Caritas Europa is starting a new series of reportage about the actions taken by Caritas in relation with the events in Northern Africa.
Caritas Italiana will share with us their reports from visiting different places where Caritas is acting to help all those affected by the events that are shaking most of Northern Africa.
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30 June 2011 - At the Lybian border - - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
Source: Sebastien Dechamps, Secours Catholique - By road, Tripoli lies 175 km from the border with Tunisia. Most of Libyan population is concentrated on the Mediterranean coast with two poles of concentration (east and west). In march, more than 120,000 people crossed the border. After peaking in the last week of February, the daily entries in early March to "stabilise" between 2500 and 3000.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that 193,494 third-county nationals (TCN) have crossed the border from Libya to Tunisia since the 20 of February. 189,199 TCNs crossing from Libya into Tunisia have been since February 20.
This has been the first time in history that Tunisia had to organise a refugee camp.
In the camp of "Shusha" - located 7 km from the town of Zarzis - there are about 17,000 residents. Most of them are Bangladeshis. Conditions of life are very precarious in terms of hygiene (lack of showers and latrines) and the reserve of food and drinking water are currently depleted.
Two new camps are being set up by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, bringing the total capacity to about 40,000 people. Tunisian government is concerned about this situation and its impact on the country’s current period of unemployment and on the approach of the touristic season. A new camp has been opened in the south. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that over 59.000 Libyans hosted by local communities in Dhibat and Remada Tatouine Libyan and over 1.500 hosted in camps in Dhibat Remada.
Over 60,000 people have already been repatriated. Egyptians were in great numbers in the first few days, but Chinese (by private companies that employed them), Filipinos, Sudanese, thousands of Bangladeshis and nationals of West Africa too. The urgency is obviously to reduce rapidly the number of camp residents, in anticipation of possible new influxes.
The most difficult situations regarding repatriations are related to nationals from Somalia, Eritrea (264 families to 11 March), Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.
1. Providing information on registration procedures, available services, opportunities and mechanisms for repatriation (in their mother tongue).
2. Identification of the specific needs of those most vulnerable people before their repatriation, to prepare, as much as possible, the necessary support in their home country (including Bangladesh).
3. Mediation, conflict prevention and resolution in the camp (tensions rise gradually as the growing impatience).
4. Improve / strengthen referral to specialist services: identify the specific needs (unaccompanied minors, abused women, cases of trafficking , etc) and make sure they are directed to appropriate services and effectively monitored.
30 May 2011 - Lampedusa and Ventimiglia - - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
Italian police and coast guard officials rescued some 400 illegal migrants coming from Libya whose boat was tossed against rocks near port in southern Italy after the steering malfunctioned, officials said.
Images of the rescue showed panicked migrants jumping or falling into the choppy waters as their boat heaved in the waves off the tiny island of Lampedusa. Some managed to make their way to shore holding on to ropes that had been attached to the boat's stern; others were hauled up on shore by rescue crews in the water.
Financial police official Fabrizio Pisanelli said the boat's steering had stopped working as the boat was nearing Lampedusa's port shortly after 4 a.m. Strong winds had pushed the boat against rocks, throwing migrants overboard.
Three police officials who had boarded the boat in open seas helped control the situation, and rescuers reached the migrants immediately, saving them all. Pisanelli said they included women and children, and were from sub-Saharan Africa.
Tens of thousands of migrants have fled unrest in northern Africa since January, most arriving at Lampedusa, the nearest Italian port to Africa.
Interview with Oliviero Forti, Director of Caritas Italiana's Migration Department
"Disembarkations continue, but the situation is under control thanks to a very efficient transfer service," says Mr. Forti regarding how the situation of the humanitarian emergency in Lampedusa is changing.
"We are still present in Lampedusa- continues Mr. Forti- with a permanent defense and we are working on different projects, among which the education of volunteers who come from different parts of Italy and who can realize what happens in the first stage of disembarks and reception. It is a type of education which is useful to who will work with migrants in the several Italian centres".
"Some days ago- claims Mr. Forti- cardinal Bagnasco announced the reconstruction of the House of Fraternity of Lampedusa. But the biggest challenge is the reception at national level, because the system still has a lot of difficulties in working at full capacity. Despite creating a unique management committee, in several parts of Italy the reception is not always the same: in many cases the "Protezione Civile" stipulates different agreements with humanitarian operators according to the territory, and there are cases in which there is a total lack of agreements despite the fact that a reception service has been set up". So, a more efficient coordination among the different third-sector organizations and the institutions is needed.
