The Violence Reproduced by Emergency

Emergency considered as the only possible response. It is the institutional reaction at an international, national and local level faced with this continuing, terrifying massacre. It is a response that is being invoked with ever more force in the context of managing the phenomenon of migration in Sicily. If we recall that an emergency is “an improvised situation which has to be confronted immediately”, we can understand quite quickly how inappropriate a word it is to be used to describe the situation of the arrival, placement and “welcoming” of migrants. To make a system out of an emergency that lasts years, shows the clear will of the relevant political actors, and the absence of any institutional transparency in involving the citizenry in what is actually going on.

We know that migration is a structural phenomenon within our society, and the far too often the emergency has meant to make exceptions to the law and to disrespect the fundamental human rights of men, women and children. But above all, we continue to meet with concrete examples that demonstrate to us how the emergency management of migration ends up only reproducing further violence.

We ought begin by informing ourselves about and understanding Italian and European political economy, the commercial agreements with the countries from which migrants are fleeing, the sale of arms to those who commit massacres and the construction of physical and bureaucratic barriers which stop hinder migrants from moving freely and securely, distinguishing them from European citizens. We ought then consider the politics of migration which has been implemented in this last few years, and the deep contradictions which exist between the values of civil society, humanitarian obligations and the kind of protection of which Europe declares itself to be a leader on the one hand, and the situation of those who are trying to live our a dignified future in our countries on the other. Faced with the thousands of people who, in order to flee, are forced to entrust themselves to human traffickers, who are forced to follow routes which frequently lead them to their death, Europe is only raising new walls and militarising its borders. The arrivals on our coasts result from an entirely predictable massacre, and are in no way a question of any “emergency.”

The urgency remains, however, of responding in the best way possible to the catastrophic consequences that the current organisation of our society continues to produce. But managing these situations within the remit of an emergency, rather than denouncing them, means to only contribute to their continuation. That does not mean refusing to confront the complexity of the situation, but to take hold of the different responsibilities of the actors involved, and attempt to change the actual state of things, which currently simply places with the lives of human beings.

Since the start of 2016 more than 7,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived on our coasts: yet only now is a discussion underway in Sicily about a possible plan of how to distribute minors across the whole of Italy, and not only in the regions where they land. In the meantime, we have lost count of the young people who have disappeared into thin air or destined to spend years of their adolescence in a state of total abandonment. Minors are being detained for weeks within the Hotspots (only a few days ago there were still 170 within the Hotspot at Pozzallo) or in entirely inadequate locations. On July 15th, 266 migrants arrived in Augusta having witnessed the death of around 20 of their travelling companions, drowned at sea after the dinghy on which they made the journey went under. Among them was the body of a young Ghanaian man, who very likely drowned during the rescue operations. The migrants are from Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and other countries, in the main from Sub-Saharan Africa, in which violence and poverty ordered dictatorial regimes are the order of the day, contributing factors quite far from the concerns of Europeans. In the meantime, those able to continue to flee, putting themselves at risk, and yesterday another 25 unaccompanied minors were sent to join the other 60 or so youngsters housed for many days in the port’s tent-city. Notwithstanding the transfer of at least 300 refugees outside of Sicily, the situation remains at the point of collapse, with at least 130 migrants already present and another 443 predicted to arrive tomorrow evening. We recall that the tent structures of the port are not structurally suitable for a reception centre to house migrants, migrants who are often either vulnerable subjects or minors. At the port not event medical, legal, psychological or appropriate material assistance could be guaranteed, let alone individual protection as the law is meant to provide. It is a decisively unacceptable and concerning situation, and it risks becoming chronic if it continues to be managed through an emergency approach.

We met various unaccompanied minors at the Catania train station a few days ago: some of them confided in us that they came to directly from the port of Augusta by foot, unable to tolerate the conditions there any longer, after one day and one night of walking so as to be able to continue their journey towards a future which does not really seem possible in Italy. These are young men exposed to every possible kind of exploitation, who have decided to continue their journey through a thousand dangers, rather than remain trapped in the mesh of a system which seems to do everything but protect, listen to or inform them, or put them in contact with their relatives. There are 15-year-olds who undertook the journey by foot for days, in scorching temperatures, such as the young man who walked for three days from Caltanissetta to Catania who we met last week. These are the results of an emergency approach, the blessings for those who profit from the desperation of others.

These are situations entirely outside of any control, which leave a permanent mark and certainly do not enable the minors’ co-habitation even once they are transferred to the centres. Only a few days ago the police intervened to calm down a fight among the minors hosted by the “Zagare”, a well known centre in Syracuse, now used for the reception of minors even if, like so many others, originally set up to take adults and nuclear families. “Almost everyone who comes here leaves after a few days. They make contact with other people from their countries who are here, and then they disappear. We’re here only because we don’t have friends or family in Europe” some of the young men told us, who have waited for months to be provided with a legal guardian, and frequently also even an Italian course, housed in one of the centres for unaccompanied minors in Catania. “No one speaks English. If things go well, a lone mediator arrives for half a day to assist 80 people. What can we think about all day except running away? Every request for clarification or question about documents ends with a threat to call the police.” This is simply an imposition of power instead of any dialogue, managing situations “as best they can” when it concerns the right to health and information, followed by the “emergency” management of containing, moving and amassing people like postal packages, without thinking about their pasts or towards their futures. An “emergency” which up till now has produced only more deaths, and hundreds of disappeared and invisible people deprived of every right. A completely failed approach, and a clear signal of the necessity for change.

Lucia Borghi

Borderline Sicily

Translation: Richard Braude