They’re Not People, They’re Moroccans!

have taken some time to write about what happened in Palermo around
three weeks ago, when the Coast
Guard vessel Dattilo
brought 1,048 migrants into Palermo. It has taken some time to digest
the violations adopted as a systemic, inhuman practice, and above all
we were concerned with providing some relief and support to those who
are otherwise forgotten, to those who Italy and Europe considers as
worth less than animals. We can write about it now by starting from
the anonymous letter which was provided to us by a volunteer present
at the port.

happened, unfortunately, in Palermo, in my city, and that makes it
all the worse, because each of us basically wants to think we’re
better than the others, just like our city council which says that it
represents Europe’s most welcoming city. But at the landing of
November 7th
it didn’t show that. Instead, with the blessing of all the
institutions which were present – from the Questura to the Council,
all the way through the Prefecture and the Provincial Health Service
(ASP*), Palermo managed to employ mechanisms which we do not consider
to even be human.

The landing, as has now become the rule, lasted 40 hours. It put
everyone to the test, from the sailors who had to spend two days at
port, to the policemen who had to stand under the rain in order to
watch over the “extremely dangerous subjects” ready to make a run
for it, to the doctors on rotation and the volunteers who were
frequently not made aware of the schedule and dynamics, but turn up
at the mercy of a system which they are trying to stop from

An accepting city – which this time didn’t even accept the bodies.
Usually when the bodies arrive there’s a queue of TV cameras and
journalists, who bring in the local institutions, from the Mayor to
the Bishop. This time though, strangely enough, there was almost no
one, probably because the bodies had not been “announced”, so
there was no time to roll out the red carpet. The city did not even
know how to welcome the victims, including two very small children,
killed at sea, sacrificed by our laws in a climate of our total

Only one missionary, who I often see at the port, received and
embraced the bodies for a moment.

But this time we went beyond the norm. This time the institutions
failed to provide any psychological support at the port, and the
organisations which usually carry out this work – despite a
thousand challenges – were absent. Not special attention was given
to the survivors, not even to the mother of the two children who had
lost their lives. They were simply provided with an unnamed
destination, and abandoned to their pain.

We went even further with the two Ivorian children (1 year old and
four years old) who lost their mother in the crossing: they were
given a health check and then sent to a community for young children.
They too were given no psychological support. Fortunately the usual
news circus was absent this time, not only because there weren’t TV
crews and journalists but also because the manager from ASP* seems to
have tried to protect the children’s privacy.

landing was extremely tiring because there were people on board the
for three days and two nights,
and so were severely tested. The crew themselves were quite on edge,
and you could feel the tension across both days of the operation,
partly due to the lack of coordination between the Prefecture and the
Questura, and the bucking of responsibility, which had a noticeable
effect on how people were treated.

people who alighted form the ship were barely dressed, many of them
in drenched clothing. But in a situation like this the needs of the
police always come first, that is, to identify the boat drivers and
witnesses. The agents on the Dattilo
had already picked out the boat drivers (including a young
17-year-old man) while the police squad took on the task of finding
the witnesses.

paradox showed itself on the afternoon of November 7th,
when the ship captain made 50 Moroccans disembark,
without any permission from the Questura, who then complained because
were tired and soaked through. As soon as the representatives from
the Questura identified the nationality of the group who were getting
off the ship a conflict broke out between them and the captain, with
the doctors from ASP* caught in the middle. In practice, no one
wanted to take on the responsibility of dealing with the Moroccans,
regarded by both sides as animals ready to do anything, as
uncontrollable subjects. The captain was scared that they would start
protesting on board the ship, while the Questura did not want them to
remain on the quayside the whole night, with the risk that they might
run away, as they only had ten staff available to watch over them.
ASP*, on the other hand, was not prepared to take a clear position,
apart from the fact that everyone – even Moroccans – ought be
seen by their doctors, and that to make them seep under the rain, on
the pavement of the port, with wet clothes, could create more
victims. This was an idea which the captain repeated, asking the
institutions which
were present
if they would take responsibility for any further deaths resulting
from frostbite on board his ship. The captain complained that,
despite the fact that everyone knew of the ship’s arrival at port, no
one had organised any provision for those who would remain on board:
for example, no gazebo had been brought on board the ship to shield
them from the weather. Just as in other ports, no one had thought
about how to provide a dignified reception. But this is the best city
in Europe.

And so, following this clumsy piece of theatre, the Moroccans
(including some women), having been branded as dangerous, violent
criminals, were made to get back on the ship, although the captain
managed to barter them for a different hundred migrants who alighted
so as to make some space. The Moroccans remained composed, suffering
the abuse of a failed reception system in patience.

Furthermore, we heard the complaints of some migrants who said that
the soldiers on board the ship were extremely violent while trying to
calm down a fight which broke out among them, and seeing their marks
of having been beaten (which could also have been signs of
maltreatment in Libya) finished off a shocking scene. Every now and
again I ask myself why, if we don’t want them, don’t we just leave
them in the sea. Instead we just pretend to be something we’re not so
that we can sleep well at night.