“A centralized model similar to SPRAR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees)- continues Oliviero Forti- could be created to lead the reception management committee, together with local authorities and “Protezione civile”.
Instead, according to Caritas Italiana, in Ventimiglia the situation is at a stalemate stage. “There is a blockade of French police who stops migrants and tears temporary residence permits released by the Italian government, explains Mr. Forti. So migrants can remain in Italy or- with the help of the department of Caritas in Ventimiglia and of the IOM (International Organization for Migration)- they can apply for an assisted repatriation to Tunisia. For the moment, everything is still very uncertain”.
11 May 2011 - Ventimiglia - - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
Many trains carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy were halted at the French border in an escalation of an international dispute over the fate of North African migrants fleeing political unrest for refuge in Europe.
Italy has been giving temporary residence permits to many of the roughly 26,000 Tunisians who have gone to Italy to escape unrest in northern Africa in recent weeks. Many of the Tunisians have family ties or friends in France, the country's former colonial ruler, and the Italian government says the permits should allow the Tunisians to go there under accords allowing visa-free travel among many European countries. France says it will honor the permits only if the migrants prove they can financially support themselves and it has instituted patrols on the Italian border — unprecedented since the introduction of the Schengen travel-free zone — bringing in about 80 riot police last week. Germany has said it would do the same.
The mission of Caritas in Ventimiglia started with a tour of the downtown. The presence of the immigrants is very evident, and, going around the city, everybody can notice a lot of Tunisian immigrants wandering around the city centre or standing on the pavement in little groups, while some of them are begging at the corners of the main streets, insistently but without exaggeration. There are a lot of policemen, but they are not too evident. After a first period of intense solidarity, the population is getting impatient and, most of all, who works in commerce and in foodservice is starting to complain about a decrease in trading with France and is afraid about the coming summer season. People talk about a widespread presence of "Passeurs" , hunters or shepherds who regularly bring Tunisian immigrants to the border zone through mountain tiny streets, with a payment. Surely, thousands of people have crossed the border.
THE RAILWAY STATION: In the station there is an almost continuous flow of Tunisian immigrants, who arrive in little groups with several interregional trains, while others leave with trains to France (after 8pm these trains have all been cancelled). There are some persons who wait in the lounges, and in particular in the one which has been set up exactly for them by the local authority in the old customs house. Actually, this lounge is not really comfortable, there are only some plastic chairs, but there is neither a table nor a camp bed, nor a mattress. On average, about a hundred people sleep in the station, because they do not want to go to the Identification and Expulsion Center, or because it is full. There is a big presence of policemen, who watch but do not control them. In the station, there is not even a service of listening and orientation for these immigrants.
THE RECEPTION CENTER: It has been set up in an old fire station. The center is not too far from the city, along the railway lines, in an almost uninhabited but not isolated zone, and next to it there are some houses and a series of buildings. It is able to shelter up to 150 persons in rooms of several dimensions, also double ones. From the 15th to the 19th of April, 489 people have gone to the center, with an amount of 1.300 overnight stays. Most of them are young Tunisian people (20/30 years old on average) who want to go mostly to France, Belgium or Germany. There are enough toilet facilities, which are very clean, as well as the rooms. There is a camp kitchen, which every night offers a hot meal to all guests and operators. The whole center is managed by the military corps of the Italian Red Cross, made of professional operators and also some volunteers, among who there is a team of 4 persons sent by Caritas who hand out the meals. They have not yet an agreement of any kind, so they are paying for everything. The center offers beds, sheets and towels, as well as toilet facilities, a meal at night and a clinic, although there is not a listening and orientation service. Entrance is allowed from 6pm until the center is full, and guests must leave before 9am. All guests are registered, but they are free to go out and come back as they want. Outside the center there are a lot of policemen in anti-riot outfit, but they have never intervened as the situation is always been peaceful.
11 April 2011 - Lampedusa III - - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
Lampedusa - About 250 people are feared dead after a boat carrying migrants from Northern Africa to Italy capsized 63 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Italian coast guard at around 4 am received a call by satellite phone requesting help. When a rescue unit arrived rough seas had already caused the vessel to flip. Forty-eight were saved while rescue boats are searching for the other 150 people who departed from either Tunisia or Libya.
More than 22 thousand migrants have landed on Lampedusa since a popular uprising unseated Tunisia's authoritarian president in January. Italy has relocated the migrants to detention centres in Sicily and on the mainland.
