Porto Empedocle. Monitoring on transfers from Lampedusa


A strong tramontana has been blowing on Lampedusa for a couple of days. Ferries to and from the island, crowded of tourists, have been at a standstill ever since: the regular ferry fails to leave Sicily's southern shores. 
Cigarettes are missing, supermarket shelves are almost empty. "If the ship doesn't come...!" - is the expression sketched as a kind of justification to tourists by Lampedusa merchants; the locals are actually used to, yet exhausted, being often "abandoned" in the middle of the sea due to weather conditions.

Wind and sea not only prevent goods from reaching Lampedusa, but also people on the island from leaving, including migrants. They thus find themselves crammed into the Contrada Imbriacola center.
On Monday, August 7, there are about 2,400 of them. Again, a too large number compared to the actual capacity of the center (theoretically 389 places), in which individual freedom is de facto restricted, since people are arbitrarily prevented from leaving. Too large number, not only because of the space, in itself insufficient, but also because of the impossibility of managing it in any way other than control, punishment and selection. Moreover, in the frenzy driven by the urgency to move people (and the problem, without solving it) to Sicily, procedures are often accelerated or even cancelled.

If, with the emergency plan, people's transfers have in fact been intensified - military naval assets have been added to the Galaxy regular ferry but also some charter aircrafts, which "move" people directly to Northern Italy, managed by IOM -, it seems that not even the "spectacular" choices of the emergency succeed against the sea.

Thus, it had to wait until Tuesday, August 8, for bundled plants, food trucks and carloads of other goods to reach the island to enter the Lampedusa market and be consumed. And also for around 500 people to finally be transferred to the mainland.

Starting at 7 a.m., the first Red Cross buses begin to bring those who need to be transferred to the commercial pier. The wake-up call at the hotspot and the name-by-name call takes place, some of the people recount, around 5 a.m.

The Galaxy is expected to dock at Lampedusa's commercial pier at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to depart at 11 a.m. The gazebos set up by the CRI and water bottles are not enough to ease the grueling wait in the sun. During the hours before embarkation, some family members with whom Maldusa and other solidarity networks are in contact began calling worriedly asking for further explanations for such an unjustified wait in the sun.

The ship does not depart until 12h30. Inside, the ship's large salon is reserved for travel for tourists and Lampedusians as well as the restaurant on the 7th floor and the bunks with sleeping berths. The other part of the 6th floor - two small rooms with seats - and the small bar on the 7th floor are reserved for the 470 people transferred from the Lampedusa hotspot in Porto Empedocle. These spaces are extremely controlled by police and carabinieri, whose intervention is not mediated by any other profile - as, for example, cultural mediation or medical assistance. There are, in fact, three Red Cross mediators, but they are tasked exclusively with accompanying the journey of the hundred or so minors in the group.

Throughout the hours of the journey it is impossible to establish physical or visual contact with the people being transferred, since, in the words of one policeman, "you cannot go from there because there are migrants [and since] there are 470 of them it is a matter of public order."

In response to another attempt to break the moral barrier that runs through the Galaxy spaces, a carabiniere responds by simply saying "you can't go there....because you can't!" in an overbearing and aggressive tone.

The spaces designated for transfers are overcrowded and under a regime of control. On the upper floor, people cannot even stand on the outdoor landing; included within a logic of police control, everyone must stand still; any movement is suspicious or a source of tension for the officers.

Upstairs, for example, since the room is small enough for the people who have to be in it, a certain comings and goings come alive between the "inside" and the narrow, well-bounded space on the "outside," given to them; but, to avoid even this "movement," the doors have been closed despite the high temperature in a room with the air conditioners turned off. A (pregnant) young woman and a boy begin to get sick. Visits or first health respond can only be improvised, as there is no health care provider on the ship.

From below, since it is not possible to go up where people are, one regularly hears hands flapping, as if to impose a message, and shouts strictly in Italian of the type: <<Ohi, Oh!!! OH! Go GO, I SAID GO!!!>> <<Oh move!!>>.

The transfers on the Galaxy are a space traversed by verbal and physical violence since people are guarded and forced to stay in a defined perimeter without being able to circulate and practically move. The disembarkation at Porto Empedocle fits in continuity with the dynamics that began aboard the Galaxy.

The "buffer" effect created by the international associations part of the Hotspot mechanism in Lampedusa is behind us; dehumanizing management lies ahead.

Without even a moment of refreshment, with police "cordoning off" the route between the ship and the tents, people are called one by one to board the buses. It is a Red Cross cultural mediator, the only one who has arrived for the disembarkation (along with only one other from Frontex, who remained at the gate with the police and whose role remains, to an outside eye, unclear), who begins calling out names over a megaphone. Once the list is finished, people are given a bag with a sandwich, a bottle of water and a snack inside and then board the vehicles provided by the Prefecture of Agrigento for further travel. 

The directions are various: some people are taken to the CPRs (Centers for Repatriation) of the various regions of Italy, some again to other Hotspots (either in the official ones, in Pozzallo, Taranto, Trapani and Messina, or in other areas "used" for control and detention for "hotpost procedures" as identification, improvised to respond to the congestion of the other centers, as will be the case in Porto Empedocle itself), others in "Hubs" where people are "placed," authorized to exit, while waiting to find them a place elsewhere (as in the Hub of Catania, carved out of a former vaccination hub for Covid), others directly in CASs (Center for extraordinary reception) - former CARAs - throughout Italy, in some cases with more than ten hours of travel!

In recent weeks, specifically, many minors who had already been to Lampedusa were transferred to the Messina Hotspot, despite the fact that, according to procedures, hotspots are not suitable places for minors.

A group of people, registered as adults in Lampedusa but actually minors - a fact, this one, which further proves the superficiality with which assessments are made in Lampedusa in a climate of chaos and haste - remained in Messina for more than twenty days. Birth certificate in hand, however, they managed to declare themselves minors, and, having received permission from the Prefect to leave, they never returned to the facility. From Porto Empedocle, on the evening of August 8, other minors went to the hotspot in Messina and to the reception center for unaccompanied minors in Cifali.

The problem seems to lie not only in finding centers to "sort" people into, but finding the very means by which to do so.

According to associations and activist in the area, when the Prefecture cannot find buses for transfers, people spend the night in the tent city next to the port even though the place is not suitable because of the temperatures (very high in summer, very cold in winter) it reaches, exposed to heat and cold.

In the days following our monitoring we learned of great tensions because of the always emergency management of even the transfers to Porto Empedocle.

With the arrival of 548 more people, by August 15 there were nearly 1,300, huddled between the port gates and the adjacent marquee. Escape attempts, principles of revolt and confusion - promptly quelled by police forces deployed in riot gear against any attempt to escape from this illegitimate captivity - led the prefect to halt the Lampedusa transfers for at least the next day.

The so-called "problem," the"'emergency," thus, seems only to have been moved from Lampedusa to another town just further north, just less exposed to the media and association spotlight. Following the tense moments of August 14, on August 17 the Prefect announced the awarding to the company Tommasino Metalzinco of Cammarata of the contract for the construction of the new Porto Empedocle Hotspot. Departing from the normal control procedures following contract assignments, the facility should be ready within 3 months and be able to accommodate - theoretically - a maximum of 250 people.

Against all forms of racism and discrimination, we express solidarity with the newly arrived people, wishing them all a good continuation of their journey and that they all succeed in reaching their loved ones and desired places.