18 September 2012
Chapter Six: Mineo
A Sicilian Diary of Nina Perkowski
On the occasion of World Refugee Day on June 20, the Antiracist Network Catania organised a press conference on June 21 at the CARA of Mineo. After many protests last year regarding the living conditions for the almost 1900 asylum seekers at the CARA, this year has been much quieter in terms of political mobilisation. To draw renewed attention to the persisting problems, the Antiracist Network organised a press conference which was attended by RAI3, Telecolor, and three local TV stations.
Alfonso di Stefano emphasised that many of the asylum seekers had been waiting in the camp for over 10 months, and were suffering from the long waiting periods currently taken to assess their asylum applications. According to him, the Commission currently assesses less than half of the claims than it did last year. Last year, two Commissions were assessing about 80 asylum applications a week, since the end of last year it is only one Commission which examines about 30-35 cases per week.
This is particularly problematic as those stuck in the camp for months at a time are essentially condemned to idleness – the next village is more than 10 km away. Many of them are young people who have a lot of drive and initiative, and being unable to do anything, say many, is the worst that could have happened to them. “I have always worked to provide for myself. A man who has two arms shouldn’t beg, we say at home – and here, I am not allowed to work, I sleep and eat and sleep and am fed by the State. It’s driving me crazy.” Not only do the long waiting periods in the middle of nowhere cause considerable suffering to the asylum seekers in the CARA (last year Doctors Without Borders denounced that there had been 7 suicide attempts, and residents at the CARA said that last Friday, another man tried to take his life), but also the incarceration in the camp inevitably fails to prepare them to enter Italian society. As the camp is isolated in the countryside, there is no community life the asylum seekers could get to know and integrate into. Many of those who eventually receive a permit to remain in Italy therefore continue to struggle once they leave the CARA and move on to other cities.
Giuseppe Carnabuci, a lawyer affiliated with the Antiracist Network, drew attention to yet another problem: he referred to the practice of denying admission to free legal assistance to asylum seekers whose applications to international protection were rejected by the Territorial Commission in the first instance. In what is quite clearly a violation of the right of defense according to Mr. Carnabuci, the Immigration Police (Questura) of Catania claims that the asylum seekers’ identification documents are not suited to guarantee their identity, and thus they could not access free legal aid. This precludes many asylum seekers to effectively defend themselves in the court.
According to Mr. Carnabuci, the so-called name certificate issued to an asylum seeker during the process of assessing his or her application for asylum is commonly judged as appropriate to give certainty of the identity of the person.
While it is deemed an appropriate document for identifying the individual to whom the State may grant international protection, it is at the same time considered not suitable for the identification of the same person for the purposes of legal aid at state expense. Insisting on this paradoxical position, the Questura creates a further, costly burden for many of the residents of the CARA of Mineo.
The Antiracist Network advocates for a closure of the camp, which it deems to subject asylum seekers to inhumane conditions. Also, it supports the petition of a group of asylum seekers in Trento, which calls for a humanitarian residence permit for one year for all those who came from Libya or Tunisia last year. Bringing the petition with them and presenting it to the asylum seekers in the CARA, they gave them the opportunity to sign and support the petition, and to strengthen its political significance within the campaign “Right to Choose” (http://www.meltingpot.org/articolo17149.html).
Previously the residence of US soldiers, the CARA of Mineo was opened in 2011 as response to the ‘emergency’ of some 40.000 people arriving from Northern Africa to Italy in the wake of the Arab Spring and the military intervention in Libya. To date, there are nearly 1900 people ‘hosted’ in the CARA – many of them for extended periods of time. The Anti-Racist Network continues to monitor their situation and to denounce human rights violations suffered by asylum seekers.
Nina Perkowski came to Sicily to research the living situation of immigrants from Africa in Sicily for her PhD. For borderline-europe, she reported the situation in Cassibile and Mineo, where there is a collective home for asylum seekers. Within ten chapters Nina wrote down her experiences and her monitorings.