don’t have anything to tell us and start to ask questions about our work. They invite us to keep on reporting the criticality of the waiting time and then they tell us that our monitoring work is very important because there are many people in bad conditions in some reception centre. Maybe it is their early age but, despite the problems they are facing, they are capable of thinking about others.

Giovanna Vaccaro

Borderline Sicilia

Translation by Elena Baggetta