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Sicily, Informal Refugee Camp

Mariusz Smiejek | Sicily, Italy

Organization: Institute for Conflict Research

Lamin (Gambian), in a place where his home was a few weeks ago, in one of the many illegal camps in Sicily where refugees and immigrants from African countries live.
One night he felt smoke and noticed the fire.
The fire burned 15 houses in which sleep a dozen people, all fortunately managed to escape.
Lamin lost all documents, clothes and money he had worked in Italy for several years.

The olive season in Sicily ended in December, during the harvesting season, between September and December, over 1,000 people live in the illegal camp. In the off season less than 100 people live there. They are mainly men, refugees and immigrants from Gambia, Senegal and Mali, they work on nearby farms, harvesting olives.

The camp has been around for several years, the living conditions in it, are much below the basic for animals, we can't even consider it a human condition.

In the months of harvest, camp residents can count on running water and electricity from nearby residents; unfortunately as soon as the season ends, local authorities and police show up sometimes to cut off water and electricity.

Now the local authorities and the police want to dismantle the camp and throw away all its inhabitants, without any alternative place where they could live, if they do not leave the camp until 4 March 2018, the police will use force.

The olive season in Sicily ended in December, during the harvesting season, between September and December, over 1,000 people live in the illegal camp. In the off season less than 100 people live there. They are mainly men, refugees and immigrants from Gambia, Senegal and Mali, they work on nearby farms, harvesting olives.

The maximum rate per working day is from 20 to 35 Euro. Earnings do not include insurance, so if someone has an accident, he can not count on any compensation.

The camp has been around for several years, the living conditions in it, are much below the basic for animals, we can't even consider it a human condition.

In the months of harvest, camp residents can count on running water and electricity from nearby residents; unfortunately as soon as the season ends, local authorities and police show up sometimes to cut off water and electricity.

Since December, since the olive season has ended, there is no electricity in the camp, there is no heating, the winter temperature drops below 5 degrees in Sicily and it is also a period of intense rains, the only way to warm up for a while is to light wood in metal buckets.

As if that was not enough, the camp residents are visited by carabinieri almost every day, for control purposes, as the people in camp says, officers have the habit of entering their "homes" without knocking and warning.

For several weeks, sometimes, they also appear to destroy tents and throw their residents out of them. Saldou and Sam from Gambia are 18-year-olds who, under Italian law, have been removed from the center for juvenile refugees without a family they have been in since they came to Italy. The day before they were asked to leave the center, they received their documents with the right to stay in Italy and the status of a refugee, but nothing more than that. They left the center with no means of living and an alternative place where they could stay.

Both went to one of the illegal camps in which refugees and immigrants from African countries live.

Sama came to Italy from Gambia three years ago, where he lived with his uncle. When he was 14 years old, his uncle told him that he must convert to Ahmadiyya religion; when Sama refused, he told him he would kill him, so he escaped from the village. His trip from Gambia to Italy lasted for a year.

"A few weeks ago, the carabinieri came to the camp and destroyed the house in which I lived", he said.

All this happens just after the fire in camp. In January 2018 Lamin, living in the camp, one night he felt smoke and noticed the fire.

The fire burned 15 houses in which sleep a dozen people, all fortunately managed to escape.

Lamin lost all documents, clothes and money he had worked in Italy for several years.

February 12, 2018 Carabinieri stuck on one of the tents information with the decision of the local authorities to liquidate the camp. All its inhabitants have to leave by March 4, no alternatives were offered to them, the police warned that if they did not comply with the decision, they would be removed from the camp by force.

Freelance photojournalist. His work is dedicated to expose issues of post-conflict territories and societies. Mariusz lives in Belfast since 2011 and has been documenting a long term project about the transition and everyday life in Northern Ireland during the peace process since 2010. He was professionally trained as a photojournalist with the National Geographic in Poland.

Institute for Conflict Reaserch, Belfast, Northern Ireland

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