20 July 2011

Sellotape, injections, razorblades and deportations

The tape is needed to immobilize the prisoners. All you have to do is wind it several times and very tightly around wrists and legs. And when they scream, to cover the mouth as well. The injection is used for the young women. Because they too misbehave sometimes. But one must be a gentleman so better to use a sedative than a beating. And finally the razorblades. Those are used by the men and women. Though one needs desperation as much as courage. You either slit your writs or you swallow them. And if you’re lucky and survive, you end up in the emergency room where, even if you don’t manage to escape, you can still consider yourself lucky because they did not repatriate you. Is it really worth it to go through all this just to avoid being sent back to your own country? It’s not up to us to decide. We’re not interested in formulating a classification of pain to decide to whom we should grant the right to travel. What we’re interested in is to tell what is now becoming Fortress Europe. The last stories come to us from the Centre for Identification and Expulsion of Ponte Galeria, in Rome. Here, in the last week, protests and episodes of self-harm have caused the cancellation of at least a dozen programmed expulsions. The last two Nigerians, a young man and a young woman, had already boarded the plane for Lagos, when a protest erupted on board.

It happened on the afternoon of the 19th of July. They came at night to get the young man from his cell. There were about ten policemen and they immobilized him with the tape. The young woman, on the other hand, did not oppose resistance. But she had to insist that they not give her a ‘shot’, as the other women in the cell call it. When they arrived at the Fiumicino Airport, which is located a few kilometers from the CIE, the young man once again resisted. Nonetheless, they loaded him on the airplane but he continued to struggle once on board the scheduled flight. Until- so they tell us- the passengers intervened as well, protesting against the violence on board. All cancelled, then. And so they took him back to Ponte Galeria. His face was bandaged. It seems that he was beaten both while on board the plane and after. The young woman is in shock. And so are her cellmates. Especially the young Moroccan woman.

Her name is Fatima, she’s 32 years old and she comes from Khouribga. The capital of phosphate deposits and of the Moroccan emigration in Italy. An economy which has been inflated like a soap bubble by the remittances of many expatriate workers and of a few dealers who in Italy, especially in Tourin, control drugs, prostitution and document forgery. But Khouribga is also more than this. It is unemployment and destitution, scraps of lives beneath which hide drunk and violent men. Men like Fatima’s husband. Her father gave her up as a bride when she was only 14. The beatings came shortly after. The scars from the glass of broken bottles, scattered throughout her body, are there to remind her every day where she escaped from. Not from war, or from misery. Simply from a violent husband and a small country town where she would never have been able to put her life back together in spite of her young age. In Italy she arrived a year and a half ago with a Visa that then expired. It was like a dream, but now it’s more like a nightmare.

Two days ago, when they came to announce that she and Khadija will be deported this week, she lost it. And the tension accumulated in four and a half months of detention behind the bars of Ponte Galeria exploded in a single act. She found herself a piece of iron and she cut her stomach close to the scar that hurts the most. The one of the cesarian birth, memory of an operation in which she lost the two children she was carrying.

Fortunately the cuts she sustained were only superficial and she is under no threat. In the infirmary yesterday they treated two people who were much worse than her. A Tunisian and a Moroccan. They cut themselves when the police came to call them for the repatriation along with four Arabs. The Tunisian has been living in Italy for 19 years and has been imprisoned in the CIE for five months. He is less severe, a few cuts on his legs and one on the left arm. But the Moroccan is in a more complicated situation. Because the cuts are deeper. But in Ponte Galeria people are no longer scandalized by the blood that splatters.

The police have already told him. ‘If you don’t want to come with fair means, next time we’ll do things our own way’. They’ll wait a few days, and they’ll come back to get them. This time with the truncheons and the adhesive tape, the brown one, to package them up like a postal parcel.

In those cases the only thing to do is swallow a razorblade. Difficult to take one outside because, before loading the detainees on the patrol car for the airport, the procedure is to undress them and to search them everywhere, genitals included. Sometimes, though, they manage anyway.

One Tunisian man got away with it last week. They kept him one day in solitary confinement, and on Thursday they took him to transport him to the airport, but he swallowed a razorblade which he had managed to hide. The objective was to miss the plane, get treatment, and run away. The treatment came, but not the escape. They beat him and took him back to the Cie the following day, marked on the neck and back by bruises from the beating. Nothing to be scandalised about. With the tough guys one must not use courtesies. They waited a few days and they came back to get him. Using their own methods. No matter, the press no longer comes into the CIE, there’s no one to check.

PS To guarantee the privacy and the security of those interviewed, we used made-up names. The video was filmed using a mobile phone by one of the Tunisians detained in Lampedusa and shows one of the detainees while he cuts his arms in protest.

Translated by Camilla Gamba