In 2010 it was shaken up by at least seven revolts and by just as many evasions. Then nothing more was heard. On the one hand because detainees are forbidden from using telephones to make outbound calls to the press to talk about what is happening. On the other hand, because the employees of the management organisation, the Red Cross, keep preferring a conspiracy of silence and a permanent position to a shred of humanity. Now, however, a crack in the wall of silence, which has been surrounding the Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) of Milano for over a year, seems to be opening. Someone came out and told all. The story of yet another father, raised in Italy and marked by a criminal record. The desperate acts of three Tunisians who between April and May attempted to take their lives and of seven men who lit fire to a whole section of the Centre. Desperate acts of protest reminiscent of last Tuesday’s attempted suicide by the Moroccan whose detention was extended beyond sixth months. How many more tragedies do we have to bear before all this institutional violence comes to an end?
His son was born in Italy, in Alessandria, in 1998. Today he is 13 years old and lives with his mother. The last time Fatih saw him was in 2005. Shortly before he was arrested. They apprehended him in Brescia during a police raid in the home of another Tunisian, an acquaintance, where he had stopped to spend that night. In the apartment the police found a drug haul destined for trafficking in the city. Useless telling them that he was nothing more than a waiter in a pizzeria on Lake Garda. And that he was just passing by. To this day, years later, he still claims his innocence. In the meantime though, in jail he’s spent 6 years and 2 months. And as soon as he came out of prison he ended up straight into the Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) of Milano.
It was last March. When I ask him for dates, he takes a short pause to concentrate, but then answers that he does not remember. Memory is no longer the same. ‘We’re losing our minds in here, we’re losing our memory’. It could be stress, or the psychotropic drugs. Even he takes them. Thirty drops of Rivotril, every evening. All his life he had never taken any. He used to lead a normal life. In Italy he arrived when he was 19 years old, in 1992, when Tunisia didn’t yet have any issues for Visas or other such problems. He had a job, a family. Then it all came crumbling down, like a house of cards. And now all he feels is the need to sedate his mind. After all, everyone in the CIE of Milano- and not only- takes these psychotropic drugs. All you have to do is ask. There is no need for specialist visits, or for a doctor’s certificate.
‘The more you want, the more they give you. In the beginning you make an effort because you see that they’re all high, they’re all worn out from that stuff. But then it’s beyond your control. And when you start you become addicted. I still take them here in Torino. To stop thinking. I’ve already suffered so much. Six years in jail, and innocent. And now six more months…I have to get treatment for my spinal disk hernia, see my son, sort out my affairs…and instead I’m here wasting my time more and more and more…..Without even knowing what will become of me if the new law passes in the Italian parliament. If you don’t take some of that stuff, you think too much, and you risk doing something crazy.’
Something crazy, yes, like the young Moroccan man from Brescia, who on July 12th hung himself when he found out that non only would he not be released at the end of the six months of detention, but that he would have to spend another two months there. Perhaps he could not find the words to explain it to his wife and children, who were by then convinced they would soon be able to embrace him again. His desperate act is not the first and will not be the last.
On the 7th of April, a young Tunisian man hung himself, once again at the CIE of Milano, with a belt from a bathrobe, and in that case as well, he was barely saved. And in May another two young Tunisian men attempted to take their lives in Via Corelli by lighting themselves on fire. Both were part of the group of Tunisians who had disembarked in Lampedusa during the previous months. Of them nothing more is known. But our witness told us in detail what happened that day.
The first wrapped a blanket soaked in oil around his shoulders and lit fire to it. Those who saw him taken to the infirmary tell of his burnt skin pealing off in chunks from his body along with the blanket. The other young man used paper tissues. He soaked them in oil and put them on his head, then lit them. He too was taken out of his cell half burnt. The two were immediately transferred from the CIE to be hospitalised, but we do not know which hospital they ended up in, nor if they are still in Italy.
Others instead preferred setting fire directly to the section in which they were being detained. The facts date back to the 2nd of May. Thanks to our witness, today we know that the protagonists of the revolt were 11 Tunisians involved in the brawl of the 26th of April in front of the ferry terminal in the port of Genova, where the Genova’s Port Company (Culmv) had offered hospitality during those days to about 150 Tunisians who had disembarked in Lampedusa the previous months, all holding a permit of stay for six months ruled by decree of the Italian government to all the Tunisians who had disembarked in Italy before the 5th of April, with the exception of those with a criminal record That day, five were arrested. Another 11 were reported, deprived of their permit of stay and sent to the CIE of Milano to be repatriated.
It was the 26th of April. The revolt and the fire came after only a week, May 2nd. All seems to have started from a telephone call from Tunisia received by one of the detainees, who was informed of his mother’s sudden illness. This would have been the spark that lit the already tense moods of the Tunisians deprived of their freedom. In the revolt, several glass and windows were broken, and blankets and mattresses burnt. The following day, all that the police would say was that there had been seven arrests for aggravated damage and arson. Today we know that there was much more. Our eyewitness tells us that the detainees were beaten by truncheons to the head, and that the nose of one Tunisians was broken by a blow to the face during the beatings. Yet another beating of which we still had no news. How can one feel surprised, though, during the current age of censorship regarding the CIE?
Ps To guarantee the privacy and security of our source, we decided to use a made-up name, Fatih.