January 5th, 2014

Malta, refugees and more

Lots of catching up to do!

The visit to the Centro Astalli (Jesuit Refugee Services is the name of the international organization) was informative and eye-opening.  We first met with a representative who related some of the history of JRS’s origins, as well as the current workings of the legal processing of political asylum permissions in Italy.  The process can be very long and bureaucratic, which especially for a person coming to a country not speaking the language and with nothing is a very daunting challenge.  While an applicant is waiting for their case to be reviewed by a commission, which can take as long as a year-and-a-half, he or she is not able to do much of anything.  There are some shelters available through various organizations as well as municipally-run facilities, but these could be as minimal as tents with beds, and are normally only available to applicants from evening until morning, when they are compelled to leave.  After our orientation, we visited the soup kitchen where the Pope had recently gone, located in the basement of a building.  It was very basic and relatively small.  We also visited a men’s shelter farther away from the center called San Saba, also administered by JRS.  It was originally the movie-theater of an old church, now converted into a center housing 30 men.  We did not really meet any refugees here, but were shown around the building, which in this case was very clean and simple.

The following day, we traveled all the way to the last stop on the metro line, in order to visit one of JRS’s few shelters for women.  The long distance immediately struck us as much more isolated and less convenient for those seeking work or assistance in the city.  It housed approximately the same number of people as San Saba, and was tucked away off of the road in a very beautiful and quiet environment.  We met another worker here who informed us about the shelter, facilities offered, what kind of work the women do, countries of origin, etc.  Though both of these meetings were very informative, it felt somewhat awkward to be intruding into their personal space.  We were not introduced formally to any of the refugees, and it did not seem as though they had been forewarned of our visit, as opposed to JNRC, in the case that they may not want to be present.

The flight to Malta was about an hour and a half, and it felt wonderful to step off the airplane into warm air and sunshine!  Malta has a very unique and amazing history and therefore combination of many different cultural influences.  For example, the Maltese language is a combination of Arabic and Italian.  As they were most recently colonized by the British, English is the other official language.   Last night we met representatives from Malta’s JRS chapter, who showed a documentary called “Mare Chiuso,” or Closed Sea.  It was about some of the refugees who had attempted to seek asylum in Italy by traveling across the Mediterranean from Libya by ship, which is a major passageway for asylum-seekers.   Because this was in 2009, the year that Berlusconi made an agreement with Quaddafi to prevent any refugees from escaping Libya to Italy, the refugees were intercepted by the Italian coast guard and handed over to Libyan authorities, after which they were thrown into prison and only managed to escape (s0me, that is) when the war in Libya broke out.  This is a violation of the international law of “non-refoulement,” which says that people seeking political asylum cannot be taken anywhere that their life or freedom might be threatened.  Some of the refugees who made it to a camp on the border of Tunisia were later allowed passage to Italy or monetarily compensated, but this was a small compensation for the tribulations they suffered due to this “Pushback” policy.

After the documentary we went to a local restaurant/community center for mainly Eritreans and Ethiopians and enjoyed some delicious food and drink over conversation of politics in the Horn of Africa since colonial times, human-trafficking, etc.

More on the visit to a Jesuit Community Church of mostly Nigerians this morning to come.

 

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