What is the Sans-Papiers drop-in?

The Sportello Sans-Papiers, or Sans-Papiers Drop-In, is a non-profit organization that was created to support the needs of migrants, regardless of their legal status, and to inform them of their rights upon entering Europe. It also directs migrants towards other forms of institutional support, such as legal offices, hospitals, and dormitories.

Founded in 2016 in Palermo’s district of Ballarò and based out of ARCI Porco Rosso, a bar and cultural association, the Drop-In is run by a nonhierarchical organization of activists and volunteers, held weekly in an informal and welcoming space. As such, the Drop-In is built on the trust and mutual respect of its members, and on a politics of “doing things together” which prioritizes identifying tools for solving problems over providing direct aid. It is a small project that maintains an open-door policy, relying on the dedication, expertise, and diverse backgrounds of its members. Regular meetings and debates encourage the decisional power of individuals and at the same time contribute to a shared vision of community, actively fighting against the alienation many face on arriving in Italy. Above all, we encourage critical thinking and autonomy, as we believe both are vital to the path towards empowerment and freedom. Although not always possible, the goal of the Drop-In is to ensure that those who rely on its services are supported in such a way as to eventually acquire the ability to support others, thus putting in motion a virtuous circle of support and solidarity. A focal part of our work is encouraging migrant representation and self-organization.

Watch the videos (available in Italian, English, French, Arabic and Mandinka).

The local context

Increasingly draconian migration policies in Italy and across Europe appear to respond more to media scaremongering rather than the facts at hand. One consequence is that people are forced into a life without documents, without the opportunity to request international protection, and thus made into criminals upon entering Europe. Access to legal procedures for international protection is becoming progressively difficult, while at the same time there have been no legal routes into Europe, nor are there any being planned for the future.

Given this historical moment, running a space that organizes activities that support migrants in one of Southern Italy’s biggest, most heterogenous cities, is no small task.

Our location in Ballarò – a neighborhood punctuated by the rhythms of its historical market, inhabited by people of different nationalities, but recently undergoing gentrification – is an important element of our identity, and demands a standpoint that is both compassionate and critical. Thanks to its street-level location in the heart of Ballarò, in recent years the organization has also become an important space for the local area.

Since its inception, the Sans-Papiers Drop-In has worked to become part of a network of other local, national, and international organizations that are committed to the fight against discrimination. To this end, Porco Rosso collaborates with cultural organizations such as Moltivolti and Mediterraneo Antirazzista, and works collectively with the Palermo Anti-Racist Forum and SOS Ballarò. In addition, the Drop-In coordinates with the following organizations and groups: Oxfam Italy, MSF, SOS Mediterranee, Intersos, Save the Children, Borderline Sicilia, and ARCI Nazionale (the refugee hotline). It has also been actively involved in the Refugees Welcome Italia project since its arrival in Italy.

Main activities at the drop-in

Legal, social and health information: The Drop-In’s interpreters and volunteers regularly provide info sessions with migrants, both in individual and group settings. These info sessions concern: timing and procedures for requesting international protection; fingerprinting and the Dublin procedure; forms of protection for unaccompanied foreign minors (MSNA); preparations for Territorial Commission hearings; appeals against denial of international protection, both in civil and appeal courts; de novo requests for protection; appeals to the supreme court; appeals against deportation orders; appeals against hostel evictions; administrative procedures related to the renewal of residence permits; residence and hospitality; criminal cases; suspected boat drivers; deferred rejection (appeal against “7 day papers” and suspension of restriction orders); voluntary repatriation programs; family reunification within Italy, within the EU, and from outside the EU; requests for transfers to local authorities (prefecture and police headquarters); assistance to victims of human trafficking. In addition to this legal information, we discuss the procedures for receiving various kinds of residence permits, renewals, and the administrative and bureaucratic procedures necessary for access to basic services (such as the right to medical care and receiving a temporary health code).

The info sessions are open to all and are aimed in particular at those who are outside of reception centers, as well as those who reside in reception centers, seasonal workers in informal settlements, transients, those with notices of deferred refoulment, and other cases. When we prepare people for territorial commission hearings, we work in close coordination with the CLEDU (Legal Clinic for Human Rights), a drop-in for legal counseling set up at the University of Palermo.

