Migrants at the PalaCus Arcidiacono centre in Catania. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/ANSA/ORIETTA SCARDINO
Migrants at the PalaCus Arcidiacono centre in Catania. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/ANSA/ORIETTA SCARDINO

An investigation by prosecutors in Catania and Gela in Sicily found spoiled food and beds infested with fleas in migrant reception centers, as well as the extortion of a migrant in exchange for a job. The investigation brought 12 arrests.

Italian police arrested 12 people following investigations by prosecutors in Catania and Gela into migrant reception centers hosting unaccompanied minors. The centers served spoiled food, including rice with worms and insects, and some of the girls living there had complained of "smelly chicken". 

In addition, there were fleas in the beds, insufficient clothing, heating turned off during the winter, and the extortion of a migrant in exchange for a job. Of those arrested, two are in jail and 10 are on house arrest. 

Those investigated included presidents and partners in cooperatives managing the reception of unaccompanied minor migrants, with business totaling more than 20 million euros, as well as two workers from the Italian social security agency INPS. Police seized companies and cooperatives worth three million euros. 

Irregularities, corruption, extortion 

The investigations revealed a system involving companies that saved on management expenses in order to "accumulate and maximize economic profits that were then reinvested in other lucrative entrepreneurial activities." The irregularities were either ignored or went unsanctioned thanks to the help of the INPS employees, who in exchange allegedly received higher revenue for family members who worked for the cooperatives and for the hiring of their wives. 

Police also cited the extortion of an underage migrant, who was asked to pay 400 euros in exchange for an employment contract with a cooperative that said it would obtain a stay permit for him. Arranged marriages for stay permits Investigators said the organization, led by Pietro Marino Biondi and Gemma Iapichello, had created an actual "system" that allowed for "a commingling between the controllers and the controlled, from which the corrupt system drew considerable advantages."

Arranged marriages, trafficking

Finance police in Mazara del Vallo discovered arranged marriages between Tunisian migrants and Italian women in an operation titled "Paraninfo." In that probe, 11 people - four Italian women, a Tunisian woman, and six Tunisian men, four of whom had previous arrests - were charged with facilitating illegal immigration. 

Police discovered the migrants had paid 5,000 euros each to contract marriage in order to obtain stay permits. In addition, the migrants had agreed to keep and resell contraband cigarettes imported from their country of origin. Some of them had allegedly been traffickers on boats used in migrant journeys. 

The Italian women received 1,000 euros each to contract the false marriages in the presence of witnesses in the cities of Castelvetrano, Campobello di Mazara and Ribera. They had been recruited by a couple - a Tunisian man and a Sicilian woman - from Campobello di Mazara. 

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