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From Pozzallo to Syracuse: good practices in welcoming and solidarity

Second report from Overthefortress campaign in Southern Italy

9 November 2016

We met Enzo Inì (Caffè letterario), Rino Giuffrida (Pozzallo), Giovanna Scifo (Casa delle Culture, shelter house for minors in Scicli), father Carlo d’Antoni (Bosco Minnitti Parish, in Syracuse).

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We wrote about the Pozzallo Hotspot and the systematic violation of human rights that takes place there just a few days before Amnesty International’s thorough report, exposing the whole picture of these severe violence and unacceptable abuses. In the province of Ragusa, though, different responses can be found, in radical opposition to the hotspot’s (non-)reception policy.
In the same Pozzallo, Enzo Iní runs a place named "Caffè letterario Rino Giuffrida", that has become, in the past few years, the local touchstone for both the migrants and for the activists/volunteers. For Pozzallo’s youth in particular, it’s the place where they can take action.
Moved by the situation of many migrants after leaving the first reception centre - now turned into the hotspot -, Enzo began engaging with them during the so-called "North Africa emergency". Some of the migrants willingly left the compound, but most of them were dismissed by the authorities and given the order to leave the country or otherwise risk a fine they could not afford to pay. The policy of "delayed refoulements" has officially ended some time ago, although many people doubt it was actually terminated.
Caffè letterario’s doors are always open: it has ever since organized clothing and basic necessities drives, for both locals and foreigners. Enzo proudly tells us that they always get all they need, thanks to the spirit of active solidarity of his network.
Three times a week, Caffè letterario offers free Italian classes run by the town’s teachers and former teachers. It also hosts a legal advice centre, run with the help of Borderline Sicilia. It also housed some people for a while, before realizing that there was not enough space nor time to provide them with a decent stay.

Instead, dignified reception is exactly what Casa delle Culture wants to offer. Casa delle Culture is a project developed by Mediterrananean Hope, the federation of Italian evangelical churches. In Scicli, province of Ragusa, we visit their home for unaccompanied minors, located in this tiny Sicilian town that is currently housing 36 people. After the initial hostility, they tell us that the villagers gave a warm welcome to this small group of people, mostly from Africa. Compared to the customary reception, we can spot several differences.

Housekeeping activities are run autonomously by the kids, who follow cleaning and cooking shifts, decide together what to buy and what to eat, and how to organize the activities. They try to collect what they need from donations, as they recently did for a few computers, and they organize courses - such as basic photography on Monday morning - run by volunteers.
Another huge difference is that the length of stay is not fixed, nor dependent on the minor’s legal situation. They can stay there, even after turning 18, until they find a decent accommodation. And it’s not only about accommodation, but also about finding a place that could help them reaching their goals and fulfill their desires. For instance, a kid whose dream was to play football stayed in Scicli until he found a place in Palermo’s football team. Another kid wanted to study, and moved out to enroll in a good school curriculum.

This understanding of hospitality, deeply connected to each migrant’s hopes and desires, is also shared by Father Carlo, parish of Bosco Minnitti, in Siracusa. The doors of his church are always open to migrants, at any time of the day. The church currently houses a few dozens migrants, but the father tell us about the time he hosted up to 120, and he had to turn the altar and the pews into beds.

Here, as it is at Casa delle Culture, people feel at home: everyone takes part in the housekeeping activities and everyone can stay as long as they need. Some people stay for a few hours or a few days, others stay years before finding another opportunity. Father Carlo tells us the story of a young man who had stayed at his parish for 5 years before finding a job and become self-sufficient, and who is now married and father of 4.

Father Carlo concludes by lashing out against the European Union, that let migrants die at sea, committing unforgivable crimes and missing endless opportunities. "We need to look at migrants as assets not as troubles, and treat them as people", he explains, "because it will definitely bear fruits".