Despite its limited resources and budgetary shortcomings, Italy continues to house the high influx of refugees arriving on its shores. The migrants are mainly from Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Thousands die in the sea, while the lucky ones safely migrated to Italy. Ms. Ornella Fulco, is an Italian Journalist. She writes for an Italian Newspaper called Trapanioggi.it. She is also a radio host anchor. In an Exclusive interview with the Freedom Newspaper, Ms. Fulco explained the refugee situation in Italy, and the government’s efforts to cater for the increasing number of refugee arrivals. Below is full text of the interview. Please read on…
- It is great to have you Ornella, as our guest here at Freedom Newspaper. To begin with: Could you please introduce yourself, before describing the refugee situation in Trapani, Sicily?
I’m a journalist, living and working in Trapani, one of the main sicilian sea port. That’s why by several years immigration became one of my main daily working topics. I’m a contributor for the online newspaper Trapanioggi.it and I anchor for the local Radio station 102 as well.
- Where are the refugees coming from?
Currently, most of the migrants landing at the port of Trapani comes from African countries, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa as Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Guinea; but also from much closer places as Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Usually they land in Siciliy after being rescued at sea by units of the Italian Navy, other European countries but also from merchant ships and organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.
- What country in Africa, constitutes the highest influx of refugees arriving on the shores of the Italian Coast?
In 2015, Italy has welcomed a total of 153,842 migrants, while the whole of Europe it has received more than 1 million. Most of those arrived on Italian shores came from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, The Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Bangladesh and Ghana.
- Does the Italian government have the necessary resources and budget to cater for the increasing number of refugees?
Just in 2014, Italy spent 628 million euro to accommodate migrants. In 2015 it has been spent around 1 billion Euros. The figure looks set to rise further in 2016.
- You met some of the refugees fleeing from The Gambia. What kind of stories are they telling you?
No matter where they come from, all the migrants tell more or less the same sad and painful story. Like all those who I met at the port of Trapani after being rescued at sea, citizens arriving from Gambia told me they fled to escape violence, dictatorship, poverty. They tell of having traveled through the desert, stopping in Senegal or Libya to work to put aside money for the trip across the Mediterranean Sea. They tell of having sailed, under terrible conditions, in boats and rafts headed to the coast of Sicily. Many of them have been intercepted and saved. Others, unfortunately, die at sea.
- We gathered that “Milo” used to be a prison facility, in which African migrants were imprisoned. Is it true that Milo has been transformed as a refugee camp?
First of all, I want to be precised that Milo is a place near Trapani. It was the site of a former CIE (Center for Identification and Expulsion). By few weeks, it has been transformed in a “Hotspot” under an European Union request. CIE are used to gather everyone entering in Italy without permission. That’s because in Italy, just like in any other country – USA included – you need to have a visa to get in legally. Immigrants landing on our shores usually travel without any document; so, when they arrive here, they are cosidered “illegal migrants”, unless they may prove they can apply for political asylum or other forms of international protection. If it is not possible to execute immediately the expulsion with accompaniment at the border or reinforcement or repatriation (if there are agreements with the countries of origin), their detention in refugee camps may be arranged by the police for a period of 30 days, renewable for a maximum period of 18 months. In the new European mandatory “hotspots” migrants are taken immediately after their arrival to be identified (photograph and fingerprints) in order to distinguish between those who have the right to claim asylum and who does not (depending on the country of origin and their individual statements).
- Can you describe the conditions at Milo? Is it ideal for refugee hosting?
Currently, precisely because it has been opened from just a few weeks, it was not possible for Press to visit the facility. At this time, as a journalist, I may just report official news: the Hotspot was equipped with everything needed to accommodate migrants with dignity for as long as necessary to identify them (one, two days), Police Department says. Then they are transferred in shelters where they remain until their position will be checked by special committees that decide, on the basis of interviews, if migrants are entitled to international protection or not. If they are entitled they can remain in Italy; if not they got to leave because they entered without permission.
- There is another refugee camp called Valderice. Could you describe the refugee situation there?
Valderice is a small hill village about ten miles north of Trapani. Its reception center has been realized accommodating a former hotel, with comfortable rooms and a wide garden all around. This is an area where there are many private holiday homes. It is currently the center of extraordinary welcome (CAS) with the highest capacity within the province of Trapani (province is more or less what in USA is a county). The property is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trapani and the center is managed by a social cooperative.
- Has the Italian government privatized refugee catering or lodging in your country? If yes, who is/are responsible for refugee housing in Italy?
