03 June 2011

Lampedusa: 28 attempt suicides against repatriations

After the first four detainees who cut their veins last Wednesday, yesterday 28 attempted suicides. Some swallowed razor blades, iron and glass pieces. Others cut their veins. The tension keeps on rising at the reception centre of Lampedusa, which was transformed into a jail on the 2nd May. Inside 200 Tunisians are illegally detained - without any validation by the judge – after arriving on the island last month. There’s no hospital on the island, just a health clinic, where the injured are taken for first aid. The most serious cases are then transported by helicopter to the Cervello hospital in Palermo and to the San Giovanni di Dio in Agrigento to undergo surgery. It all broke out when rumours spread out the news that the collective repatriations had restarted.

Yesterday in fact 35 Tunisians were transferred from the island by flight to Palermo where, after being identified at the airport by the Tunisian consul, they were successively repatriated.

The news immediately reached Lampedusa, directly from the guys who had been repatriated who called their friends in the centre telling them they had been deported to Tunis. That’s when the protest broke out again.

Yesterday IOM and police officers attempted to calm the spirits and to explain to the detainees that by acting as they were doing they would never obtain anything, except putting their lives at risk. But it was too late. The tension was already high and people’s dignity has been trampled upon too many times.

“In Tunisia we had been tortured by the police, we thought we could find freedom in Italy. Instead we have been locked here for a month already. We demand freedom!”. The one speaking is a friend coming from the South of Tunisia, an ex political prisoner in Ben Ali’s times, when he took part in the revolutionary movements in Redeyef in 2008 and had already been a victim of tortures in the prisons of the regime. He arrived at Lampedusa on the 14th May and decided to leave Tunisia behind him for ever, despite the revolution, so that he could restart a new life in Paris with his French wife who waits for him beyond the bars. He feels constantly humiliated in the centre.

“The police treat us as if we were savages, as if we were dogs. We crossed the sea without a passport, that’s true, but we’re not criminals. Here almost everyone has relatives or friends to go to, especially in France”.

He demands freedom of movement for himself and for the others, and more generally freedom, that is to be an active subject making one’s own conscious decisions, and not an object of exchange in the hands of a government.

“We are not teenagers, we are responsible for ourselves. The Tunisian prime minister has no right to make agreements of repatriations with the Italian government. He’s not our father. We are adults and we have the right to travel. I have my wife in France. The guy they beat up has his wife in Holland. Another guy has his father who has been living in Italy all his life, he even has Italian citizenship! What’s happening is not normal!”.

Apart from not being normal, it’s also illegal. Because, and we will keep on reminding this till we loose our voice, for a month now the law in Lampedusa is being violated. A reception centre is not a jail. And someone’s freedom cannot be taken from him, without the validation of a judge. On this point, even if in slow motion, lawyers are getting organized. We shall wait to see the outcomes of the appeals. Hopefully, before the situation deteriorates once more into a fierce fight between the detainees and the security forces, as it happened in February 2009.

It’s important to remember that all this is happening after 25.000 Tunisians have transited on the island since the beginning of the year. Do you remember the first months when the reception centre on the island was even left open, and people used to spend their days in bars, strolling around while they were waiting to be transferred to the main land? What happened to the 25.000? As we have previously said, most of them arrived in France, others stayed in Italy, some with relatives, some others are supported by associations present on the territory and have a six months’ permit of stay.

Then the agreement with Tunisia started being applied. Until today there are 943 Tunisians who have been repatriated since the 5th April. Whilst we lost count of the riots in the centres of expulsion around most of Italy: the fire at the Vulpitta in Trapani, the evasions from Chinisia, the flames and the hunger strike in Turin, the devastation in Gradisca and lastly the razor blades’ protest in Lampedusa. With this kind of tensions, I am afraid that sooner or later there may be some loss of life.

translated by Alexandra D'Onofrio