Access to services: To guarantee access to basic services for migrants, the Sans-Papiers Drop-In directs migrants to services with proven efficacy, intermediating where necessary. These services include: CLEDU, Caritas, Centro Astalli, ASP Aid Materno, Ambulatorio di Medicine delle Migrazione, Ospedale Civico, CSM di Via Riolo, SerT di Via Pindemonte, U.O. Pronto Intervento Sociale del Comune di Palermo, Opera Don Calabria, Diaconia Valdese, Sportello di ascolto Akugbe (Donne di Benin City), Le Onde Onlus, Osservatorio Antirazzista Noureddine Adnane, CGIL, CPIA Palermo 1, Itastra, Progetto “Never Alone,” Arci Tavola Tonda, Mediterraneo Antirazzista, and Arte Migrante.

Particular care is given to our most vulnerable visitors, including victims of trafficking; unaccompanied foreign minors who are outside of reception centers; mothers with children outside of reception; mothers with children inside the centers but who are neglected due to the center’s lack of adequate services; migrants with out-patient clinical conditions and those without access to linguistic mediation services.

Monitoring of centers and informal settlements: Many of the Sportello’s first visitors who resided at the Mission of Hope and Charity in Via Decollati (Biagio Conte) fought for the right to reception for months before being finally accepted, in June of 2016, in the various Extraordinary Reception Centers (CAS) across Palermo. Because the Drop-In stayed in contact with many of these initial visitors, we were able to learn of the degrading conditions present within these reception centers. By working with these same visitors, the Drop-In mediators were able to document and report situations of non-compliance with the minimum standards of reception, or deprivation of basic rights.

To date, our monitoring activities also cover informal settlements where seasonal workers occasionally reside during harvest seasons. As well as providing direct, immediate support to individuals, the Drop-In mediators are engaged in continuous advocacy and critical reporting, both publicly and to the relevant authorities.

Cultural mediation: All of the Drop-In’s activities are carried out with the help of linguistic and cultural mediators. Where necessary, the Drop-In also provides linguistic and cultural mediation services to relevant offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, after boat landings, in informal and transitory settlements (such as the Palermo train station), and while monitoring reception centers.

Advocacy and critical reporting: The Drop-In’s activities are guided by its members’ commitment to advocacy and critical reporting in the defense of human rights. While working to provide solutions to the difficulties migrants encounter in their daily lives, the Drop-In also acts as their spokesperson, relating to the public the many episodes of the structural denial of their rights. To this end, the Drop-In mobilizes its networks to raise awareness and solicit a response from the relevant institutional agencies.

How many people come to the drop-in?

From January to June 2018, the Sans-Papiers Drop-In recorded 417 total visits; of these, 197 were first-time visits.

The number of visitors ranged from a minimum of 25 persons registered in the month of August 2017 to a maximum of 120 in the month of September of the same year, a month in which there were significant landings in the port of Palermo and in nearby Trapani.

The below graphs depict the nationality, gender, and age of a sample of 135 visitors of the Drop-In in the first four months of 2018:

a. Nationality of service users
b. Age group of service users
c. Gender of service users

Sustaining our project

The Sans-Papiers Drop-In is supported by a community of volunteers, activists, and friends, and finds its home within an ARCI club that has its own expenses related to the management and maintenance of the space itself (above all, we must pay rent!). We offer free Wi-Fi to all, and organize collections aimed at covering the small but necessary costs accrued by our migrant visitors (such as medicine, food, the cost of bus tickets, and other services).

We have been lucky enough to occasionally receive support for our activities, for short periods of time. In the summer of 2017, the English foundation Help Refugees contributed to our project and assured a reimbursement of expenses for up to three of our mediators. Currently, we are partnered with the European project Come.In (September 2017 - December 2018) which aims to initiate several artistic workshops in the Palermo area. From October 2017, two activists from our Drop-In have been included in the OpenEurope project of Oxfam Italia, while another pair of activists have been guaranteed funding by Otto per Mille, approved by the Waldensian Church for a period of four months (September-December 2018). Despite our involvement in the activities described and the generosity of our friends and the community of people who support us, the work of the Sans-Papiers Drop-In to date remains 90% voluntary. We are therefore beyond grateful for any contribution you may want to make!