Unaccompanied Minors: When Reception Is Seen Only As a Challenge

guys arrive, but their problems aren’t over”, commented some
migrants outside the Hotspot at Pozzallo. Yesterday 286 migrants
arrived at the Ragusan port, including around 20 unaccompanied
minors. Young people of 15, 16, 17 – but also 13 and younger, such
as those to whom we had already introduced ourselves. Last Thursday a
delegation from the OSCE (Organisation Security and Co-operation in
Europe) visited the Pozzallo Hotspot, having already stopped at the
CARA* at Mineo. In the hours immediately prior to the visit, we
assisted in a large number of transfers from the Hotspot to centres
nearby. Among the migrants leaving there were many unaccompanied
minors who therefore, due to a coincidence that
was predictable enough, were not so
numerous during the institutional visit.

of the minors we met today told us about being taken five days ago to
the new centre of ‘first reception’, one of the CAS (Extraordinary
Reception Centres) for minors opened by the Prefecture of Ragusa,
situated in the centre of Pozzallo and managed by the ‘Social Action’
cooperative, the same managing body of the Hotspot up till the end of
July. “There are 25 of us there, split up into rooms with 3-4
places each. The new camp is much better than the one at the port,
even if here we haven’t understood what to expect and how long we
will be here. There are workers who speak English, French and Arabic.
Up till today, we still haven’t received any new clothes or anything,
we’re just waiting.” At the bus stop, the residents of the new
centre meet up with those who are still housed inside the Hotspot.
“We didn’t come to Italy to stay sitting down on the dock, we want
to go to school, to work, to do something” the guys continue. They
ask information about when their lessons will start, they want to
know if there’s a mosque in the town or a football pitch other than
the beach. “We don’t have any Italian lessons at the centre, they
say that we’ll be able to go to school afterwards. Let’s hope so!”
‘A’ is in the new CAS along with other Gambians, as well as young men
from Guinea Conakry, Nigeria and Mali. Many of them arrived in Italy
a week ago, ten days after the French-speakers who are still inside
the Hotspot and ask why this is the case. “We’ve been in the camp
at the port for around three weeks. They took our fingerprints, the
police and Frontex have lots of officials who asked us questions
about our journey and told us to wait because all the places for
minors are full. But we’re really tired.” None of them knows that
their prolonged stay in the Hotspot is illegitimate; the NGOs present
in the centre give information on obtaining documents, the
possibility of family reunion and general assistance, but it seems
that no-one has explained to the migrants how the Italian ‘welcoming’
system works, and you can well understand why.

new managing body of the Hotspot, the Domus Caritatis cooperative
based in Rome, hands out a ticket worth €2.50 to each migrant every
day so as to buy food and basic goods from the town’s supermarkets;
everyone has the right to a telephone card every two days, worth €5,
which seems inadequate for an actual phone call because it always
runs out after a few minutes of conversation. “At the camp (the
Hotspot) there’s lots of us, too many in fact. They’ve given us two
changes of clothes but unfortunately they’re too thick, just like the
shoes.” (He shows us the rubber shoes one uses for walking over
rocks). “We get shampoo, even if the water in the showers is always
too cold, and a meal twice a day, but fortunately we can buy more
food with the ticket. Then there’s an Italian course once a day. But
we want to know where we’re going, when we’ll finally start our
documents, and to have some independence.”

basic assistance is guaranteed even after 72 hours, including the
possibility to go out into the town during the day, and their efforts
as the best possible option in a situation of continuing “emergency”:
this is how the situation is described to the minors who live in the
Hotspot. There is very little information about the system into which
they will be placed, and there are few possibilities to become aware
of one’s rights and duties, a situation which continues the practice
of illegitimate detention and the ability to control and manage
migrants as numbers rather than people. The protection of minors has
become a challenge and rather than a responsibility, a duty and a
task of education.

