Worldcrunch Magazine

Trieste Postcard: When A “Dump” For Migrants Is A Political Choice

- By Niccolò Zancan

TRIESTE — “Do you see these?”

I see them, I see them all right. They’re tears in the flesh. They’re rips in the New York T-shirt. They’re gnawed sneakers.

“Big mouse, man. You get it? It’s full of big mice here at night. My name is Ahamad Aftab, I am 35 years old. I have been to Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, but this is the worst place in my life. These are the worst days ever.”

It’s raining. It is raining hard. “Tin tin” on the tents and cardboard, on these hopeless roofs. It’s raining, and under a shelter, Aftab is warming his hands by a campfire while cooking chicken wings. The fire is inside his shelter. It’s hard to breathe. “I’ve been here for three months and 12 days, waiting for the police headquarte­rs to call me to get my papers. I want to live in Italy, I want to work. But they never call me,” says a friend of Aftab’s while waiting for dinner. And after that, when the fires are out, darkness will come.

Good evening from the land of rats. Good evening from Trieste. Good evening from this dumping ground of people, where living human beings are treated like the dead. This place is called the Silos. It was a warehouse for goods and grain and housed Istrian exiles during World War II. For decades now, it has become a disgraced building, next to the Trieste train station. Life rots here, while new departing trains are constantly announced next door.

Bad situation. Help me

“Bad situation. Help me,” a 20-yearold boy says in English.

“I’m hungry,” his friend says. Tents are everywhere, in the space of two bays. There is the Pakistani migrant side, the Bengali side, and this one, with boys who have fled Kabul and Taliban persecutio­n. “My name is Muhammad Shaz Zeb Raz, I can be a barber, and I want to work. I am lucky. Because I have only been here for 23 days.”

Trieste is on Italy’s northeaste­rn border, a crossing point for all travelers on the Balkan migrant route. But something new, something different is happening. Something never seen before in a city that has always been accustomed to being a place of

passage and meeting. Now people are flocking to the Silos, waiting for answers from the Italian state. They are stuck in a muddy mess as a result of an institutio­nal quagmire.

The report “Abandoned Lives,” written by the network of associatio­ns that deal with migrants in Trieste (Ics, Shadow Line, Diaconia Valdese, Community of San Martino al Campo, Donk, Internatio­nal Rescue) is surprising. It reveals that there is no emergency in Trieste: the 13,000 migrants who arrived in 2022 became 16,000 in 2023; and 80% of them choose to immediatel­y leave the city (which in 2022 had a population of about 204,000) after a very short stop. The average number of asylum applicatio­ns here is low: five per day in winter, 10 in summer.

So what are 415 human beings doing in the Silos (a number that dates back to Dec. 1, 2023)? What do these tents and abandonmen­t indicate? They are all people who have chosen to apply for asylum precisely in Trieste, but who have failed to receive even a first response, allowing them to be included in reception programs.

“No problem,” says the aspiring barber. “I go to the police station every day. Sooner or later they will call my name.”

No changes

Meanwhile they are staying here. Under the pouring rain that drips from the concrete. Each one with his own horrible memories: “In Hungary they beat me on the head”; “In Croatia they took off my shoes and made me go back twice”; “Avoid Bulgaria, man. I wouldn’t wish you to meet certain Bulgarian policemen.” Music of the world echoes from the tents. Rats wait for the moment to feast.

Trieste Mayor Roberto Dipiazza has made some statement that have offended the sensibilit­ies of many citizens, such as “Even if among rats, paradoxica­lly those who stay at the Silos are fine.” He responded to questions by saying “We need to make a WiFi hotspot in Friuli, I have been saying this for 20 years.” And then, again, addressing journalist­s, “I could talk about Bologna, about Milan, about Turin, you have no idea what’s out there. We only talk about the Trieste Silos.”

Yet the people of Trieste are not indifferen­t to all this. An initiative launched by retirees has already collected 3,500 signatures. In a plea to Italian President Sergio Mattarella “to overcome the immobility of institutio­ns,” the petition says it all: “inhumane conditions, extreme cold, rats.” Individual citizens and associatio­ns visit the Silos every day to bring blankets and food. But the situation never changes. Why?

Political choices

Trieste is reminiscen­t of Ventimigli­a, a resort town 7 km from the FrenchItal­ian border on the Gulf of Genoa, where at the end of last year, counterter­rorism measures were adopted to deal with the major migrants crisis. What is happening in Trieste is a consequenc­e of precise political lines. There are no other explanatio­ns.

Gianfranco Schiavone, president of the Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS), is convinced that “the key to understand­ing the Silos issue is not, or not predominan­tly, to be found in the crisis of the Italian reception system, but in a more perverse strategy with two aims. The first is to abandon asylum seekers for a long time to push as many of them as possible to go elsewhere.”

“The second is to spread the false image of an invasion of migrants from the Balkan Route, to push the public to think that if hundreds of people sink into the Silos mud it is not because of unspeakabl­e institutio­nal failures, but because there are too many entries. But this is false. The numbers say so. So keeping the Silos in this situation responds to very clear political objectives, which cannot be stated because they are as illegal as they are morally despicable,” Schiavone explained.

That’s what these rats between the ankles of the Afghan boys are. That’s what these piles of garbage are all about. They are a choice. “No problem, man. We’ll wait. You want to try a piece of chicken in the meantime?”

 ?? ?? Near the asylum seeker reception center and permanent repatriati­on center in Gradisca, northern Italy. — Source: m5s_fvg/Instagram
Near the asylum seeker reception center and permanent repatriati­on center in Gradisca, northern Italy. — Source: m5s_fvg/Instagram
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 ?? ?? Abandoned Silos building in Trieste, a temporary shelter. — Source: mistabetta/Instagram
Abandoned Silos building in Trieste, a temporary shelter. — Source: mistabetta/Instagram
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