African minor refugees have taken to the streets of Catania to protest against what they perceive to be a "dire and disgusting" and "apartheid-like" system at the Regina Elena refugee centre in the Sicilian city.
Teenage asylum-seekers from Gambia, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria have told IBTimes UK of their daily hellish experience of overcrowding, segregation, scarce food and boredom while they endlessly wait for asylum documents from Italian authorities.
Most of them arrived by boat a year ago from Libya after a horrific journey by land and sea, to find themselves stuck in the maze of Italian bureaucracy. The process of asylum requests, which should last just a couple of days, is taking an age for the majority of applicants due to the slowness of the system and the number of applicants.
"Life is boring, disgusting at the centre," Gambia-born Bubakar Sanyang, almost 18 years old, tells IBTimes UK in Piazza Stesicoro, in the centre of Catania, before the start of an anti-racist march along with Italian left-wing organisations. "The aid workers don't listen to our views, they just threaten to deport us back to our country."
"I don't have any friends here, many Italians or Africans would like to enter the centre to play with us but they don't allow them in," Sanyang, who has been living in the Regina Elena for 11 months, said. "The few Italians I know, some of them are friendly, others they look at you and don't touch you because you have black skin."
Refugees are crammed in rooms with up to eight people forced to sleep together. "It's too hot to sleep. Some people get sick because the food is scarce and always the same, and we have to sleep in the same room with them," said Mohammad Jeibou, a teenage migrant from Sierra Leone. "We just want the documents, I'm still waiting after 10 months. I would like to live and work in Italy."
Sanyang recounted that the African community tried to pitch the idea to the camp's workers of getting a SIM card to allow the migrants to call back home or try to get integrated in the Italian community. "The shopkeepers ask for documents, so we asked them to mediate for us. They refused and threatened us," he said.
A few days before the demonstration, workers at the camp held a protest after up to 16 months of no pay.
Vincenzo Di Mauro, an aid worker, told Meridionews that they had no money to even pay for bread and had to send a letter to the municipality of Catania to ask for more funds.
More than 200,000 asylum seekers have successfully reached Europe's southern shores over the past 15 months. Another 5,000 are believed to have died trying, of which 1,700 perished in just the first four months of 2015.
Up to 950 would-be-refugees died in a single incident earlier in April, as their boat crashed into a rescue vessel and capsized off Libya's coast.
In March, the European Union's border agency chief warned up to one million migrants are expected to attempt crossing the Mediterranean from Libya before the end of 2015.