Your Tired, Your Hungry, Your Golden Geese

In Sicily and Lampedusa, some at least welcome the leaking, battered boats bearing loads of immigrants from the distant shores of Africa: the entrepreneurs who bid on the government contracts to warehouse them for processing and eventual expulsion or asylum. From La Repubblica, a scathing assessment of the migration business:

The more migrants who swarm into Lampedusa, the more money they make: 2 million Euros earned per day on the backs of the migrants.

The more you can cram into a dormitory, the better. The longer they stay, the better. And if they are minors, you really hit the jackpot: the government pays even more. Every time a boatload of migrants comes ashore, the “professional welcomers” whip out their calculators. Six-figure numbers are not in short supply.

In 2013, Italy spent more than 1.8 million Euros daily in “accommodation costs” for the 40,244 migrants who disembarked on its shores. Bed, meals, clothes, medicine and a stipend: the average expense amounts to 45 Euros spent on each migrant who ends up in any of the 27 migrants facilities: shelters for migrants or asylum seekers, “identification centers” or “deportation halls”. When the migrants are minors, with the special attention children need, the daily expenditure rate climbs to 70 euros: 8,000 of them have landed in Italy this year.

Over the last ten years, “migration hosting” has turned into a juicy business that a few giants have divided up among themselves: the [cooperative federation]Legacoop (Lega Nazionale delle Cooperative e Mutue) and some of its close business partners, the Catholic organization Communion and Liberation (Comunione e Liberazione) and a few multinational companies. The Ministry of the Interior calls for bids, and usually hands out the contracts [for hosting]after auctions at a 30 percent discount.

Despite the flow of money, the migrants are cooped up for months in overcrowded (at double- and sometimes triple-their capacity) shelters. For the migrants, these shelters are more like concentration camps, while for those who manage them, they are geese that lay golden eggs.

For Christopher Hein, the director of the Italian Council for Refugees, “this is made possible because in Italy most immigration related services are contracted based on only one criterion: the cheapest bid. This business of immigration is unacceptable. We are talking here about multi-million Euro deals that enrich those who are in charge while the most basic human rights of the migrants are trampled.”

Asylum seekers are by far the best part of the business. The refugee shelter in Mineo, Sicily’s ‘village of oranges’-which first hosted the American troops of the Sigonella Naval Air Station- has become a city-within-the-city. Needless perhaps to say that the shelter is today the economic engine of the whole province of Catania. Four thousand people (from 50 different ethnic groups), which is to say more than twice the shelter’s capacity, bring in around 50 million Euros every year to the Calatino Terre di Accoglienza.

This consortium is made up of companies like Sisyphus (part of Legacoop) which manages the Lampedusa shelter; the Senis Hospes Coop; Cascina Global Service (who is associated with the Catholic organization Communion and Liberation), the Red Cross, the Consortium Casa Solidale (related to [former rightist prime minister]Berlusconi’s PDL party).

And there is also the Pizzarotti family of Parma, who own the buildings that were requisitioned by the government in exchange for 6 million Euros in 2011, when a state of humanitarian emergency was declared because of the influx of migrants from North Africa. When the state of emergency ended, it was the turn of the Pizzarotti to join the consortium.

What Silvio Berlusconi liked to describe, two years ago, as a model of “migrant hospitality” in Europe has been transformed into what humanitarian organizations call concentration camps.

A few days ago, a young Syrian who had waited months for his asylum papers ended up committing suicide. Keeping the asylum seekers for unusually long periods is one of the many tricks that managers of the shelters like to use.

In the district of Messine, at Sant’Angelo di Brolo, an investigation conducted by the local prosecutor concluded that some migrants were kept as long as 300 days in the shelters after their asylum papers had already been awarded. A “trick” that made Sisyphus cash 468,000 Euros; this same company has been awarded the bid for managing the shelters of Elmas (near Cagliari in Sardinia) of Foggia and Lampedusa through which more than 100,000 migrants have passed.

The government fixed the amount of the bid at 2.5 million Euros to cover the 250 slots in the shelter’s official capacity. But for each additional migrant, the Interior Ministry takes out the checkbook.

And it is the same all over: the Peter and Angelo Chiorazzo cooperative Auxilium, which manages the Bari Palese and the Ponte Galeria shelters in Rome and the Pian del Lago shelter in Caltanissetta [Sicily] is reaping a lot more than the 40 million Euros officially budgeted.

The French company Gepsa, an expert in providing services to penitentiary facilities, has also sunk its teeth into the juicy business.

The same goes for the multinational Cofely Italia which does not mind working along with the cultural association Acuarinto d’Agrigente and the cooperative of social services Synergasia in managing the shelter of Castelnuovo di Porto [in Rome]and the Gradisca d’Isonzo deportation center.

And finally let us not forget Capo Rizzuto, the priest-entrepreneur of Isola Capo Rizzuto [Calabria], who claims his share in this fine business. His Mercy Fraternity has been managing for ten years, in exchange for 28 million Euros per year, a migrants’ shelter where all sleep packed like sardines in old shipping containers.

Alessandra Ziniti Translated from Italian by International Boulevard