The unaccompanied minors transferred from Gravitelli gym to Villa Solaria

Villa Solaria is a retirement home situated in the village of Sant’Alessio and run by the cooperative “Azione Sociale”. Within the retirement home it was launched a project for the reception of unaccompanied minors under the urgency decree of the Messina municipality, which set up the transfer of 60 unaccompanied minors last October, as a consequence of our press release, and after the flooding, which confirmed the structural inadequacy of the gym.

Apart from Villa Solaria, also another retirement home in the Taormina municipality was involved in the project. The brief experience of the Carlo Zuccaro center though was concluded by the escape of two minors from the center and was characterized by furious protests of the group “Noi con Salvini” (“We stand with Salvini”). These events even brought the center’s operator to declare that the reception of these minors was imposed by the Prefecture and municipality of Messina, and that he personally felt that the centre wasn’t suitable for the reception of migrants.
In October, Villa Solaria received twelve of those minors, some of which eventually were transferred in SPRAR* projects, whereas others, as soon as they came of age, were placed in centres of first accommodation. To be more specific, we know that two refugees are staying in the Bisconte barracks. The criteria applied to those transfers remain unknown, but it is a serious issue that the unaccompanied minors are at first received in a gym hall for weeks, before they are transferred in emergency reception centres, right after which they are moved again to first accommodation centres the moment they reach the legal age of majority. Especially when it comes to the Bisconte barracks, the situation seems particularly alarming.
The minors’ permanence in Villa Solaria is aimed at waiting for the placement in a real community or for the coming of age. Therefore, paths for growth and autonomy of the residents are not particularly planned, and, for example, none of them are enrolled in higher schools.
Eight minors from different countries are currently living in this residence: three Egyptians, two Malians, two Gambians and one Togolese. In order to guarantee a different reception to the one provided for the senior and disabled guests of the retirement home, all the migrants’ rooms (among them are some single and double rooms) are placed on the building’s second floor, where they are the only guests. Even the eating hours differ from the ones foreseen for the other residents.
The day we visited the centre we were welcomed by the employees on duty for the assistance of the elderly. They recommended us to come back in the evening if we wanted to meet the younger residents and the employee on duty of their specific needs. Being in alphabetization lessons, they were currently unavailable.
In any case it was very interesting being able to talk these employees as well, although they were not directly involved in the reception of the minors. Actually it was by their stories that we were able to get an idea of this rather strange mix of different purposes of this centre. We realized that, at first, the placement of the minors caused great concern and also heavy tensions among the whole team and the residents. After a while though the minors’ presence resulted in a resource for everybody, so that, from the stories of the employees, it seems that the minors bonded thoroughly with them. This was confirmed by the youngsters, who stated that most of their clothes they received as a gift from the staff.
As we came back in the evening, we were indeed able to talk with them and with the employee, who invited us to sit down in the room where everybody was sitting. Some of them were playing at the PlayStation, others were more attentively following our conversation.
Since talking with the young egyptians turned out to be rather difficult, as no one of them spoke English and only one was able to speak Italian, we spontaneously tried to understand whether there was a linguistic mediator of reference available. In that very moment, the answer was negative, but we learned later on during a phone call with the head of the center that there is translator available “on demand”.
The team consists of the employee present during our visit (who is in charge of the linguistic mediation for English speakers, according to the director) and two other employees that work on daytimes. One of them is also a psychologist, and is thus able to guarantee this type of assistance. Two other employees are in charge for the night shifts. There is no legal advisor, although the director assures us that, thanks to an ongoing relation with the minor’s court and with the tutors, who often are lawyers, the youngsters are assisted correctly also on this behalf.
There is neither an Italian teacher, but the minors do take language lessons every afternoon at the permanent study centre. Medical assistance is organized by the regional sanitary assistance and they all have a doctor they can refer to if necessary. They are not given pocket money, but receive two phone cards, each of five Euros, every week.
Regarding the phone cards, some of the minors tell us that they haven’t received them for two weeks. According to the employee, the person in charge for the phone cards had some health problems and wasn’t able to take care of the distribution of the phone cards; but they should receive them again within a short period of time. Others complain about the impossibility of receiving money in cash, while others say that they have received few clothes from the cooperative and the rest they had received by the employees. Someone else complains about medical assistance, because after a long time he still wasn’t able to solve a dermatological problem, and the lotion he received didn’t have any effect on him.
When we ask explicitly how they feel in the center, the reply is all in all positive. But there are is one negative aspect we have to mention and which concerns many of them: Some finally handed in their asylum requests, but most of them still wait to do so, whereas the three Egyptian minors still haven’t received their appointment at the police offices.
From the conversation we had with the minors as well as with the employees, it seemed to us that the long duration of working time on the procedures depends on the immigration offices of the Messina police. Due to the lack of translators or technical problems with the machinery for digital fingerprints, the minors have to keep on coming back many times without being able to complete the registration procedures. But, when we asked the director for confirmation, she explained that such delays were only related to problems with finding a tutor. Also in the case of the three young Egyptians, the delay was caused by problems with finding a tutor, which were solved only by the end of January.

Giovanna Vaccaro

Borderline Sicilia

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

Translation by David Hofstetter