11 November 2015

The smugglers on boats very young and improvised

In November, the
landings of migrants on the coasts of Sicily diminishes, at least this used to
happen every year. However, they do not seem to diminish in these first days of
the month in Pozzallo, where during the last weekend 713 migrants from Sub-Saharan
Africa disembarked. They were on board of the vessel of the Italian Coast Guard
U. Diciotti, which rescued two boats in difficulties and had on board also the
passengers of other six boats that had been previously assisted by others. A
part of the 700 persons have been brought to the reception centre of Pozzallo
after the identification process, while others were sent to other facilities of
the peninsula.

After the
disembarkation, the police immediately started searching for the smugglers. The
police unit of Ragusa declared to have identified already four migrants who
would have headed some of the boats. The alleged smugglers are an 18 years old
Senegalese, a 25 years old Ghanaian, and two Gambian of 34 and 39 years
respectively. They are accused of having favored the clandestine entry into
national territory of foreign citizens. Just two weeks before, more than 200
migrants had disembarked in Pozzallo after the rescue operations of two vessels
at sea. Four alleged smugglers had been identified: a Gambian, a person from
Mali, one from Guinea and a Ghanaian between 18 and 28 years old. The total number
of alleged smugglers arrested is constantly increasing. According to the
police, they were 200 in the province of Ragusa in 2014, while this year they
are already 140.

With regard to
statistics, the identikit of alleged smugglers is easy to obtain. In general
they are from central Africa and are between 18 and 30 years of age. In this
regard, do criminal organizations that manage the trafficking of migrants
between the shores of Libya and Sicily dispose of such unskilled workers? Many
of the guests of the Cspa* of Pozzallo are transferred to other facilities.
Like the Sprar**, when migrants request asylum, waiting while their request is
being processed and eventually accepted. Some arrive also in Vittoria, a city
distancing 50km from Pozzallo, where we meet Chiara Pitti, coordinator for the
Association for Human Rights – and with her also some of young migrants. The
three are from Gambia, Mali and Guinea and about 20 years old. They are
compatriots and of the same age of those arrested. The first – who has been in
Italy for more than a year – starts telling us about his journey and his
arrival. He remembers the questions from the police at the harbor of Pozzallo:
“They asked who was leading the boat. I was at the front during the night and
couldn’t recognize who it was.” The second one is more detailed in telling his
story. “When they asked me I answered: I knew who was piloting the boat. They
had asked me as well, but I didn’t want to. Another guy who I met in Libya
accepted to control the rudder.” Both were from the same coastal region. The
third one, very quiet, looks around. He speaks little Italian and not very good
English; he explains in Manding (African language): “We were 120. Who was
piloting the boat was a travel mate. We were in the same caravan and crossed
the Niger desert; we were also in the same prison in Libya where they used to
beat us together. One day, we exit the prison and they squeezed us on a boat.
They made him pilot. He was a good guy, I do not know where he is now any
more.”

None of the three
of them did pay who was piloting the boat, they affirm. And especially,
according to stories told by the same, none of the smugglers of those dramatic
and crappy vessels seem to be part of criminal organizations that profit from
the trafficking of migrants.

Of the big group
of migrants arriving in Pozzallo it is still not known the number of economic
migrants who will be immediately refouled according to new European provisions
that transformed the Cspa* into a hotspot – a facility in which also persons of
the European agency Frontex should cooperate. 44 migrants (out of the 500 who
disembarked at that time) have been notified with a preventive refoulment in
October. According to several activists and analysts of the phenomenon of migration,
the working of these hotspots would violate fundamental human rights as well as
the Geneva Convention. The reception facility of Pozzallo can host about 180
persons and is constantly overcrowded. Up to one thousand migrants have been
squeezed in the camp at the same time in the past. The previous management of
the service has even been under investigation by the attorney of Ragusa.

Andrea Gentile

Translation: Chiara
Guccione

*Cspa (Centro di Soccorso e
prima Accoglienza): primary care and initial reception centre

**Sprar (Sistema di protezione per rifugiati e richiedenti asilo):
protection facilities for asylum seekers and refugees