5 September 2015

On 24th August, the delegation of LasciateCIEntrare visited the CARA* of Mineo

Along the access
road to the centre are many dilapidated houses in the fields. For some time, it
has been witnessed that there are often women from Nigeria living in the centre
prostituting themselves.

We meet young
people on bicycles or walking; they are going to the surrounding villages,
which are far from the centre. The reception centre of Mineo is visible from
afar. From the outside it looks like an urban suburb district with its
multi-coloured two-storied single-family homes; the same as those in the Sigonella
military base for American officers. Everything is fenced, but, already visible
from the outside, we discover some “Villette-Bazaars”. Within the centre,
a few migrants run real shops with clothes and food. (It would have been
desirable to check how the distribution of rooms and houses is handled, because
all the houses are used apparently as minimarkets, but we didn’t get the
permission). This actuates an underground economy: for some it means debt, for
others enrichment.

Indeed, the centre Mineo has become some a sort
of village but without an official community with social and societal structures.
The disproportionately long waiting times during the applications for
recognition of refugee status, and the even longer waiting times in the event
of an appeal, speak for themselves. We are a little early for our appointment
and take the opportunity to talk with migrants we meet in front of the centre.
Some jog every morning along the motorway or in the orange groves.

There is an improvised transport system with
cars driving the people living in the centre back and forth in exchange for a
fee. Some of the migrants use the bike to go to nearby fields where they work
for 15€ a day. We do not see women, except for a Nigerian who has been living
in the centre for 3 months. She is waiting to follow her husband who is in an
extraordinary reception centre in the province of Caserta. He already has a
residence permit. Since their marriage has been performed in a traditional
rite, they do not have an official marriage certificate of their country. The
woman has only a certificate with her last name, forename, nationality, date of
birth and the details of the reception centre in which she stays. Neither the
date nor the place of her entry into Italy is noted. Nor has she a statement of
national health insurance; she says that nobody has it.

We meet an 18-year-old Bengali who has been here
only for a few weeks waiting for the hearing before the Commission. In the centre
of Mineo the waiting period is usually more than a year. He was transferred
here from the initial reception structure “Madonnina di Mascalucia”
in the province of Catania. He arrived in Italy in October 2014.

Some young people with whom we talk have no
identity certificate as an asylum seeker but only a “card” without a
photo confirming the stay in a reception centre. All of them have a
“badge” which turns out to be easily transferable. To leave the
centre, they rely on “ethnic” taxis or ride with an Italian who comes
in a big car, and charges 5€ each way.

We talk to another immigrant who has been here
for a few months. He, too, came from “La Madonnina”, a centre where
the operators were “very mean” as he says. The only thing he wants now is to be
transferred; here, he does not feel good but he does not tell us why. He knows
that the waiting times for the hearing before the Commission are long here and he
wants to go in a SPRAR*, if possible, where the hearings take place faster. At 11a.m.
we enter the centre. The police stops us because they did not receive the last
permission for our visit with the list of names of our delegation from the
prefecture. We show a copy with the explanation that we have received the last
permit on the same morning at 10.21a.m. by email. The operator, who is informed
about our visit, sends an email to the police office at the entrance. We are
waiting. Finally, they let us in. We have only permission to enter the joint areas
but not to the apartments. We must not take pictures or make a video. We have
signed a document that declared us as journalists – but we are not journalists.
We must tell our topics and obtain their consent. In recent months, the
delegations of our campaign have always been denied to document their visits
with photos.

We are accompanied to the headmaster’s office.
At the door, we discover a box with the inscription “offers” with
numerous phone numbers for “jobs”. The person responsible for the job
placement informs us that it is not about real jobs but about workshops for
various craft activities, computer classes etc. … Currently, 50 migrants
participate in the courses of the training program “Garanzia Giovani”
in the region, although the courses have not yet begun!

The centre is currently home to about 3,100
people. On 24 July 2015, there were 3,400, although it is designed for a
maximum of 3,000 people. It may also be 4,000 should it be necessary.
Currently, 40 families live here whose children attend school, kindergarten and
nurseries.

