Piazza della Libertà is illuminated with the yellow halos of the street lamps. As the hours go down into the night, small groups of men settle near the green benches. Almost all of them are Afghan or Pakistani, wrapped up with the means on board, forced to live on the streets for the lucky ones for the lucky ones, a few months for the others. Right in front is the station and its promises to continue the road in a warm wagon rather than on foot.

There are those who boarded in Ljubljana or in the Slovenian and Croatian capitals, in the direction of Trieste, and those who continue their journey to Northern Europe, with Milan or Venice as the following stages.

That evening, some 15 Afghans just arrive from the Slovenian border, less than ten kilometres from the city centre of Trieste. They came on foot. One of them, apparently happy to have arrived, asks his friend to take a picture of him, thumbs up, in the frozen air, with barely positive temperatures. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, he promises, he will continue on his way. Meanwhile, the others point to the Silos, a group of large warehouses from the Austro-Hungarian era extending behind the railway station and becoming the unhealthy and precarious refuge of about 400 migrants.

Aziz Akhman is one of them. The 32-year-old Pakistani has fled car bomb attacks, insecurity and rackets that plague his region of origin on the border with Afghanistan. When his shop was burned, he left. “It took me four months to get to Italy,” he explains. I have applied for asylum. »Every night, only a thin tent canvas separates him from the icy night that surrounds the Silos. Sleep hours are rare, stained with the cold of winter.

Lorena’s memory

It’s been raining for hours, everything gets wet, the water enters from all sides and gets between the blankets, between the clothes, between the flour, it wets the milk cartons and the biscuits, the water is everywhere and ruins everything finds. He asks for a jacket to cover himself and, once put on and finally starting to feel dry and warm, a smile grows on his face that deserves to be immortalized. It’s the smile of relief. This night, together with many others, he returned to try to shelter himself and the few things he has in his tent inside the silo from the rain.

Trieste, 10 febbraio 2024, piazza del Mondo

“Life in this place is a catastrophe,” a 25-year-old man from Afghanistan says. He has been spending his nights at the Silos and wants to settle in France, where his friends and relatives are. “I lived there for six months before I had to go back to Croatia,” he shares, explaining that his deportation happened because he registered his fingerprints in Croatia, following the Dublin Agreement rules. Just twenty days after being sent back, he started his journey towards France again, with Trieste being a part of his path.

This area acts as a crossroads for those passing through and those who decide to stay. Many people hanging around the train station and finding shelter in the ruins of the old Austrian harbor. The people there are in need, living without support or basic necessities. Since then, some organization has been actively providing clothes, blankets, tents, and medical help.

Most of these men have feet that show they’ve been through a lot. Those staying at the Silos often suffer from illnesses due to the poor living conditions—it’s truly terrible. There are common health issues like bronchitis, pneumonia, gastrointestinal problems, and severe abscesses from insect and rat bites. Despite the harsh conditions, volunteers and organizations continues to help with a strong commitment, especially dreading the winter when the cold makes things worse. However, the summer offers a bit of relief and encourages more people to move through the woods, leading to times when people gather in what has been named “La Place du Monde.”

A reception Management crisis

In the offices of the ICS, , Gianfranco Schiavone has these figures perfectly in mind and does not ate. Behind the screen of his computer, he goes up the thread of his emails. In front of him opens a long list of names. “We have about 420 asylum seekers waiting for a place to stay,” commented the president of the ICS, who is a keen member of migration issues in the region. “For the past year and a half, these people have been left on the street and it is not because of their number, which is particularly high … On the contrary, arrivals are modest,” he explains, pointing to the figures published in the “Lives Abandoned” report.

On average, about 45 migrants arrive in Trieste every day. The figure is rather stable and could decrease in the coming weeks. Snows often slowed down upstream departures along the wilder and wilderness crossings of the Balkan road.

According to ICS estimates, between 65 and 75% of migrants arriving in Trieste return. The remaining quarter applies for asylum. According to the rules in force in Italy, asylum seekers are accommodated in reception centres, while the territorial commissions examine their applications. The ICS operates two of these centres, located a few hundred metres from the Slovenian border. Migrants should stay there for a few days and then be redispatched in other regions in longer-time reception centres.

