When it’s better being senior

Last week
we were in the surroundings of Agrigento, meeting the migrants of a CAS* in Canicattì.

As soon as
we arrived we immediately noticed the big size of the facility. The IPAB**
“Burgio Corsello” is divided into two areas: one reserved to senior people,
which has been operable for some time, while the other one has been destined
for migrants. At the moment, 35 young men mainly from Nigeria, aged between 20
and 30 years, live there. They all arrived at Canicattì about 2 years ago.

immediately notice the dissimilarity between the two facilities: the one
dedicated to the elderly is new and well kept while the other, the one for the
migrants, is run down, with some parts in restoration, and very, very humid.
Both parts have their independent accesses; the two facilities are connected
with a locked door for workers only.

Our first
impression wasn’t positive. We were received by the psychologist of the IPAB**,
whose office is located in the wing dedicated to the elderly (as for the
director’s): finding the keys to enter the migrants’ parts required some time,
symptomatic for the fact that the CAS* part isn’t frequently entered.

In the CAS*
there was only a worker of the facility’s kitchen, which let us sit down in the
TV room where we were able to exchange some impressions with the young men. We
explained to them the reason of our visit and listened to their supplications
in a friendly atmosphere: “We are going to die here, we cannot stand it any

Like in
most Sicilian CAS*, the main problem seems to be the lack of documents released
to the centre’s residents and the slowness the land commission applies in
examining their applications for asylum.

Much too
long and often unaccountable periods of time to those who arrive from places
where this kind of bureaucracy does not exist. Then, if the operating company
doesn’t explain over and over to their “guests” how things work in Italy,
waiting becomes tormenting and difficulties (especially when psychological) are

All of them
are young men who would like to work and have the possibility to help their
families back home, who have invested in them and are now forgotten by this
system of ours that only thinks about abusing the impotence of migrants.

There are
many complaints about documents that are not provided, as many as the
difficulties of the Agrigento Land Commission; there are lots of problems with
the police forces because of notification procedures, which result in upset and
strains with the operating company, but above all, migrants lose their
confidence towards the workers of the structure.

Let’s only
think that several migrants that are denied the International Protection reject
the lawyer of the operating company because to them, he is incompetent and
often absent: they prefer any of Agrigento’s to them unknown lawyers.

In our
conversation we get to know that many of the young men had been heard before
the Commission in August 2015. All of them have received their decisions’
notification, except three of them who, despite their steady claim, have not
yet received any answer. Short circuits between the Commission, police and the
operating company?

The only
certain thing is that the young men are waiting, but longing for leaving
Canicattì to go “beyond” a place that has blocked them for too long.

The migrant
“guests” complained about everything except for the pocket money, promptly
given to them by the operator, probably in order to limit protests surged in
other centres about this situation.

questions remain open: about the evening meals (lunch is cooked in the
structure by the personnel, but dinners come from the IPAB** and are served
early in the evening in order to accomplish the needs of old people, so the
young men have to heat up meals), water (not bottled, it comes from the
faucet), clothes (lacking a laundry service, “guests” should provide their own
clothes’ change, since they only receive one when arriving in the facility),
cold and humid rooms and bedclothes that never get changed.

The most
important complaint is about the sense of neglect they have: only “the mum”(the
worker who received us in the kitchen) would take care of them, while other
workers would be absent, only called upon when there are troubles in the centre.
At the end of the discussion with the “guests” we met the director and the
psychologist of the centre, who confirmed all the problems due to the slowness
in obtaining documents, which were also the reasons of uneasiness in relations.

As we
underlined the absence of workers in the
centre, they answered that in the IPAB** there are workers available 24
hours a day for the inhabitants, and that they know who they can call when in

director states that water is drinkable from a dispenser both in the seniors’ and
migrants’ area; bedclothes can be changed on demand (there are fixed laundry
dates), but communication is complicated!

Problems in
communication with migrants, which could be solved with the constant presence of
a cultural mediator who could also improve relationships was confirmed by the
psychologist too, who also confirms that she has never had a session with those
young men because she doesn’t know their language and doesn’t understand them.
Besides, the present-day staff is lesser because some workers are ill; which means
that the director has to work as a social worker when the one in charge is

In short:
usual story, usual dynamics in the CAS*, where the motto still appears to be “maximum
profit with the lowest effort”, especially in centres like IPAB** or former
IPAB where the already present staff has not been replaced by workers with job
profiles suited to new needs.

sometimes we happen to encounter good examples of practice, which give us hope
that at least a decent work is possible.

We are
referring to the CAS* of San Giuseppe Iato, managed by the La Fenice Cooperative
(the same of Piana degli Albanesi’s CAS*), which we visited together with a
member of the Palermo prefecture who decided to verify our work in the field!

As usual, inside
the centre we interviewed the inhabitants who, as everywhere else, complain
about bureaucratic slowness and the impossibility of doing any work but, to our
surprise, even though they have been living there since the CAS* opened in July
2014, almost all of them say they are satisfied with the work of the staff.

That is one
of the few times we witness a trustful relationship between workers and inhabitants
that seems true, even though our visit had been scheduled some time in advance
and was also attended by the prefecture.

attitude of the workers appeared to us as of total respect towards the inhabitants,
which are simply treated like people that have seen hell, who still nowadays
suffer because of unjust laws that block their future.

We saw
workers welcoming the people met along the aisles of the centre with a smile,
then actually asking us for help so as to verify the situation of the documents.

Out of the
62 people living there, about 85% received a refusal to their request of
international protection; the lawyer of the centre has already appealed; the
boys are supported both from the psychological and linguistic/cultural point of

The operating
company succeeded in building a warm and sociable atmosphere in the host
country, promoting opportunities for the population to get to know the young
men and make them interact with their surroundings.

By the
words of a young worker of the centre, good practice that comes out of the
assumption that, ”we have got to learn how to live together with them, who are
not newborn; they can get to know our culture only if we are keen to get to
know theirs and respect it.”

there is always someone profiting and taking advantage of the situation to his
own economical benefit, without any respect for the people.

So, in San
Giuseppe Iato, same as in Canicattì, you happen to meet exploited and underpaid
migrants illegally working in the fields.

this is the story inside the system created by the European fortress, but
outside of the control of the operating companies.

Alberto Biondo

Borderline Sicily Onlus

*CAS – Centro di accoglienza straordinaria:
Centre for extraordinary reception

– Istituto pubblico di assistenza e beneficenza: Public Institute for
Assistance and Charity

by Fernanda Pecile