The Italian government is working on an accord with Tunisia that would include aid and guarantee that the country's coast would be patrolled in an effort to stem the flow of migrants. Meanwhile, migrant arrivals on the tiny Italian island continued during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday when 351 people landed by boat.
“As soon as I heard the news about the accident – as a Caritas operator who is working on the island said- I went to the NATO base “Loran” with two volunteers who had just arrived, a young doctor from Milan, specialized in treating infectious diseases, and a male nurse from Palermo. Once arrived, we found the director of the centre who looked devastated and who was handing out new clothes, shoes, cigarettes and phone cards. The migrants who survived the shipwreck had all their faces marked by the tragic crossing”.
Among the survivors there is Philip, a 30-year-old man who fled to Libya two years ago from the north of Ivory Coast due to the prosecution which was put in action by the former president Gbagbo against non-Ivorian people. He has Senegalese origins, he is Muslim, and he belongs to the Jola ethnic group, three good reasons to be a victim of a prosecution in a country devastated by civil war since 2002. “Philip starts to cry- as the operator said- when explaining that the European dream had become a nightmare or, for some of his travelling companions, it had become death. Just a moment after, the memory of children crying and screaming on the ship comes to his mind, and I tried to comfort him saying: “Hamdulillah, my brother, you are alive and you can tell the world everything you saw. Now you have to get up the courage to live, and you have to do it for them, too”. Then we embraced and cried together, thinking about the fact that we were there with those people who could have probably died, who could have probably been lost at sea, but who were there with us, giving testimony of a miracle which happened in the heart of a night like many ones, but different from the others”.
The three most serious cases were brought to the health centre. Among them there was also a Nigerian woman at her eighth month of pregnancy. When Caritas volunteers arrived, she was sleeping: “she is 21 years old, but she looks like a baby-girl huddled on her bed”, told the operator. A few hours later, the woman was transferred to Palermo’s main hospital by helicopter.
“One of the other two survivors comes from Bangladesh- as the volunteers said- and has been working two years as a tiler in Tripoli. He told us that in these days the Libyan government is promoting voyages towards Italy by chance ships, encouraging illegal immigration. He personally was afraid to get on the boat when, after paying 1,700 U.S. dollars, he understood he had to get on that 13-metre-long ship, together with other 250 “passengers”. He was afraid, but the desire to change his life was stronger. He left from Zuwarah port and he said that the sea was not navigable yet since the moment of the boarding, more or less at midnight of the 4th of April. When, after 30 hours of navigation, the migrants started to understand that waves were exceeding their usual height, they decided to send out an SOS. The smugglers were with them and, when the first aids arrived, they turned off the engines of the ship”. After a short time, the disaster took place: there will be only 51 survivors among 300 people.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman of the International Organization for Migration, yesterday explained, talking about the disaster, that “people immediately drowned and those who could not swim clung to the others, making them sink. It is really a horror story.”
03 April 2011 - Lampedusa II - - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
Twelve immigrants died when their boat sank off the Kerkennah islands, in front of the port of Sfax. Two others have been rescued. The drama happened on Monday, but the Tunisian Interior Ministry announced the news yesterday. Units of the national guard in Sfax have arrested the traffickers who admitted to organising the journey to Lampedusa and to be responsible for "deceiving" the young migrants, reportedly all Tunisians. The boat went down a few miles off the Kerkennah islands, in the Gulf of Gabes. The Tunisian Coastguard, together with the Navy and Civil Defence, are looking for survivors. There were around thirty people on the boat, survivors said.What does Caritas do?
“We hope that what happened in the last days won’t happen anymore and that we will be able to put in action a turnover system, in order not to overcrowd the island”. This is what Oliviero Forti, the director of Caritas Italiana immigration department, asked to the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who visited the island on Wednesday. “The function of Lampedusa is to be a landing place - continued Mr. Forti - and, without considering the arrangements our government will come to with Tunisia, Lampedusa will continue to be an arrival point for people who leave from Lybia”.
During these days, the role of Caritas has been to act as a mediator between the population of Lampedusa and the migrants- explains Oliviero Forti- looking forward to the future turnover of migrants on the island.”
Moreover, according to Caritas, it has been freed a part of the NATO base “Loran”, “from which have been evacuated some families, then transferred to the Immigration and Expulsion Centre of Crotone, as Caritas operators confirmed us. And by now only minors are left in the base of Lampedusa”, as Mr. Forti said.