Yes, the largest number of centers is now privately runned. Previously, in the very first emergency phase, it was up to the Prefetto (the local Italian Govern representative) to decide. Now it takes place through a real public tender that selects the subjects that can manage these centers on the basis of a set of requirements and performance requirements (food, clothing, health care, education, etc). Usually there are cooperatives or other types of businesses that make it, receiving a refund calculated on the basis of days of stay and the number of migrants hosted.
- Are these companies providing quality services to the refugee population in Italy?
In some cases the operators of the centers did not comply with the requirements imposed by the Italian State and there were also episodes of corruption or problems due to the poor state of the facilities, or hygiene and food. In severe cases, the centers have been closed and their managers pursued by law.
11. Gambian refugees in Italy often complained about the slow pace of the refugee settlement program. What can you tell us about this?
No way. The problem of the slow pace of processing of the status of migrants does exist, especially in a Regions such as Sicily (given to its geographical location), which had to manage the largest number of arrivals of migrants. As I explained before, each person who applies for asylum must appear before the committees which are formed by four people: two are nominated by the Italian Government, one by the local and one more representing UNHCR. At the hearing of the asylum seekers also participates an interpreter. All this requires resources, not only economic but also of staff to be allocated to these tasks and, in this sense, the Italian Government has had some difficulties that led to the alleged slowness.
- The refugees also complained about overcrowding, poor sanitation, lodging, and lack of food. What can you tell us about this?
I cannot tell you about all the centers in the Province of Trapani. I personally visited the Valderice one and I may say that conditions are acceptable and not as bad as, in some cases, some guests did complained. Some discomfort exist but certainly there is no evidence of wounded human dignity. I insist: it is not easy to handle this situation, with thousands of immigrants to take care arriving within just a single week. Now things are getting faster and I think that certain problems will no longer occur.
- I read a status update on your Facebook page, in which you reported that some of the refugees were hosted at a recreational facility in Trapani, Sicily in this bad weather when they first arrived. You also reported that the refugee camp was full to capacity. Could you please elaborate?
I argue you are referring to the refusal of some 190 migrants in Milo on January 2nd. These people, who had not applied for political asylum, received the mandatory order to leave the country. Not having the economic means they remained one night on the street, but the next day – on my report – the Italian Red Cross stepped in to help them with food and water. The second night they were housed in a gym, even if they would be entitled to nothing because they were rejected. The next day they were again brought at the Hotspot where they could apply for political asylum. Migrants reported that no one of them, upon their arrival, had been informed of that possibility, and that is why Authorities have backtracked. It’s a situation on which checks are still ongoing. They remained in the street because CIE was closed, otherwise they would be taken there since they were considered illegal migrants.
- What is the UNHCR doing to help these refugees?
UNHCR and other international organizations are present in Trapany at each new migrants arrival providing support and information to migrants as prescribed by their statutes. Migrants who had been rejected from the Hotspot were hosted in reception centers while waiting for their position to be examined by the territorial commission.
- How about the European Union?
The European Union has announced a new package of laws on immigration and integration. Rumors say about a radical revise concerning the rules of asylum law and even about the Dublin Treaty, which is now widely considered obsolete and inadequate to cope with the massive arrivals. Italy will have to turn on other “hotspots” and, simultaneously, to increase the repatriation of those who have no right to remain in Europe.
- What are the other EU countries doing to help Italy ease the high influx of the refugee burden?
Currently very little, in the sense that the proposed relocation of 160,000 migrants from Italy and Greece (where they use to land) to other European countries is not working as expected. Many European countries, doing to the situation of fear generated by attacks of Islamists, are not willing to welcome migrants as had been decided by the summit of Ministers of the Interior a few months ago.
- Is it true that Germany, Sweden and other EU member countries have stationed their Immigration agents along your costal sites to help screen the arriving refugees?
According to what appears to me, the European Frontex agency officials are working in cooperation with the authorities and local organizations to manage the situation.
- Finally, do you foresee an end to the high influx of refugees in Italy in the short term?
Experts say the flow of migration (even the regular one) from Africa and other countries is not going to run out in the short nor in the medium term. The causes are of various kinds: the continuing conflict, the lack of civil liberties, poverty, famine. Rightly or wrongly these people looks at Europe as the place to try to build a new and first of all a better life. What will change, over time, will be the countries of origin, but the migration is set to become a structural issue in our societies.
- Any last word?
Thank you for asking me to tell, although in a broad outline, what is happening and that we are living daily in this part of the world. Finding ways to live together peacefully and respecting each other is a challenge for everyone, for us trying to accept and for those who arrive. I am convinced that it is in everyone’s interest to win it.
Interviewed By Pa Nderry M’Bai