As volunteers, we decided among ourselves to take blankets and food
for the ship, to hand out cardboard and food to the people on the
quay; we had to overcome a wall of indifference put up by one of the
police officers (for the record, the representative from the
Prefecture supported us), who claimed that the migrants ought be
grateful “because they’re not in the sea anymore, like they’re
pretending, while we’re being rained on”.

As volunteers, we had to help out with the medical attention provided
by ASP*’s doctors, work carried out without real engagement, in
haste, like stamping a letter, especially for those doctors who we
don’t usually see at the landings. The doctors from ASP* thus managed
to guarantee the failure of the reception system even from a health
point of view. It doesn’t even bear thinking about what it is like to
be the people suffering like that. And while the Red Cross and
the other associations took a clear position, ASP* stayed completely
silent, perhaps because political interests made them keep their
mouths shut.

This was a kind of silence which we did not hear from the Frontex
agents, who are increasingly aggressive and present in ever greater
numbers. In fact this time, as well as being positioned ready for the
pre-identification, they had no scruples about trying to get
information our of people while they changed clothes, something we
had to flag up, asking the officers to give a little breathing space
to the migrants for a moment. They really are without mercy. They’ve
acquired so much power that they even tell off the staff from
humanitarian organisations who attempt, despite all obstacles, to
provide the migrants with legal information. Every now and again the
Frontex agents “confiscate” some migrants in order to question
them right up to the end, perhaps even while they themselves take
refreshment breaks.

night of November 7th
was made even harder by the cold, the rain and the quayside covered
in puddles, and while the city council left, leaving the minors on
the pavement of the port, fortunately – and thanks to the humanity
and stubbornness of the humanitarian organisations – they were at
least allowed to sleep inside the coaches.

We have to ask ourselves, and we also ask the city’s Mayor (who was
absent) and the Bishop (who didn’t bat an eyelid, not even asking the
authorities to focus their attentions on the situation): why is no
greater pressure made to bring some tents to the site, or coaches in
which people can rest, or anything which might help relieve people’s

saw the results of this landing the next day as well, when the
extremely dangerous Moroccans were given rejection notices, group by
group, and let out at night so that they wouldn’t be seen. On the
night of Tuesday, November 8th,
up until the breaking of dawn, the Questura of
Palermo handed out rejection notices to women and vulnerable people,
including mean and women who had lost their families in Libya. As the
sun rose on Palermo train station it was full of Moroccans, as well
as five Libyans. Whoever had some money on them managed to leave, and
whoever didn’t stayed. Yet again, it was volunteers who took care of
people. To tell the truth, only the director of Caritas,
after he was contacted, in the end made himself available to cook
something for them.

took the guys to take a
at Centro
and helped them change their clothes; we bought them food and gave
them directions, given that some of them didn’t have any idea of the
distance between Palermo and Paris, for example. All of them are now
invisible people scattered across our country, left to the mercy of
those who would exploit them. Among them there were the husbands of
three women who had been take to the deportation centre (CIE*) in
Rome, at Ponte Galeria. The three men, two Moroccans and one Libyan,
were given the run around by the officers at the Questura, who first
told them that their wives had been taken to their offices for the
night so as not to die of cold, and then would be allowed to return
to them the following morning. But to their surprise they told us
that they were not allowed to go in, and had then been told that the
women had been taken to Rome, and only later found out that they had
been transferred to Ponte Galeria. But by now we have learnt that
breaking up families is yet another prerogative of this system.

Over the following two days the migrants eventually managed to leave
for other locations, to become the new exploitable slaves for our

For those still here, here is the photo of how the vulnerable are
treated, people discharged by Palermo’s hospitals; in this instance,
the photo is of a young man discharged with a a hold in his ankle and
a fever. In my opinion, this is a criminal act committed by a doctor
who, in the end, has thought that they’re not at sea and are thus
saved, and so they’re just pretending and that, like with the
Moroccans, fundamentally these aren’t really people.”

would like to thank the volunteer who sent us their eye witness
account, and we emphasise the fact that
remain across Sicily: minors are being kept in some of the “first
reception” centres (CPA*) without any appropriate divisions based
on their age or gender, including possible victims of human
trafficking (a situation already denounced by Save
the Children
There are ever more Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS*) where the
staff have decided to give up communicating with the guests, and
following that from the Sataru
centre in the province of Trapani, we now see that written
communication has been provided at the centre in Piana degli
Albanesi, in the province of Palermo, that not even pocket money will
be handed out.

Winter has arrived, and people are fleeing from this hellish
reception system.

Borderline Sicilia, Editorial

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

ASP = Azienda Sanitaria Provinciale (Provincial
Health Agency

CIE = Centro di Identificazione e Espulsione (Identification
and Expulsion Centre

CPA = Centro di Prima Accoglienza (First
Reception Centre

CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria (Extraordinary
Reception Centre

by Richard Braude