3 September 2015

Stories from Siculiana: The good, the bad, and the ugly of arriving at the reception center for primary care Villa Sikania*

“Time does not exist
here. You spend the day with eating, sleeping, and waiting; after a while it is
as if time does not exist.” These are the words of A., a very young African,
who tells us that he just turned eighteen yesterday. We wish him a happy
belated birthday; he smiles, but then quickly stops again. His friend B. has a
white bandage on the inside of his right arm. “I was sick and they had to bring
me to the hospital a couple of days ago. Here, they do not hand out medication,
none at all.” We know, however, that there is a nurse working at the reception
center. We are unable to fully understand what B. suffers from, yet, it is
clear that he was brought to a hospital where he was being treated.

Two days
later, we saw him again. He already looked much healthier and told us that he
was feeling better. We found out that A. and B. were both former guests of one
of the centers managed by the organization “Omnia Academy”. This facility was
closed down a few months ago after being suspected to be a
criminal organization that geared towards fraud. Yet, instead of being moved to
another center, the guests were ‘downgraded’ and parked at the Villa Sikania in
Siculiana, a reception center for primary care, hosting those coming from
Lampedusa. At the time of our meeting, the two young men have lived in the
Villa for two weeks, still being in limbo. “Almost every night new migrants
arrive, but after one or two days they are moved somewhere else. The only ones
who stay at the center are those from Naro. A really bad center, fortunately,
it does no longer exist. Now we are here and every day they tell us: Wait,
wait, always, wait. We neither know where we will end up in the end nor when
this will happen.”

We do not
know for sure how old the two young men are exactly, and it is also difficult
to guess. Many, however, seem to be really young, younger than eighteen years,
but we want to believe that they are of age, that they come from the centers of
Omnia and that they did not use loopholes for minors, although the statement by
A. who tells us that he became of age during his stay at the Villa Sikania
suggest something else. If these are really two unattended minors, that would
be an assault if not even a confession of failure concerning the rights of
minor refugees.

The main
problems of which the guests tell us seem to be the food (scarce, bland, and of
bad quality) and the conditions of the rooms, especially the restrooms, which
they comment on with an engrossed “eww!”. The rooms contain up to three bunk
beds and thus have a capacity for at maximum six people. During our visit, we
weren’t told of any cases of overcrowding, even though other migrants told of
incredible numbers like “400, 500, 1000” people who are said to be penned up in
the former reception hall.

What is
striking is the rate at which the guests in the Villa Sikania change: On one
day you see about a hundred teenagers from Sub-Saharan Africa playing ball with
the teenagers from Siculiana behind the center; a day later, everything is
deserted, the windows are shuttered, and the parking lot is half-empty. Another
day later, there are new people arriving at the center. In the morning, there
are two, three, four new buses and people that sitting next to the road around
the center, holding onto the few possessions they still have and waiting to get
on board to be brought to the North. Various sources confirmed that the
relocation from Lampedusa, from the CSPA* of the Casa da Imbriacola, to Porto
Empedocle is carried out by ferry in groups of 100 to 200 people and happens
almost daily with the exception of Saturdays. The majority is male, yet, the
share of women, children, and families is increasing.

Most of
the teenagers are from Nigeria, Gambia, Mali, and Senegal, but there are also a
lot of Eritreans whom we meet sitting in front of telephone boxes on the main
road of Siculiana. There are also a couple of men from Bangladesh. What seems
to work quite well in the Villa Sikania is the communication between employees
and guests, which is facilitated by mediators. Another telling example is our
meeting with two Eritrean teenagers, victims of the inhumane Dublin regulation.
For four years in Europe, they traveled from England to Norway only to be sent
back to Italy, which has no place to rest besides dirty streets and hard
benches. “On the one hand, these teenagers make me sad,” told us a middle-aged
man all of a sudden with whom we were chatting. “On the other hand, you cannot
blame these poor Italian people, whose money is not enough to make ends meet
and who are angered by the migrants. A migrant gets 35 Euros per day, if you
add that up… 1050 Euros a month, of course you have to add board and lodging.”
To sum this up: It is unfair that migrants live off tax money while the poor
and ‘pitiful’ Italians, who can’t make ends meet, are left on their own. That
is one of the many examples for the triumph of the Salviniac rhetoric* (and
others) without anyone bothering to do research. Hence, we explain to him that
it is the agency who owns the center that gets the 35 Euros per day and per
person for excepting and caring for the migrants not the migrants themselves,
who do not get more than 2,50 Euros per day (which makes 75 Euros a month not
1050 Euros!). Provided that they are cared for at all, as we often found that
the agency did not do that at all! “Oh, I did not know that; that is not what
is said in the news on TV!” Unfortunately, the spread of wrong information
through the media that furthers propaganda and racism is a big issue for a
correct contextualization, understanding and tolerance concerning the
phenomenon of migration by the common citizen.

During our
stay in Siculania, we also meet C., a teenager from Sudan, who looks very
young. With a couple of English and Arabic words, he tells us that he left home
alone. He arrived in Lampedusa where he stayed for a couple of days before he
was moved together with some Sudanese travel companions to Porto Empedocle, and
thus to the Villa Sikania. His travel companions are already moved somewhere
else, while he, so he is told, will “soon” be moved to Milan. He wants to go to
his brother in London. “Here Milan. Milan, France, Calais, England“, he tells
us, a sort of explanation. We are reminded of the images in the news, the
barricades, people in vans, David Cameron’s words. We feel nauseated, but we
remain quiet. He looks at us with a relaxed and frank face, lively eyes,
sometimes a little sad but now full of life and hope thinking of his brother.
We wanted to tell him that it is dangerous, to ask him whether he was sure that
there is no other option. But then we reconsider. This teenager has crossed the
desert, survived Libyan prison where all his money was stolen from him, and he
managed to arrive in Italy safe and sound. There is no danger that a person
like him would now be afraid of. Two days later he was moved, and for him, like
for all the other ones, we pray that he will succeed in arriving at his
destination.

Caterina
Bottinelli

Borderline
Sicilia Onlus

*Villa Sikania, a former hotel

*rhetoric
of Matteo Salvini, a member of the European parliament and secretary of Lega
Nord (he, for example, asked advocates of migration: “How many migrants are you
going to take home with you?” Yet, the counter-question remains unanswered:
“How many poor Italians are you taking home with you?”) Source:
https://luciogiordano.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/la-retorica-salviniana-una-domanda-per-ogni-occasione/

*CSPA –Contrada Imbriacola: First
Reception Centre in Lampedusa

Translation: Annika Schadewaldt

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