Why The Death Continues

Little more than a hundred euros and a few weeks’ wait. That’s the price any Italian citizen has to pay and the procedure to follow if they want a passport. Who knows how many people who request and make use of their own document are aware that what to them is a banal and routine operation, is beyond the reach of thousands of others, indeed is impossible. Who knows if European citizens think even for a moment that to have the same freedom of movement there are people who, even today, are forced to pay with their very lives, to waste away in prison for months and to sell their bodies.

If you live in a country wrecked by war, you cannot run away freely. Whoever is born in states robbed of their material, economic and human resources, choked by our neoliberal politics, cannot move themselves in the search for a better life like we can, or moreover, cannot do so in a free and safe way. Thus those who leave Syria, Afghanistan or Pakistan, or Yemen or the Horn of Africa, as well as Subsaharan countries, attempt to reach Europe – the paladin of human rights, obliged by its own laws to provide protection and asylum. People cross entire countries, continents, deserts, entrust themselves to merciless traffickers who become their only hope of salvation, they arrive in Libya and take to the sea, where many people end their voyage forever.

The continuing death in recent days has been followed by the media with imprecision, as if these were simply bulletins from a war in which we have no part, rather than a massacre, provoked through our active collaboration. By now it is not only the living who fail to make the “news”, but even the dead, whose number grows exponentially day by day, with more than 3,800 having died at sea since the beginning of the year, a figure which is destined only to increase in the absence of any secure and humanitarian corridors.

In the meantime, Europe and Italy are watching on, attempting – through high rates of deportations and illegal practices – to contain the consequences of the complete failure of the Hotspot approach and the relocation programme, still evading the absurdity of the Dublin Regulation and waiting for the best moment to increase the control over and militarisation of vessels in the Canal of Sicily.

“The boat we left on was small, and seemed to break from one moment to the next. There were only 27 of us, but even so we couldn’t move. They told us that it wasn’t even worth buying a compass for us, as they were sure that we would be rescued immediately. Or at least they hope they hoped so for our sakes, but without much conviction.” ‘L’ arrived in Sicily a few days’ ago, and lives with around 500 other people in the Hotspot at Pozzallo, where the overcrowding and extended waiting times are by now routine, and many people are forced to sleep in the tents erected within the hanger. “I know that I’m really lucky to be alive, but I’m also really very angry because I’ve understood that here too it won’t be easy to live like the Italians. I’ve been travelling for a year, I spent six months in a prison in Libya, and I still I will have to die a little each day, up to the point at which maybe I won’t even get any documents. In the end, I won’t have escaped really, but I had to do it.”

While Italy attempts to shore up its collaboration with Nigeria in terms of deportations, and attempts to cover up its agreements signed with Sudan, young Nigerian women continue to arrive in Sicily’s ports, many of them minors, either already placed in trafficking networks associated with prostitution, or at risk of entering such networks on arrival. Many of them, in absence of appropriate centres or adequate attention for their vulnerability, are then placed in housing communities which lack any specialised staff, or in poorly run centres opened through the direct decision of the Prefecture, as is the case in the Province of Ragusa. These sites frequently become active points of reference more for those who want to exploit the young women rather than any “protective” environment. “In Nigeria, the only way to not die of hunger is prostitution. That’s what my mum told me.” These are the words of ‘J’, a young 16-year-old woman from Benin City who we meet in a protected building in the Province of Catania. “I’m the youngest of 3 children and my mum made a deal with me. This way I would have money to maintain them all, and I began my journey without really understanding where I was headed. I travelled for days closed up inside a car with other people who I didn’t know, and then I found myself in Libya, where everything became much clearer.” “From the moment that I left Abuja, I met only traffickers, police and people who wanted to exploit me. Here it will be different, but for me it’s not easy to have faith in people who have a gun on them, or who want to know everything about me without telling me why”, says another young woman housed in the same flat. In these instances, as with many others, individual assistance carried out by competent professionals from the moment of arrival is essential, and without doubt this cannot be provided in the middle of a mass of hundreds of other people in a Hotspot or tent-city at the port. Instead, the end game of the Hotspot approach is identification, the control and selection of migrants, and for the police to pick out the “suspected boat drivers”. The protection of vulnerable subjects is simply not a priority in the concrete practice of the so-called “welcoming” system.

This is also the situation for hundreds of unaccompanied minors who left their homes so as to become a source of income for their entire family, or in order to escape a kind of military service which has become a constant call to arms: “On of the methods used by young women like me, to avoid military service, is to get pregnant” – says ‘C’, 15 years old and escaped from Eritrea – “Often even this doesn’t save you though, because we then have to run from our families, and so you might as well just get on with the journey.” There are dozens of young Eritreans like her who are looking for their salvation in Europe, and who in order to do so are forced to entrust themselves to a network of people without any scruples, who do not stop exploiting them even once they reach Italy. Here the possibility of having comprehensible information on the risks they are running should be guaranteed them, as well as knowledge of the rights they have in our country. But this is a process which requires time as well as proper attention and professionalism, things which still do not have necessary space in Italy, within a system organised around an “emergency” and visibility. And so it is that many people run away as soon as they arrive, travelling kilometres by foot or leaving hostels (practically little more than parking lots) to take the first bus North.

There are many other stories which we have heard from those arriving in Italy following the obligatory stop in Libya, in the prisons and detention camps the construction of which – let’s not forget – Italy helped finance a decade ago. Ever more frequently they arrive having lost a relative, a friend and almost all hope along the way. But not their dignity. Among them there are various Syrians who passed from the hell of bombs to that of the sea crossing, as well as Yemeni citizens, fleeing from a country where bombardments, using Italian weapons, have recommenced.

Not much is needed to understand better how it is that so many people continue to die before even reaching Italy and even after their arrival; it is enough to simply listen to those who pass by, or to share some space in the cities in which we live, rather than be told by those who instrumentalise these histories and suffering for their own political or electoral interests. But this would mean asking ourselves why this is still happening, and why they do not want to find alternative solutions.

Lucia Borghi

Borderline Sicilia

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

Translation by Richard Braude