In the absence of rapid redistribution, temporary reception centres are full and new arrivals meet on the street, depending solely on the emergency accommodation system, which is already over-solicited by the city’s homeless. In Trieste itself, the nearly 1,200 long-term accommodation places available for asylum seekers are all occupied.

“We don’t end up with four hundred people who arrived in one day who put the reception system in trouble,” regrets Gianfranco Schiavone, “but with small groups voluntarily left on the street whose accumulation, day after day, has finally yielded this result. He gives the following analysis: “These living conditions push these people out. The first objective is to minimise the number of asylum seekers to be paid by the State. The second, more political one, is to create a situation of tension in public opinion, to portray hundreds of migrants on the streets and to maintain the idea that migrants are really too numerous and that Italy has been abandoned by Europe. ”

The latest report of September 2023 by Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) noted an apparent increase in arrivals in Serbia amid the authorities’ inability to provide adequate conditions. In Northern Serbia, some of the state-run camps are overcrowded, despite the number of arrivals at this period similar to same period last year. In Subotica One Stop Centre, several people, including women and young children, live outside due to the camp’s policy of not accepting families.

ECRE member Asylum Protection in Serbia communicated on 20 November that refugees no longer live in camps in Horgoš, in Subotica and now in Sombor, adding that as a part of a large police operation that took place on 19-18 November, at least 20 buses took migrants to camps in the south and on the Croatian border, in Adasevac and Šid. The NGO shared on 21 November a video of poor conditions in an asylum center in Obrenovac in Belgrade where at least 1000 migrants were relocated from locations and camps along the borders with Serbia, adding that “Only UNHCR and IOM can enter, and all activities of in the center are suspended. In front of the camp, about 40 newly arrived persons, among them unaccompanied minors” (translated).

The NGO later intervened and allowed five unaccompanied minors into the center and urged the local authorities to assign a guardian. On 17 November, the organisation reported about “700 refugees and children staying with adults in the camp” in Preševo, calling on the national authorities to “react quickly and efficiently, recognize this vulnerable category and provide them with accommodation in social protection institutions”. On 16 November, another video was shared from the overcrowded Sombor transit camp where mostly refugees from Syria are staying. “In the past 2 weeks, their freedom of movement was de facto limited, but now they have the opportunity to go to a store or a pharmacy”, the organisation noted.

Besides, BVMN report also noted ongoing raids and evictions especially late at night and pick-up and checks around gas stations during the day, underlining “a particularly alarming incident on September 5th when over 350 individuals were detained in a single day”. Additionally, the report marked the presence of the European Border Agency (Frontex) officers and vehicles along the border with Croatia as well as the Serbian Gendarmerie.

Albania-Italy agreement suspended

Recently, a major police system has been deployed in the region. On 18 October, following the attack on Swedish supporters in Brussels, the government of Giorgia Meloni decided to close its border with Slovenia. The Schengen Treaty has been temporarily suspended to prevent possible “terrorist infiltration” via the Balkan route.

“This is necessary, because of the worsening situation in the Middle East, the increase in migratory flows along the Balkan route and especially for national security issues »,” said the head of government. 350 officers were deployed in Friuli-Venezia Giulia along the 230 kilometres of the Italian-Slovenian border. Initially scheduled for 10 days, border controls have already been extended twice and are currently in force until 18 January 2024.

With this tour of screws on its eastern border, Italy is trying to maintain a promise that it cannot keep on its Mediterranean front: lock the country. After the failure of his migration strategy in Lampedusa in September, Giorgia Meloni redistributed her cards to the Balkans. In mid-November, the head of the government paid an official visit to the city to discuss, inter alia, the migration issue. But his last coup de poker was the announcement of an agreement with Albania to relocate two reception centres for asylum seekers.

The idea is to take up to 3 000 people there, immediately after they are rescued at sea by Italian ships. On the spot, the Albanian police will only intervene for security outside the centre. The rest of the management remains entirely of Italian competence. The commissioning of these two structures was announced in the spring. The file seemed closed. In mid-December, the Albanian Constitutional Court finally decided to suspend ratification of the agreement. Two appeals have been lodged with Parliament to ensure that this agreement does not violate the international conventions to which Albania is a signatory. Discussions are expected to resume in mid-January.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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