We do not know how many women are here. Most are
from Nigeria, no one from Afghanistan. The centre consists of 404 houses with
seven to eight people each. However, some migrants, who do not belong to the
centre, report that even 20 to 25 people live in some houses.

One team is responsible for the logistics of the
facility. The immigrants can move without restrictions. Although the houses are
equipped with air conditioning, we see many of them lying on their foam
mattresses in front of the houses. We wonder why we only see men outside and no
woman. The persons responsible explain that the women prefer to stay inside the
houses. We cannot check this, as we have no access to the flats.

The centre employs about 400 employees, 50 of
them with specific tasks: seven lawyers, eight social workers, ten
psychologists and many mediators. Also present are two to three teams of law
enforcement officers who have small vans and other vehicles available. The
centre is guarded militarily and the Carabinieri (Italian police) are at the
entrance.

The lawyers are in charge of legal information
and for the preparation of the hearing before the Commission. The people with
whom we spoke told us, however, that none of them has been prepared and that
they only received legal information on their arrival.

But 7 lawyers for 3,000 clients is a
non-manageable workload.

The lawyers of the centre do not deal with the
processing of the appeals because the migrants may “stay as long as they want”
after the hearing. “It is not possible for us to meet one of the lawyers.
From the interviews, outside of the centre, we learn that the attorneys earn
about 100€ but it is not clear whether that is only for one of them and who it
is. We get an information leaflet in various languages ​​about the house rules
from the operating company. The text, which is very well written, was drafted
by the lawyers of the centre.

Exposed refugees are accommodated specially.
Currently, these are the immigrants who survived the shipwreck of 19th
April. Special precautions are provided and they have also been heard before
the Territorial Commission. We ask why they are not moved from the initial
reception centres to an integration centre, because the operator centre is
informed of their long stay here. “They don’t want to leave as they feel
save here!” answers Maccarrone, the person responsible, and shows us a
letter in which the migrants express their satisfaction. We ask further whether
this is true in cases of particularly exposed persons and learn that a transfer
is not necessary because a team of psychologists and mediators here is
responsible for them. They had, however, asked for transferring about 80 people
to integration centres – but so far have not received any response.

As already described, the waiting times of the
Commission are long: 12 to 14 months. There is no legal assistance at the hearing,
even for exposed people for whom reports and assessments should have been created
if necessary. We have not seen the psychologists who are responsible for
formulating these assessments. The Commission goes through 14-15 cases daily
and works from Monday to Friday, morning and afternoon. We ask about the pocket
money that is paid only in form of cigarettes. Upon entering the asylum seeker
receives a personal batch. If this is not used within three days, an
“alert” sets off and the “pocket money” is stopped. Here,
the director begins a confusing explanation of a one-year-old debt: about that the
purchase of cigarettes and petrol from the nearby Esso depends on the willingness of the operator Silva, the only one
who grants credit to CARA.

Concerning the “starter kit” when entering the
country, we are told that it contains everything one needs but it is not said of
what it consists. This “welcome package” has a value of 90€ and
includes phone cards, tracksuits, slippers and shoes. The migrants report that
they received clothes in the wrong size. It seems, as there is no other
distribution to replace wrong-size clothes. With regard to the documents, the
director stresses that the directorate is responsible for the stamp fees and
the costs for forms. The migrants have to pay the phone cards and telephones
themselves. Only the computer room with about ten seats has Internet access in
the centre. Now we ask for the transportation possibilities to the centre of
Mineo. A shuttle service with two buses with 50 seats departs twice a day. You
have to reserve a seat or take an “ethnic” taxi or go by foot. The
Bazaar within the centre allows payment by credit.

For each community within the centre, a person
was democratically elected as delegate. Those are in contact with the
administration and to receive information and messages. The migrants settle the
possible theft of telephones among themselves.

The menus are selected together with the guests
and are prepared in the in-house canteen kitchen. There are separate dining
rooms for women and men. The ingredients from the home countries of immigrants
are bought in Catania. The meals are distributed in four shifts: this totals up
to 5,000 meals, both at lunchtime and in the evening and, furthermore, the
breakfast.

