At the end of August, we visited the Centre for Extraordinary Reception (CAS) located between Mazara del Vallo and Campobello di Mazara, close to Capo Granitola.
This centre started operating last March, in a rural agritourism. It is currently being managed by the cooperative “La Mimosa”, and at the time of our visit hosted 41 asylum seekers, including 3 family units.
The first visible difficulty lies in the centre’s isolated location: it is 10 km from Campobello, and 15 km from Mazara del Vallo, therefore relegating its guests to a spatial and social emargination, due to the complete lack of public transportation and of private shuttles managed by the host organisation.
The structure is located within a vast expanse of land, and it includes a very large laundry room, a considerably big canteen, and several living units, each of which is divided into two connecting rooms, possesses a restroom, and hosts 8 beds. Three chemical toilets have been installed outdoors, to ensure an adequate number of restrooms. Every communal area seems to be clean; on the other hand, there where the cleaning duties are left to the guests – private rooms and restrooms – hygienic conditions leave much to be desired.
The centre’s on-call operator was extremely cordial and helpful, as she offered to give me a tour of the structure. I saw a few younger guests who were bored and sitting in a verandah next to their rooms. Many were visibly fond of the operator, yet they could not help but complain about several aspects concerning the reception, and mainly about official paperwork: none of them (both newcomers and those who had been there since the opening of the centre) owns a residence permit yet, nor do they have any news about their audition with the Commission. They also discussed the delay in receiving their pocket money, and the lack of distribution of clothing and toiletries.
When I asked whether they had received any legal assistance to explain about their rights and about how to prepare for the audition with the Commission, their reply was negative.
In fact, everyone confirmed how difficult it is to live in isolation. They lamented it is impossible to walk 10-15 km under the sunlight, or in the dark (making even more dangerous a road which lacks already any pavement or lightning): for this reason, they are forced to spend the entire day at the centre, sometimes taking a very short stroll in the very small historical centre of a village, Torretta Granitola.
As there are no recreational activities, it is really hard to make the time pass. Some of the guests would gladly do a bit of gardening in the vast field surrounding the centre, but the owner does not give his permission. According to the guests, there is no structured Italian course, yet few of them seemed to recognise its importance: most claimed they have more important stuff to think about, such as obtaining those papers, and having the possibility to start working as soon as possible, in order to build an autonomous life anew.
As it is to be expected, such isolation and passivity have repercussions on coexistence and on the atmosphere inside the centre, which was clearly quite tense: in the course of the two hours we spent there, we witnessed to more than a few arguments among the guests.
We asked the operator to give us more information about those issues that were the objects of the guests’ complaints: she explained that the centre has had to face numerous hardships in the past few months related to payments by the Prefecture, which sent them the first 3-month installment only a few days ago. She admitted that the Cooperative so far has had to pay for all expenses out of their own pocket, and such economic duress has caused several disservices and a general feeling of discontent. This situation has often provoked revolts by the guests, related to the lack of pocket money and to the distribution of clothing. The operator claimed they will shortly be able to offer such services (on that day we could ascertain the arrival of tracksuits, shoes, and slippers, and we noticed a few guests who asked for a size change of clothes received the day before).
I was shown the bookkeeping form for pocket money, drafted and sent by the Prefecture of Trapani, which, among the various data, requires name and surname of the beneficiary, the amount of the sum paid, date of reception, and the beneficiary’s signature. The Prefecture has prepared a similar form for the supply of clothing, as it has arranged for possible donations to be registered as well, in order to keep track of anything the guests may receive, and, therefore, of what the managing authority actually purchases (we are aware that it is quite common for centres for extraordinary reception to count on voluntary donations of second-hand clothing to guarantee this service, which on the contrary is formally provided for by the Convention).
I then asked about the length of bureaucratic procedures, because even long-time guests are still without residence permits: I learnt that – as it often happens – this depends on the activity of the Immigration Police (Questura) in scheduling procedures. In particular, the Immigration Police of Mazara del Vallo saw a drastic reduction in the number of active workers due to summer holidays; for this reason, at the beginning of the month it sent out a message that any procedure for residence permits and for the formalisation of asylum requests would be reprised only on 31 August. No exception would be made, not even for the procedures of identification of those people who had entered the centre in mid-August, who therefore were still unidentified.
At lunchtime I was still inside the centre; for this reason, after I quickly visited the kitchen (where I met the chef), I headed towards the canteen, where, in the meanwhile, new arguments between the guests had arisen. I also saw a few of them protest against the operator over the food they had been served. Some showed me the food tray, which carried pasta with tomato sauce, a side dish of mixed vegetables, bread, and fruit. They told me this is what they are being served every single day: “always pasta, always the same veggie side dish, never any protein: chicken, fish”. The operator denied this claim, and a new guests did admit they were also sometimes served chicken or eggs, but everyone agreed on the quantities, which are too scarce.
We felt that our presence there was further feeding this protest, so I decided to speak about several aspects of the management with the president of the cooperative and with the reception coordinator: they explained that the legal service has only been temporarily suspended (ostensibly for a couple of months, as I spoke to guests who had arrived in July and claimed they had never received any legal counselling), because of the former counsellor’s replacement. Yet they assured me the service would soon be reestablished.
As for the Italian course, they told me a sociologist is taking care of it, when he has time. When I asked whether there is any qualified expert who may ensure a structured course, they replied that the absence of a teacher is only transitory, and it is due to the sudden resignation of the former one, but that soon again this activity would be restarted as well.
They then told me they are enlarging the reception capacity to 65 places, but I argued that the rooms I had visited seemed overly crowded already. They assured me they possess all requirements to increase the rooms’ capacity, confirmed by both the Prefecture and by firemen. They also claimed that currently there still are empty rooms.
Borderline Sicilia Onlus
Translated by Angela Paradiso