For what concerns the future activity of Caritas relating to the immigration crisis, Oliviero Forti explains that “regarding us, we will be present in every place where a tent city will be built: more than 3,000 people will be transferred by Thursday, in order to lighten the situation on the island. We will be in Trapani, we are already present in Manduria and now the possibility to build a tent city in Palazzo San Gervasio, in Basilicata, is being considered.”
30 March 2011 - Lampedusa - - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
A stricken boat carrying some 350 African migrants from Libya neared Italian shores Saturday, the first vessel to reach Europe since the start of the uprising against Moammar Gaddafi.
An Ethiopian woman gave birth on the boat Saturday and was rescued with her newborn baby and the child's father by an Italian navy helicopter. A second heavily pregnant woman who was also evacuated from the boat to a hospital on the island of Lampedusa later lost her child, medical staff said. The first woman was airlifted from the tiny island to a hospital in Sicily and is doing well. She has named the child "Yeabsera", "Gift of God". Two coastguard ships have been sent out from the island to intercept the boat, which was believed to be taking on water and running with a faulty engine.
Almost 20,000 mostly Tunisian and Libyan migrants have landed on Lampedusa since the beginning of the year in rickety fishing boats and hundreds more are arriving every day.
More than 5,000 migrants, from Libya and Tunisia, have arrived on the island until Saturday. There were chaotic scenes when boats carrying migrants arrived in the port, with security forces deployed to prevent a crowd of migrants already on the island from surging towards them.
On Monday, the Interior Ministry, Roberto Maroni, also announced plans to send six large navy transport vessels today to clear all the migrants from the island to other regions in Italy.What does Caritas do?
“In Lampedusa, migrants sleep during the day not to suffer from cold during the night. Apart from the few available places in the Identification and Expulsion Centre, there are not other places where they can take refuge. Tunisian people built a tent city in the island, while the tents promised by the “Protezione Civile” have never been built”. It’s Oliviero Forti, the director of Caritas Italiana immigration department, who talks about the situation in Lampedusa, where he is working to coordinate the support to migrants.
“On Sunday - continues Mr. Forti - a truck provided by Caritas arrived loaded of clothes which have been handed out only in part because of security difficulties: giving a bottle of water to one person, means not giving it to the others. And it is valid for every kind of staple. Now it is necessary to understand how to continue the distribution. Caritas - says Oliviero Forti - immediately opened a permanent garrison house with an operator who monitors the situation on the island, keeps in contact with security forces and decides single support actions, as we did with the truck loaded with clothes. Then there is the Caritas “Casa della fraternità” that shelters 60 minors”.
The missed transfers worry him the most: “It seems that the italian government does not want to transfer these people quickly”, says Mr. Forti, “and now the situation is unmanageable”.
According to Caritas data, 2,000 people are now in the Identification and Expulsion Centre, while more than 4,000 people live on the road. The first transfers of migrants have been towards Manduria, in Apulia, where the building of a tent city has almost been completed: “We have already sent our regional delegate to Manduria in order to monitor the situation”, claims the director of Caritas Italiana immigration department.
The tent cities of Protezione civile and of the government, which should have been built there, actually have not, and the shelters in the “Villaggio della solidarietà” in Mineo are finishing, also because of the arrival of Eritrean people coming from Libya. “We heard from our Caritas Libya colleagues that a lot of boats are about to leave towards Italy”, says Mr. Forti. And, moreover, Caritas heard that the military base of Chinisia, in the provinces of Trapani, will be open soon and will accommodate at least 1,000 people. In Lampedusa are working, together with us, the operators of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), of IOM (International Organization for Migration), of Doctors Without Borders, of Save The Children, of the Italian Red Cross and of the local Institute of Health”.
Among the emergencies to solve, there is the meal one: “The association which manages the reception can provide a maximum of 4,500 meals per day, while we need at least 6,000 and the Protezione Civile does not organize a meal service because it would cost too much, as they said”.
Finally, according to Caritas data, the migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are generally in good health, but: “If the situation does not change, the risk of health complications is very high. Among the emergencies, we have to solve also the shower one: there are only about 20 showers for 4,000 people”.
25 March 2011 - Egyptian and Lybian border - Fred Lauener/Caritas Switzerland
70-year-old Samer is Palestinian. The Gaza strip is his home, but he has lived and worked in Libya for 36 years. His two sons and his daughter grew up in Libya and are grown-up. His wife passed away.