As a result of the scandal “Mafia
Capitale” in Rome, the CARA in Mineo was searched by the police. Currently,
administrators of judiciary work here. That is why the problems were solved
says the director. The CARA regularly takes part in tenders and giving away of
contracts. The director confirmed that the CARA is shortly converted into a HUB*.
In fact, no new guests have been assigned for some time.

A delegation of the Red Cross also operates in the centre. It performs general medical
examinations and works together with major analytical and professional medical
laboratories. Except for the psychiatrist at the hospital of Caltagirone, no
psychotropic drugs are prescribed.

The project “Eva” is also active; it
is dedicated to women who had been victims of human trafficking. Also, the
women are accompanied medically in case of pregnancy. The doctor, with whom we
speak, says there had only been spontaneous abortions. But here either, we have
no access to medical records of the patients or their data. The doctor assures
us that everyone has a health insurance card (STP*) for foreigners temporarily staying
in the country, and that the Red Cross
gets a copy of the identity cards back.

Regarding the identity card of the health
insurance and the enrolling in the national health care SSN*, the problems are
of bureaucratic nature and also subject to imprecise agreements between the ASP*
and the competent regional authorities.

We point out that many migrants cannot take any
records of their medical history and medical examinations after leaving the centre.
We ask for the necessary instructions in the event that a document would be
needed. The doctor assures us that all documents and records are stored in an
archive. But apparently, the migrants themselves are not either informed about
their state of their health. There is also an office of the association MEDU*
in the centre but unfortunately we do not meet their representatives. Furthermore,
the Migration Board has an office; here as well we do not see their only
employee. We would like to talk to him about why the attestato nominativo, a “nominal certificate of asylum-seeker
status”, is not issued.

According to the director, there is no illegal
recruitment of unpaid farm workers – only an “old man”, who needs help
from time to time in his fields. We are perplexed as many of the 3,000 people
here are at work during our visit. Yesterday evening, we saw them coming back
in with items – walking and by bike. The migrants talk about a payment of 15€
per day. If we want to talk to the women about it, they look away and remain
silent.

We go to see how the canteen is organized and
what is being eaten and are satisfied with what we see. Now, we want to go to
the other side where we have seen migrants lying on mattresses under the trees.
We are told that they do not go there with us as the rules are clear. We insist
because the road is public territory. We are then forced to go on a bus at 40°C
and without fresh air to end the tour because of a simulated malaise of one of our
escorts.

Sometimes we meet a migrant. We are being watched
and the employees promise not to stay long. What are the people afraid of that
they do not officially allow you to talk with the migrants alone? What do they
hide? We leave the centre, exchange a few words with the migrants and set out.

We have the impression that we participated in a
well-staged theatre performance. The mere fact that we cannot speak with the
migrants without monitoring is a shame. But unfortunately, the local press only
speaks about the parliamentary inspections and the visits by foreign
journalists if their coverage is positive – despite the “earthquake”
of “Mafia Capitale”. This way a big part of the truth about these
places is kept secret. Places that should better remain as they if it is still
permitted that receptions go on, despite the mafia infiltration. We emphasize
once again that unannounced visits by well-informed parliamentarians and
representatives of civil society are the only way to learn what is happening in
the reception centres. When leaving, we see immigrants on the bike again coming
back from their “support for the poor old man.” And the women? When do
they return? And where have they been?

The delegation: Alfonso Di Stefano, Barbara
Crivelli, Gaetana Poguisch, Elio Tozzi, Chiara Denaro, Agata Ronsivalle,
Yasmine Accardo

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

*SPRAR –
Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo: protection system for
asylum seekers and refugees, municipal reception centre on a volunteer basis
(no governmental duty), space for approx. 3,000-3,500 people in throughout
Italy, for integration purposes of refugees.

*HUB – the new name
for huge distribution centres for refugees

*STP – Straniero
Temporaneamente Presente: insurance card for unregular refugees or for those
not having been able to seek for asylum yet and, thus, have no papers.

*SSN – Servizio Sanitario Nazionale: National Health
Service

*ASP – Azienda
sanitaria provinciale: Provincial Health Agency

*MEDU – Medici per i
diritti humani: Doctors for Human Rights (NGO)

Translation: Aylin Satmaz

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