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LA STAMPA

Italy's Abu Ghraib? Taking Action After Lampedusa Scandal

A member of the Italian Parliament goes undercover to protest for the rights of undocumented immigrants after images emerged of mistreatment at the rescue center in Lampedusa.

Stripped naked and hosed down in Lampedusa
Stripped naked and hosed down in Lampedusa
Khalid Chaouki*

LAMPEDUSA — Although I'd visited the Center for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) center several times over the past few years, I could have never imagined I'd spend the night with the refugees housed on this tiny island. The decision I made to get locked up inside this facility was taken after seeing the faces of the survivors of the Oct. 3 tragedy that left more than 350 dead when a boat sank off the Lampedusa coast.

Seven young people — all Eritreans — who miraculously were saved that day, are still detained here.

But after having met some of the survivors of that tragic day, I also came here because I wanted to talk to Khalid, the young Syrian who last week documented with his cellphone the shameful scenes that took place at the Immigration Center, that were later broadcast by the RAI public television station. When I arrived, Khalid (not his real name) was pale, sitting in the corner of a small room.

"Thanks for your visit,” he said, as he asked me to sit beside him.

Khalid and I are almost the same age and we both speak Arabic. He was pale because he has been on a hunger strike. "I am not mad at the operators of this center. We have always been treated in the best way possible. I just want to get out of here because we cannot stand it anymore."

Lawlessness

Khalid, together with a group of fellow Syrians, has been held here since Nov. 3. Officially, they are all detained in order to testify against the trafficker who is now under investigation.

Unfortunately, when I asked to see the case file, officials were not able to answer. There are no formal acts here in Lampedusa. Action is taken only after receiving directives from Rome. The law actually states that people can only remain in this center for a maximum of 96 hours: not three months. It is a situation completely outside the law, and these refugees should technically not be detained at all.

This is not a bona fide identification facility, but a rescue and first reception center — a place of primary care, not of detention. This utter lack of clarity is also why I decided to stay here. If the police don't even have a clear answer for us, how can we properly care for the refugees, who after months of exhausting journeys find themselves in a place where their rights are put on hold?

Now it is 9 p.m. For my first night, some Syrian refugees offered me a place in their dormitory. Among them there is also Ahmed: a man in his 50s who told me about his wife and his newborn daughter who are still in Syria, as the bombs fall around them. In tears, he confessed that he wants to go back to his country.

He decided to flee hoping he could better help his family from Europe, and then maybe go back to his homeland. But he is now trapped, and hopeless.

The sense of abandonment has also reached the volunteers. They want to talk about their years of sacrifice and hard work, which they do not want to see dismissed because of the bad pictures of a few days ago.

At the end of this first day, I can only pray for all these brothers and sisters. Yet, it would be so easy to help these people. Young people like me, who just had the misfortune of being born “elsewhere.” Our Italy cannot remain silent.

*Khalid Chaouki, 30, was born in Casablanca Morocco, and is a member of the Italian Parliament from the Democratic Party.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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