Two weeks ago, Samer started his journey back home. From Bengazi in Libya, he left for Egypt. Walking is difficult for the old man, but he wanted to leave Libya while it was still possible, before the city would be surrounded by the government’s troops. His two sons didn’t come with him. One stayed in Tripoli, the other one is in Bengazi.
Ten days ago, Samer and his daughter Maryam reached the Salloum border camp where they were stuck for more than a week. The Palestinians are the least welcome group of migrants in Salloum. The Egyptian border authorities assigned him a little space on concrete floor in front of a shed, far off from the other migrants and the aid organisations. They were not allowed to access the shed, even when it was raining or during the night.
We provided Samer and Maryam with food twice a day, checked on their health and then also stayed with them for some time to talk. Samer has a broad culture and speaks good English. With my cell phone, he tried to call his sons. He could reach his son in Tripoli, but not the one in Bengazi. The mobile phone network in Bengazi had broken down.
A few days ago, the UNHCR told us that a solution had finally been found with the authorities for the repatriation of the two migrants.
Samer and Maryam called us from Alexandria on Monday. They were both doing well and were on their way home to the Gaza Strip.
Caritas members from around the world have been mobilized to support migrants and Libyans fleeing unrest in Libya.
Around 328,000 people have so far fled from conflict in Libya according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Most of them left the country passing through Egypt and Tunisia.
Caritas has sent two Emergency Response Teams to the Libyan-Egyptian and the Libyan-Tunisian borders and is providing emergency aid such as food, health care and counseling to thousands of stranded migrants.
“On Saturday, we still counted more than 6,000 people in the camp. Monday evening, only around 2,500 were left”, reported Fred Lauener from Salloum on the Libyan-Egyptian border, where repatriation of stranded migrants has been increased over the last days.
“However, it should still take a while until the last family will have left Salloum. And till then, we as Caritas will be needed here.”
In addition to its presence on the Libyan borders, Caritas is working in close collaboration with its national member organisations in Libya, with neighbours Egypt, Tunisia and Niger. Caritas is also helping the migrants resettle in countries such as Bangladesh.
23 March 2011 - Tunisia - Emilio Fabio Torsello/4media |
Before the “Jasmine Revolution”, the island of Djerba was famous all over the world, while today it is the point of departure of those who want to flee from Tunisia, the country which defeated Ben Ali. In fact, most of the soldiers who had to guard the coast have been sent to the border with Libya, so now the traffickers can make leave much more easily those who want to reach Lampedusa and Europe. The new migrants are young and often already graduated, while others are still high school students.
But to leave, it is necessary to identify the “intermediaries” who collect the requests to leave and communicate with the traffickers who manage the ships. The ticket to leave for Europe costs 4/5,000 Tunisian dinars, which is a lot if one considers that a salary of 400 dinars (about 200 Euros per month) is a very high pay in Tunisia. Other departure points are the beaches of Sidi Salem, Sidi Jmor or Houmt-Souk.
These young people who leave are called “harraga”, which means “those who burn” their papers to hide their identity or who simply “burn” the borders to reach Europe. Nothing stops them, not even the news of the latest tragedy, during which 35 people died. In one of the districts in the south suburbs of Tunis, from which many of the casualties came, a family lost three children (younger than 20 years old) who died together following their dream.
Caritas is present in the island of Lampedusa were most of the people leaving Tunisia are arriving. In a few days the situation in Lampedusa has gone from bad to worse.
The number of migrants on the island has doubled, reaching over 6,000 people, which means that refugees are now outnumbering the 5,000 Lampedusian living on the island.
The situation is untenable with serious consequences for health and hygiene. Thousands of people camp out for days without having a shelter for the night and with rationed food and water.
The Italian government has declared that all Tunisians arrived in Italy last month (about 15,000) are considered illegal migrants (apart who have applied for asylum). For this reason the government wants to deport them. In the coming days, the Italian Minister of Interior will travel to Tunis to make agreements about the return of these Tunisians.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Mediterannean, Caritas is still present at the border between Tunisia and Lybia, helping processing travel documents for those migrants that are escaping the violence in Lybia. There are thousands of them, mainly Bangladeshi, stranded in the border and waiting for a chance to be repatriated. While meeting them, Caritas also tries to identify specific needs of the most vulnerable people. This information is shared with the national Caritas in order to prepare a return-support in the country of origin.
Caritas is also present in the camps that have been raised along the border. Conflict and violence are always easy-triggered as frustration and desperation increases among those who are still waiting for being repatriated, Caritas visits the camps regularly to mediate and prevent conflicts.