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A two-month trip from Sicily to Rome inside and beyond the Central Mediterranean Route (see the map, click on the icons for further info)
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Pozzallo (Sicily), October 31th, 2016
#overthefortress’s caravan is parked next to one of the four hotspots opened on Italian soil. Three of them are in Sicily (Lampedusa, Trapani, Pozzallo) and one in Taranto, Apulia. Behind Tommaso, Stippi, Lucia, Accio, Alessandra, Valentina, Jerry and Roberta you can see the sea. Since the first day of 2016, 16,158 people have arrived in Pozzallo’s harbour.
"We decided to start from here because this is one of the landmarks of the central Mediterranean route, a place we want to tell and will be told about". That’s the beginning of the live-streaming press conference that launches #overthefortress campaign’s long journey in southern Italy.
After covering the Balkan route in the summer of 2015, after organizing a caravan of 300 people that sets off by land and by sea to bring real solidarity and humanitarian aid to Idomeni’s informal camp at the Greece-Macedonia border, where it remained for several months, this departure marks a new step in the great collective map of
The journey is presented by Tommaso Gandini and Stefano Danieli (Stippi), campaign’s activists, alongside with Lucia Borghi for Borderline Sicilia, who presented the monitoring and advocacy work of her organization.
"We will travel for 3400 km", Tommaso explains, "40 stops (see the map, click on the icons for further info) through Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata, Apulia, Campania and Lazio, for we believe it’s important to get to know these territories first-hand, to meet the many social subjectivities that work there, and to try and build a story that encompasses them all together."
The next speaker is Stippi, who landed in Apulia with the campervan two days ago, from the Igoumenitsa Harbour. "I returned from Greece three days ago. There, I have been visiting the government camps around Thessaloniki for three weeks. Right now" says Stefano "refugees are still in government camps, where the situation hasn’t improved since last summer. They are still living in tents" he reports, "water, food and blankets supplies are inadequate, as are the sanitary facilities. You can imagine how it feels, especially for children (approximately 40% of refugees), to sleep night after night in a tent, with 5 or 6 degrees outside. Those who apply for relocation find some hope, that is, people who made it through the first interview and are waiting for the second have the chance to be sent to a hotel in Athens, where their life conditions would be significantly improved. Those who ask for family
reunification are told to wait, that more time is needed in order for their families to join them, that procedures are longer. Those who can afford it resolve to rent a house, an apartment, also thanks to the supportive community networks that help them".
Stefano has a deep knowledge of the topic, having witnessed the aftermath of Idomeni’s clearing and having maintained contacts and friendship with some of the refugees. He adds: "There are people who try to cross the border, but they are caught by the border police or Frontex officers and sent back to the camps. Refugees denounce cases of abuse, physical violence, seizure of personal belongings."
After Stefano’s report on the state of the refugees "trapped" in Greece, it’s Lucia’s turn to speak. She is an activist for Borderline Sicilia, an association born in 2008 to protect migrants’ rights and to promote their social integration. "We do that by independently monitoring both institutional and informal practices of reception, detention and residency of migrants. This allows us to witness on a daily basis,
being actually present on the spot, what happens to migrants in Sicily. It’s a 360-degrees observation: we speak with all the parties involved, and this allows us to tell what happens in the camp, to report irregularities and share information."
Lucia mentions the Pozzallo hotspot as one of the places which best symbolize what is happening in Italy right now. "It’s one of the hotspots opened (active since January 2016) with the purpose of implementing an approach which, let’s not forget, is the result of a political agreement and has no legal regulations yet. What is happening in Pozzallo is that migrants are monitored, identified and selected, with no legal guarantees and no protection at all. From the moment they are rescued until the moment they are relocated here, they are identified and then selected."
The activist of Borderline Sicilia explains that the search for alleged traffickers begins on the ships, and continues on the docks. "I’d like to highlight this, because these enquiries are conducted in a very inappropriate manner, as people have just been rescued from the sea, have possibly lost a relative, and have just risked
"There seems to be a standard model for investigations" goes on Lucia, "that aims at arresting two traffickers for every intercepted boat; a model that is then reaffirmed throughout the investigation process, in order to feed this result to the public as a sign of UE efficiency. More and more often, the alleged traffickers are people who tell us they themselves have been victims of human trafficking."
Some migrants state that they have been forcibly identified by means of physical or psychological abuse. "Everything happens very quickly: they put them all in one room, in promiscuity, in precarious conditions, in overcrowded places. This hotspot can accommodate up to 180, 200 people, but sometimes it hosts up to 500 or 600."
There is another worrying aspect of the hotspot that Lucia wants to highlight: the detainment of people who pass through it.
"According to the law, they should stay here from 48 to 72 hours; particularly vulnerable subjects and children should not pass through it at all, whereas actually they stay in here not only for more than three days, but even for a longer time than the others. Usually, whoever arrives here stays here for weeks, and then gets relocated; but unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable subjects have been here for several months now, in promiscuous and overcrowded conditions due to the difficulty of finding them another place to stay. But detaining them in a clearly unsuitable accommodation is a severe violation of their rights."
Lastly, Lucia denounces that "most of the residents have been here for a month. Among these, many girls, mostly Nigerians, who could be victims of human traffic", and that given the situation there should be a more solid protection also "for minors, who are at risk of being exploited by people who want to take advantage of their vulnerability."
Tommaso concludes by mentioning that this is an independent and self-financed trip, and that to fund it, a crowdfunding has been activated on Produzioni dal Basso. With 5 euros, the caravan will cover up to 10 km. Let’s give it a boost!