Wednesday August 31st
we went back to the reception centre for unaccompanied foreign minors
at San Michele di Ganzaria, managed by the San Francesco cooperative,
where the new coordinator and the community’s
supervising officer spoke to us about recent events and the complex’s
organisation. “We admit that we made some bad decisions about the
management of the centre in the first weeks, but since August there’s
a new and competent team. Unfortunately the serious limits imposed by
the first weeks created some unsustainable situations, including
fights both inside and outside the structure, and this has had a bad
effect on how locals perceive our residents”, they told us. There
were inappropriate organisational choice and new resources, which we
will be able to analyse better in the future, and to which we will
return shortly. What remains unchanged, however, is the location of
the building, whose opening we note was authorised by the Regional
government, placed as it is on a small hill in the countryside, and
set apart by several kilometres of motorway from the nearest
inhabited centres – S. Cono and S. Michele di Ganzaria.

it was from one of the managers of the centre that we learnt of the
news of the arrest a few hours before of some of the residents of
other camps for minors. In a first reception centre for minors, which
was up until a few days ago a centre “of high specialisation”,
managed by the same S. Francesco cooperative in Caltagirone. A group
of migrants had protested, demanding their pocket money, ending with
the arrest of two 18-year-olds, and the accusation by another five
people by the Carabinieri, who had been promptly called by the
workers. These are scenes which we are seeing repeated with an
unspoken frequency in recent months, and which only a few weeks’ back
also boiled over at S. Michele itself. The lack of pocket money, the
patchy explanations provided by the workers, and the growing
intolerance of the guests; protests by the migrants including the
barricading of workers inside their offices; the arrival of the
police, arrests, accusations and dozens of revocations of the right
to hostels in relation to adult migrants. After the acts of aggression to which some of their countrymen were subjected, all of the Egyptian minors at S. Michele were transferred to Caltagirone, and their places given to those leaving Caltaginone who had been charged there, thus attempting to remove the conflict without ever analysing and confronting it, up untill the next act of violence.

numerous interventions by the police demonstrate a worrying
incapacity for management and mediation, and a lack of the essential
educational approach necessary for any community for minors,
especially those with histories of trauma and conflict going on. The
problems and challenges seem unfortunately to be symptoms of the
frayed relations between workers and minors in many centres. In the
dozens of accounts we have collected from migrants and workers across
the region, we have seen little trace of dialogue, not the will to
construct a shared educational journey.

can’t communicate in this place. Whoever asks for an explanation gets
a vague response and if they continue, they get threatened. They say
we will be sent out of the centre, that we won’t have documents, or
even that they’ll call the police” some groups of young residents
tell us, residents of centres of both ‘first’ and ‘second’ reception,
who we meet every now and again. Frequently it is not, in fact, the
technical/organisational or structural issues which alarm us, but the
climate of tension and almost total mistrust in relation to the
workers. “If we don’t respect the rules or we complain, the bosses
can write reports about us and we won’t have documents, so we’re
scared. No one wants to stay here, in fact lots of people leave after
only a few days, or try to go back to the centres where they were
before” say some of the others. And again: “The police come to
the centre at least once a week, for problems about food, documents,
pocket money. At the beginning, given that the workers didn’t tell us
anything about our documents, we asked the police to help us, finding
out that they couldn’t do anything.” Institutionalisation, a lack
of professionalism and control replace protection, turning a positive
relation into the management of an ineluctable conflict.

have anything to do with these guys is difficult. They don’t
understand their responsibilities, and how lucky they are for what
they have. They should be thanking us for being here.” “We’re in
Italy, so they need to speak Italian.” “They always expect more.”
These are some of the phrases most used by some workers employed in
the centres from which the minors would like to definitively escape.
The responsibility for what’s happening is always blamed on the
minors or “the system” of managing migration, on institutions, on
the courts, on Europe… As if the managers of the centres were not
also an integrated part of that politics. When we talk with workers
and managers often find that it is impossible to engage with the
problems, usually skipped over during descriptions about the
activities organised by their centres: football matches, trips,
meetings with other communities for migrants. These are all
praiseworthy activities, but are frequently not accompanied by the
kind of individual support which forms the basis of a dignified
reception. The comments we’ve reported here cannot be taken out of
context, but overall they paint a picture of the new arrivals as
ungrateful and ready for a fight, reflecting a very closed manner of
relating. Why don’t we ask the reasons why migrants who are little
more than children so frequently have such a strong resistance and so
little trust in a system they do not know, of which they do not feel
a part and does not protect them? Why are
teenage refugees
not considered to have their own desires, need for confirmation and
change like any Italian teenager? The daily life of those who remain
in the centres does not interest the media, nor cause indignation and
uproar like the scene of rescuing and arrival, but the migrants at
the centre of these scenes
are the same. Nonetheless they are frequently destined to remain
faces, symbols and numbers for most people, instead of those who
ought be protected.



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

– Centro di accoglienza per richiedenti asilo: reception centre for
asylum seekers

Translation: Richard Braude