A few months ago my friend good friend Mody, a Sudanese refugee in Sicily, sent me a photo of an article in the Sicilian newspaper La Sicilia announcing the possible (likely) closure across Italy of centers where migrants and refugees live while they are being considered for asylum in the country.
He was justifiably outraged. The possible closure of your home is news that can shake your foundation and dash any hopes of what is so difficult for a refugee to achieve: stability and the feeling of safety. Mody was upset to the point of utter distraction and was losing sleep. “Frankly, Michelle, tell me what you think of this. Tell me what you think about the “human rights” when you just drop people on the street with nothing.”
Once again I was confronted with the situation of uttering pointless comfort, but the truth is, it shook me up, too. The 2011 Arab Spring sent thousands upon thousands of (mostly) men from primarily sub-Saharan Africa across the Mediterranean seeking refuge. Government funds earmarked to deal with what was termed the “emergency” (and indeed, it was) will run out on December 31. The idea of these centers is a good one: the men are housed and fed . In the two centers that I have been in, the men enjoy a camaraderie with one another, based on not only their country of origin and their religion, but in their common plight: far from home and often jobless. They wait for their cases to be heard. And they must leave before they wear out their welcome. Usually, six months.
The arrival of the refugees, by the account of so many , was carried out in a chaotic manner and funds were misappropriated lining the pockets of anyone who could make money off of the vulnerable. Anyone who could “house” a refugee (no matter the accommodation) was reimbursed an astonishing amount for each person. The treatment of the refugees could be substandard—it didn’t matter. The “host” still received the money. Michele Sasso and Francesca Sironi wrote a report for l’Espresso, on the gross misappropriation of the government funds.
The renewal of the government contracts that funded these centers is extremely unlikely. This really comes as no surprise. What happens next?
For my friend Mody, the future, if it wasn’t already, has just gotten scarier. He tells me that any progress they have all made trying to get acclimated to a new life, will set them back—-and some may never recover.
“Life is too hard, Michelle. I don’t want to be homeless? Where will I go?”
Without a job or even the prospect of one I cannot even imagine. But I don’t tell him that . Instead, I say, “Get some sleep. Rest. Stop thinking.”
My words sound hollow, empty. Even to myself.