International Award International Award Award 2014 - Borderline Sicilia

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The 2014 International Alexander Langer Prize goes to the association “Borderline Sicilia” - Motivations

Jul 4, 2014, the Foundation’s scientific committee

For years now, the South of Italy, and especially Sicily, have been experiencing the emergency (and the inertia) of different worlds. The dramas of Africa, the Middle-East and Asia, with their consequent flows of populations fleeing from conflicts, dictatorships, terrorism, famine, local gangs, to search for a new life. The welcoming system in Italy, still blocked in the logic of emergencies, can only be considered as a failure from a humanitarian point of view, and seriously inefficient in the cost-effectiveness ratio of these interventions.


The obstinacy of the EU seems blind and deaf, as it refuses to modify the Dublin Regulation, according to which refugees are forced to ask for asylum in the country of arrival, and which in the face of emergencies like the civil war in Syria and its subsequent exodus, even hesitates to implement procedures for the recognition of protection permits, such as was done during the crises in Albania, ex-Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Libya.

One of the indispensable and preliminary conditions for any serious intervention is a systematic field survey to build awareness in the public opinion and decision-makers at all levels, about the real conditions of the entire welcoming process in all of its ramifications. There is a crucial need for an analysis of the role played by public institutions and the multitude of Ngos, associations, cooperatives, which represent very diverse realities. Some of them have become bloated, top-down, bureaucratized, where the costs to maintain the structure far outdoes the funds aimed at assisting, and where at times the workers and the users are treated like passive objects, deprived of their voice and their capacity of initiative.

This capacity to monitor, without which the word “transparency” is a void formula and minimally appropriate policies and interventions are not conceivable, is what better defines the activity of Borderline Sicilia and is the main reason which has lead us to give it the 2014 International Alexander Langer Prize.

Borderline Sicilia was founded in 2008 by a small international group of activists (a German scholar in political sciences Judith Gleitze, two young Sicilian lawyers Paola Otaviano and Germana Graceffo, and two German film directors, Roman Herzog and Heike Brunkhorst), as a reaction to one of the numerous tragic events that underline how the “European Fortress” deals with the questions of immigration and the landings on the Mediterranean coastline: in effect, the death by drowning of 17 young Egyptians and Palestinians off the coast of Syracuse, close to Vendicari on the night of 28 October 2007.

Through its blog “siciliamigranti”, which is constantly updated in English and German as well, BS has become a fundamental reference point for all those who need first-hand information on the phenomena of discrimination and racism that affect migrant people on the Sicilian territory.

The capacity to put value and to strengthen the initiatives already present on the territory, enables BS to promote a wide range of initiatives with a surprisingly “light” structure, currently made up of only three persons plus three volunteer collaborators, in a network of relations that BS has formed both with the Italian and European institutions and institutions, as well as with the local realities.

Assisted by university centres and experts, BS has participated in a transnational ethnographical research study on the issue of the “europization” of the right to asylum and immigration in Italy, Cyprus and Spain, a study that, alongside the report on the state of the welcoming structures in Sicily, offers the basis for an open and serious discussion on the controversial relationship between rescuing and militarization, typical of the Frontex and Mare Nostrum operations.

The slogan of BS, “being there where others are not” is not only an indication of the presence of operators on the field, sources of direct and rigorous surveys that represent in of themselves a critical view on the distorted and superficial information of a large part of the media on these issues, but it also expresses the search for a dialogue with all the institutional levels that count, without complexes or subordination, according to a principle by which the rules of cohabitation must be respected, but where the citizens have the right to know them, discuss them and also participate in their reformulation. Alongside field monitoring, the distinctive feature of the work of BS is to facilitate the participation of the Italian civil society in the decision making processes of national and international organizations and institutions.

Looking over the barriers is maybe the feature that Alex Langer would have liked the most, he who moved from the European Parliament and the international debate to the local and grassroots dimension, without any haughtiness toward the former, and without paternalism toward the latter. And it is precisely to the Algerian women seeking refuge that he dedicated his last speech to the European Parliament in June 1995, in the name of a new Euro-Mediterranean brotherhood.

As when BS decided to fight with legal means the attacks of some youth from Palermo against two Tamil boys, stimulating the solidarity of the neighborhood where they lived. As when it did its utmost to identify one by one the 17 young people drowned off the coast of Syracuse, bringing in contact their families with the population of the area. One by one means recognizing the right of the victims to a material and symbolic burial, that signifies belonging to the community of human beings – and giving the families a place for memory.

Today the call to the duty of memory is often ritual. However the "active memory" mentioned by BS aims to promote knowledge, comparison, change, extension of best practices to those who are excluded. With their initiatives, BS permitted young immigrants to escape the fate of "unknown refugee", so common in mass exoduses. Moreover, BS is trying to avoid the ephemeral and impersonal pity typical of the official celebrations. Finally, BS is a bridge between those who suffer and those who can learn to share the pain.

The President of the CSG:  Fabio Levi

  The 10,000 Euro Prize is offered by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio-Südtiroler Sparkasse di Bolzano/Bozen

  The scientific and warranty Committee is made up of the following members:

Fabio Levi (presidente), Bettina Foa (coordinatrice), Anna Bravo, Anna Maria Gentili, Andrea Lollini, Christoph Baker, Francesco Palermo, Gianni Tamino, Grazia Barbiero, Maria Bacchi, Karin Abram, Massimo Luciani, Mao Valpiana, Margit Pieber, Marianella Sclavi, Marijana Grandits, Paolo Bergamaschi, Pinuccia Montanari, Roberto De Bernardis

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