Sun, Nov 23, 2014 - Page 14 News List

Mafia eye ‘immigrant hotels’ reviving Sicily’s economy

Resorts once filled with high-end travelers are being occupied by asylum seekers in a state scheme meant to help the immigrants and ailing tourism, but critics say the mafia is the one really cashing in

By Ella Ide  /  AFP, SALEMI, Italy

“These are people who have been exploited, raped — and not just women. They have come to Italy for a better future, but if you don’t help them they can get agitated and it can end in violence,” he said.

Psychologist Ambra Lumia said mentally ill, traumatized or suicidal asylum seekers needed “specialized care which they often don’t receive” in centers run for profit alone.

Italy has repeatedly been found to lack sufficient guarantees concerning facilities for asylum seekers, with the European Court of Human Rights joining the UN’s refugee agency and the Council of Europe in voicing concerns about the matter this month.

One of the biggest complaints is the lengthy wait to have asylum requests examined and permits granted, a problem Italy blames on a paperwork backlog.

Figures published this week show Rome received 25,401 applications between January and June — nearly as many as it did in the whole of last year.

“I’ve been here for nine months and it’s really tiring — eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping. I owe the Italian people, they rescued me from the sea, I want to work and contribute,” said Lamin Colley, 22, a Villa Mokarta resident.

Giarrusso said the issue is more complicated than red tape alone. He points the finger at a local mafia boss — born in the Trapani region and a fugitive on Italy’s most wanted list — saying he is behind housing centers that “spring up from morning to night.”

“The interest is to open as many as possible and keep the migrants there. The longer they keep them, the more money they bring in,” he said, adding that there were reports of volunteers at some institutions being stalked and threatened if they try to blow the whistle on corruption.

“It’s a business all right. These migrants die in the Strait of Sicily just to bring millions of euros to the mafia,” he said.

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