Sicily is the southern frontier of the European continent, where the great majority of migrants travelling by sea from Libya first arrive. Many come from sub-Saharan Africa via trafficking networks across Libya with increasingly dramatic stories of violence and abuse. While rescue operations of all kinds have been saving people directly at sea since the last few years, deaths continue to increase; while the quality of the migrants’ boats decreases.
In 2015, to respond to the growing number of arrivals in what has been labelled as a “refugee crisis”, the European Union introduced the “hotspot approach”. This is based on the idea that “the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol will work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants”. In parallel to this approach aimed at preventing the circumvention of the Dublin Regulation, the EU envisaged a resettlement scheme across its Member States for 40,000 people. Yet, the resettlement scheme has failed, as only a few more than 1,000 people have effectively benefited from it.
Since identification is not accompanied by relocation, new arrivals to Sicily have little option other than trying to plug into the Italian reception system, which has become increasingly clogged, leaving them in a state of limbo that can last years. This has coincided with a surge in the number of people being denied access to international protection because they are considered “economic migrants”. Such rejections, however, are often issued before the subject has had the chance to be informed about his or her rights and to fully understand the procedure.
Upon receiving a rejection, migrants and asylum seekers receive a notification instructing them to leave the country within seven days. Even for those who would be willing to honour a decree that expels them with little reason, this task would be practically impossible, as the journey to Europe leaves many without any money, and at times without documents. These people effectively become invisible, joining an army of ghosts without names and rights who are easily exploitable by various types of criminal organisations. Recently, these people forced into illegality are being joined by migrants and asylum seekers who are unjustly condemned for trafficking (and thus denied the possibility of applying for asylum) by Italian courts, because they either steered or helped guide their boat across the Mediterranean – after being violently forced to do so by Libyan militias.
These are only a few of the many contradictions that characterise how both Italy and the European Union are dealing with the issue of migration, which is continuously instrumentalised by political forces and recounted through distorted narratives. Over the years in which people have been reaching the shores of Sicily, or perishing at sea trying to do so, the media and political discourse on immigration has continued to tell stories based on non-contextualised numbers, which miss the many shades of reality, the abuses that migrants and asylum seekers are subject to, and the enriching diversity that they can bring. The issue of migration has thus been reduced to an “emergency” or a “crisis”, as unavoidable as a storm at sea; yet deaths and abuses are a result of conscious policy choices.
In the wake of this widening discrepancy between media narratives and reality, Borderline Sicilia was founded in 2008 to record immigration in Sicily, keeping an active memory and denouncing the causes of the many deaths at sea that were already taking place. Today, Borderline Sicilia’s core activity is monitoring the situation of migrants and asylum seekers across Sicily. This information is then reported in Borderline Sicilia’s online blog, which has become a point of reference for detailed information regarding immigration across the Sicilian island.
This constant observation is also essential to inform a series of other activities. Borderline Sicilia provides legal support to migrants and asylum seekers, including some of those who are being charged for trafficking and thus excluded from the protection system. Their legal work goes beyond individual litigation, as they try to use every case as a precedent to change established norms. They also engage tirelessly in lobbying and advocacy at both the national and the European level.
Borderline Sicilia’s work is not based on the patronising notion of supporting ‘helpless people in need’, but rather on the belief that defending migrants’ rights means defending the rights of all. In the words of one of Borderline Sicilia’s members, “Allowing a fall in the level of rights for migrants today means opening a loophole in the protection of human rights that tomorrow can hit anybody else. Their future is a collective future that concerns us all”.
Thrǣdable & Borderline Sicilia
Thrǣdable wholeheartedly supports Borderline Sicilia’s vocal position and courageous work, and in December 2016 we travelled to Sicily to launch our partnership with the organisation. Specifically, we organised workshops within the context of #OpenEurope, a project born out of a collaboration between Borderline Sicilia, Oxfam Italia and the Diaconia Valdese in the small town of Pachino. Here, a temporary reception centre hosts a handful of the many migrants and asylum seekers excluded from the Italian reception system.
They participated enthusiastically in our workshops, leaving a colourful print of their currently invisible situation. Their creations evoke images of their home countries, or simply what they like and enjoy as individuals with a story and personality that media narratives continuously obscure. These were then exhibited in an historical cafè in Pachino’s central square.
See the photos of the project here!
Where does my money go?
When asked about the difficulties encountered by the organisation, one of Borderline Sicilia’s members mentions both the growing climate of hostility towards migrants and asylum seekers, and lack of resources. After all, monitoring and legal work is no telegenic activity. Particularly, the crucial monitoring work that forms the basis for all other activities is carried out by volunteers who travel back and forth across Sicily on a daily basis to visit centres, gather direct testimonies, and then report their findings through the blog, newsletters, and social media. 75 € is the average daily cost for all Borderline Sicilia’s volunteers, including telephone and transportation costs. Through our dedicated line, Thrǣdable customers will be able to contribute to these reimbursements, thereby ensuring that Borderline Sicilia’s volunteers can continue their vital work of monitoring, reporting and advocating on Europe’s frontier, ensuring that the real stories of migrants and asylum seekers continue to be told.