It was December when in the Rome Ponte Galeria CIE protest suddenly turned to silence. A silence of black and green threads being pulled out of the issued blankets and thrust into flesh. A mute cry stopping any attempt to turn words into chat, forcing you at least to look, to ask yourself why.
In the CIE that day there was also Lassad, a Tunisian citizen who has lived in Italy for 22 years, who refused to turn his eyes away and who has tried to respond and tell what happened. Lassad’s life hasn’t been simple. He had been detained before Ponte Galeria, but if they had told him then that there was a place like this in Italy he wouldn’t have believed them. Lassad has decided to fight to have the Ponte Galeria CIE monitored, and was present on 28 March at the Lazio regional council offices to support a specific motion.
«I’ve been living in Italy for 22 years. Most of my life I’ve lived here. Lots of things have happened to me and I’ve done many things wrong, but I paid for everything. One day I was going back home with the shopping when I was stopped by the police: they asked me for my papers and then took me straight to Ponte Galeria, to that place you call a CIE. I woke up in the morning, it was cold, it was December and I found myself with thirteen men who had their lips sewn up in protest. Something like that leaves a mark, you don’t shake it off very easily. You realise that you are in a kind of concentration camp, a camp that exists because every life has a price. What do they give those who are inside? I think it’s 41 euros. Our lives are worth 41 euros. What is 41 euros, is it its value on the Stock Exchange, the size of a pair of shoes, calculated according to our weight, the space we occupy? I don’t know. Tell me why I can’t find the words to understand it. A price for our suffering. You’ve been inside, you saw first hand the product that is given a price. As for me, nothing surprises me, I feel as though I’m living in the Forties after hearing what they tell me and after what I’ve read. I can feel an icy wind from the right blowing strong and from all directions”.
“I don’t know what to say. The world is beautiful outside, as long as you don’t trample over the rights of the people next to you. I feel like a kind of fish out of water. I haven’t got a country any longer, I’m neither here nor there, where is my home in your opinion? And how can I forget those scenes, those screams… I was open-mouthed. These things I knew happened 70 years ago. And I think of History. It’s supposed to go down in books and be remembered, you have to give a knock and show the world you are there. Today I was at the Underground station of Rebibbia, near the prison, there were fine posters of people going over a wall and the words “All free”. Sure, I agree. And yet I hear so much rubbish being said, I hear people say that slavery has been abolished: I think great people like Abraham Lincoln would turn in their graves. How many centuries more do we have to wait before we don’t have to put a price on a human life? God creates a person and that person is bought and sold, is quoted on the market. Who could have imagined that we would end up like this?”
“It’s my lucky day today. I’m sitting in the chair of the President of the Region, I’ve met a lot of good people, what you are doing gives a sense to my life and yours. Otherwise we are all useless, we end up in a mean, miserable world. It’s thanks to people like you that I manage to sleep at night. You people are replacing Fanon. Do you know what he used to say? He said that in the world there are those who are for and those who are against, and the main cause is called racism. Maybe these are not fascist times yet but we have to be careful. We have to realise that diversity is a resource and we must be able to take advantage of it and listen, not brand it. Distrust is the mother of all the mistakes in the world. Sorry if I’m saying everything all confused, but this way I can say everything that I have inside me. I have escaped so many times in order to live, Ponte Galeria, Trapani, Regina Coeli and then Trapani again, I walked along a railway track for 80 miles in order to get as far away as possible from here. Then they caught me in Rome and that’s when I went off my head”.
“The time would never pass and I had to keep my head busy and so I began to count. The cage we were in had 206 bars, if you walked round the cage the lights made you go crazy, at night you couldn’t make out any colours, everything looked grey. And I went on counting: the length of the cage is 18 steps and a half, the corridor is 128 steps. Isn’t that enough for you? At night I hoped that they would turn off the lights so that I could see the stars, I can read them, I tried to make out The Great Bear and Orsa Minor instead of looking at the surveillance cameras that were everywhere. They tell me that a CIE is not a prison and they called us guests. But I was just a bloody number that they used to call me with every day. Is that what guests are? Why didn’t they just tattoo the number on me instead of talking about values that exist only on paper and that have nothing to do with us. I couldn’t believe it – there I was calmly walking along the street and I find myself in an open-air madhouse”.
“I also owe a lot to journalists, and some of them are here present. I heard that in 2011 the Minister of the Interior had issued a circular to stop you from entering: how come? Didn’t they want you to see what I had lived through? What all the others have lived through? Usually if a civil servant makes such a big mistake you go and check if he has made any other mistakes. Did that happen with this Minister? I don’t think so, because otherwise you could have adjusted the laws, changed them, filled them with values. But we are only objects, goods for business, and in between there is the economy which in my opinion is corrupt. It seems as if in Italy too many people are happy just to leave things as they are, but we are still in time to stop things getting worse, we can prevent further tragedies. Find a solution, you find it, let’s find it together, it’s not my fault that I am a Tunisian and that I was born on the wrong side of the Mediterranean.
It’s obvious that CIEs, these detention centres, don’t work, the doctor who spoke before me was right (Alberto Barbieri, of Medu ed.), he spoke of injustice and waste of money, of an institution that is useless. If others don’t understand that or don’t accept it, that’s not right. We’ll just go on producing more suffering for everybody, for those who are inside, for the relatives of those who are inside – many have wives and children in Italy – for all those who are afraid of being caught and locked up without having done anything wrong.”
“Life for people like me is a continuous Russian roulette that we can’t escape from. Let us lead a normal life, work, let us give you a hand to make this country grow. One day you’ll thank us. But today, let me say this as a last thing: you’ve given me hope. If you keep the Centre continually monitored you’ll be able to help lots of people inside Ponte Galeria and you’ll discover many things that are not right. You’ll discover for example, and it might seem unimportant but inside there is no psychiatrist, while people are going crazy. There’s one in a prison, at times also in army barracks, but why isn’t there one in a place where so many people are so distressed?”
Today Lassad has left the Ponte Galeria CIE thanks to a suspension and he hopes to go back to being a free man. His precious testimony in favour of the motion presented by the regional councillor Marta Bonafoni has been published by the Corriere delle migrazioni.