War among the poor

Until the end of July, about 50 to 60 people came to the Centro Astalli Catania every afternoon. The center, with our and your support, was fully prepared for Corona: Each person had to enter individually, had their temperature taken, and everyone was given a face mask. After months of closure, medical care and legal counseling could finally take place again. Apart from the threat of infection with the Corona virus, the Centro now has to deal with another problem: the “war of the poor among themselves”, as Elvira, the director of the Centro, puts it.

The Centro was already threatened with closure at the beginning of July. Neighbors had reported it to the police because there was allegedly noise from people waiting in line in front of the center. Elvira does not believe that it was the noise that bothered the residents. There are queues everywhere because the number of people indoors is limited everywhere. Fortunately, the center was able to successfully fend off the claim for damages associated with the complaint. However, according to Elvira, the actual reason for the residents’ hostility has not been eliminated: racism.

Economic hardship stokes conflict

Many people in Sicily are poor and have found themselves worse off in the Corona crisis. While migrants were previously tolerated as people who were even poorer than locals, they now appear to many people as a threat. Before the crisis, migrants took on work that Sicilians did not want to do: elderly care, field work, service jobs. Faced with an existential threat, these fields of work are now once again conceivable for Sicilians. The problem is that the employers of these activities are no longer interested in hiring more expensive Sicilian workers. The employment of illegalized migrants has driven down prices to such an extent that Sicilians simply no longer seem lucrative as a labor force. Migrants also settle for poor working conditions due to the lack of employment contracts. The image many Sicilians have of migrants continues to deteriorate. Poor people compete with each other in a war without winners.

Increasing persecution of migrants also seems to be coming from the official side. On July 9, there was a raid in the district where the center is located, which is particularly populated by migrants. The police said that the raid, which involved 150 police officers and helicopters, was aimed at fighting crime. However, according to Elvira, it is also a fact that migrants in particular are pushed into petty crime. They do the “dirty” jobs that get you thrown in jail: they sell drugs or their bodies to make ends meet. Especially often, these people come from Gambia or Nigeria. However, the organizations behind the migrants, which earns most of the money from them, is Sicilian and is based in other part of the city. According to Elvira, the police do not dare go there.

Only legal status is the solution

Migrants need rights, says Elvira. For years, they have been helped and supported. Now people have to understand that this is not enough and that they need legal status, residence permits and work permits instead.

For many weeks, the Centro helped to provide legal advice on the new decree according to which migrants can obtain residence permits if they work in agriculture, for example. Unfortunately, this was not possible for almost the whole month of August, because the Centro had to be closed. After migrants in Caltanisetta and Porto Empedocle escaped from quarantine at the end of July, the center feared that one of them would show up there. Apart from the danger of being infected with the corona virus, it is also a danger for the center to be too much in the eye of the public. Contrary to initial plans, Centro Astalli reopens already today, September 1. Hopefully this time for longer.

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