From a clinic on the Italian border
The Golden Trailer Collective is a group of six nurses and mechanics based in Scotland. We found a disused box trailer on the side of the A71 and turned it mobile foot clinic and cinema. In February 2017 we set off across Europe with it to provide foot care, phone charging, a cup of tea and a warm cinema for undocumented migrants or anyone that needs it. Our aim is to bring people together and show practical solidarity with people making difficult journeys. This is our first update from the road in Ventimiglia.
We arrived in Italy after an eventful week on the road. The clinic has been open for two weeks in Ventimiglia. We have been spending each night parked up the mountains and each day in a car park under a motorway bridge.
We open the clinic in the afternoons and have had a steady stream of people presenting with minor cuts and bruises, infected wounds due to living conditions, fungal feet, strains and sprains, headaches and migraines and scabies. Local activists have set us up with contacts of reliable independent medics for anything that may require a highly trained eye. The physical and psychological stress of the journeys that have been undertaken is palpable. We rely heavily on our cracking banter and head massages. Sometimes people just want a hug. Or to sit in silence.
Outside of the trailer, we set up a station where people can charge phones and play music off a sound system. People hang out, chat and dance. Some evenings we operate our cinema and screen films under the bridge.
On the coastal border between Italy and France, Ventimiglia is a bottleneck for people negotiating entry into France undetected. The Red Cross has a presence here, providing food, shelter and medical aid to migrants who have registered their presence in Italy, by providing documents, fingerprints, and agreeing to be photographed. However, those wishing to claim asylum in other countries must remain invisible in Italy, and avoid the camp entirely. Under the Dublin Agreement, refugees are forcibly returned to the first European country in which they have had fingerprints taken.
Defying local opposition, a church provides shelter and basic provisions, without requiring fingerprints, for women and children under 16. Men mostly over the age of 16 sleep rough by the river and bridges. We met a number of boys under 16 sleeping rough. We estimate that there are a few hundred people stuck at the border here, mostly from Sudan, Chad, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Many are helped by local activists who have organized to operate a daily drop off of food and provisions.
Along the autostrada, shiny white tourist busses sail by under the escort of police vans. These are likely ‘de-compression’ busses. At regular intervals police raid the river banks late at night and in the early mornings, and force people onto busses taking them to other parts of Italy, ‘de-compressing’ Ventimiglia.
One year ago, the Mayor of Ventimiglia, still in his tender mid-thirties, re-implemented a staggeringly ludicrous ordinance forbidding the ‘unauthorised’ sharing of food and drink with migrants. This week two volunteers delivering food were arrested under this ordinance. In a minor act of civil disobedience we have even been serving tea and biscuits during the films, smuggling a tea urn past the police.
The police come to visit us daily to check the documents of our crew and warn us not to give any food or drink to the migrants. They then sit in a car, across from where we park and do what we presume is very important police work. One day they asked us not to have more than ten ‘blacks’ outside the clinic at any one time, stating that it was an order. We challenged them on this and in the end they left, asking us to keep the music down a little.