04 August 2011

CIE in Rome: 20 stitches to avoid expulsion

Someone tell us if this is normal. If to visit his sister in Livorno, on the eastern coast of Italy, a boy of twenty should open his thigh with an iron razor blade and dig into the meat until the cut runs deep, because only by doing so he will not be sent back to Tunisia. Yet another story of pain and humiliation comes from the centre of identification and expulsion (CIE) in Rome. The main character is named Khalil. He is a young Tunisian from Jbel Ahmer, a lower-class neighbourhood in the suburbs of Tunis, who disembarked in Lampedusa four months ago and from there ended up in the CIE of Ponte Galeria. They came to get them tonight. Thursday is the day of expulsions. When they entered it was the 3:40 in the morning. Eighteen officers, in civilian clothes. One by one they pulled out of the cages six Tunisians. Then they came to him.

When he saw them he climbed onto the shelf above the beds, where they hang their clothes. And he began to beg. To not make him leave. That he still had the marks from the cuts he inflicted on himself the last two times that they tried to take him to the airport. To let them heal first. But the officials insisted. Stop complaining. "If there is blood we’ll leave you, otherwise you come away all the same." The rules are clear. He then pulled out a razor blade; he sank it into his flesh above the knee and cut deeply. At the sight of blood, the agents of the team left the cell and returned to the offices, at a leisurely pace, as if nothing had happened, more preoccupied with preparations for the second round of expulsions at 7:00- another five Algerians- than with Khalil’s conditions.

By dint of shouting and beating on the iron bars, the inmates were able to call the doctor. From the infirmary they arrived soon after, but Khalil did not want to leave. He was afraid it was all a trap. That after they dressed his wound, the police would be there ready to take him away. This says a lot about the climate that reigns in Ponte Galeria. And so they disinfected the wound inside the room. And just five hours later, at around nine, they managed to convince him to be taken to the infirmary.

One of his cellmates counted the stitches they gave him: twenty. It is the third time in four months that Khalil cuts himself. This rule he learned quickly from the other inmates: blood can avert repatriation better than any lawyer.

Perhaps Khalil hopes to reach the six months expiry date. And he hopes to be released by the expiry of the fixed term and to finally reach his sister who has been living for ages in Livorno and a who can host him and help him find a job and start a normal life over again. He, who invested everything in this journey. And in addition to losing four months of freedom, also lost two friends who drowned off Zarzis along with nine other boys of his same neighborhood, Jbel Ahmer, on the night of March 29.

Khalil, who does not speak a word of Italian, and still does not know that with the new law he will have to stay inside the CIE 18 months rather than 6. And we do not know what he might do when at the end of the sixth month he will be notified of the extension.

translated by Camilla Gamba