Italy
Ongoing calls for the closure of immigration detention centres
10.04.2014


On 15 February 2014 in Rome there was a large demonstration calling for the closure of the city's Ponte Galeria migrant detention centre and Italy's other identification and expulsion centres (CIEs, centri di identificazione ed espulsione).

The demonstration, called by Rome's movements for housing rights and the city's network of anti-racist associations, was made up of some 5,000 people and marched from Parco Leonardo to the Ponte Galeria CIE, shouting slogans in different languages.

The newspaper Il Manifesto quoted a woman at the demonstration called Cecilia, from the organisation Laboratory Puzzle, saying:

"We demand the immediate blocking of repatriation for everyone and the closure of these facilities that are ethnic prisons & these structures must become a thing of the past in order to create a Europe without barriers, to repeal the Bossi-Fini [law], without returning to the Turco-Napolitano [law], which instituted these places." [1]

Before the demonstration began the atmosphere became tense when police officers seized a truck that was supposed to lead the procession, claiming that a banner mounted on plexiglass on the vehicle was potentially dangerous.

The protest continued without the truck and marched slowly to the CIE, where the tension turned to confrontation as demonstrators threw firecrackers towards police lined up in front of the centres entrance. The police fired teargas canisters, but the protesters continued towards the entrance and launched Chinese lanterns and fireworks into the air, to make their presence known to the detainees.

Specifically, the demonstration called for a halt to the deportation of a group of North African migrants who had sewn their mouths shut and began a hunger strike in recent weeks. However, their deportation was carried out regardless. After arriving in Lampedusa they were taken to the Ponte Galeria CIE, and were then forced onto a flight to take them back to the starting point of their journey.

Growing calls for the closure of detention centres

The demonstration echoed the demands made by a report, Mai piu CIE (CIE never again) published last year by the campaign group LasciateCIEntrare (Let Us In). [2]

This critical report examined the situation within the Italian CIEs, where migrants are forced to live in degrading and inhumane conditions, and called for their immediate closure.

CIEs were introduced in 1998 by the Turco-Napolitano immigration law which set a period of 30 days detention for foreign nationals who do not have a residence permit. The period of detention was later extended to a maximum of 60 days through Law 189/2002, the so-called Bossi-Fini law, and then to 180 days through Law 125/2008). Finally, interior Minister Roberto Maroni extended the maximum length of detention to 18 months in 2011 (DL 89/2011).

In the same year, in response to a circular issued by Maroni in which he prohibited access to CIEs by the media, the LasciateCIEntrare campaign was initiated by the efforts of a group of journalists, lawyers and political activists, alongside the National Press Federation (Federazione Nazionale della Stampa) and the Order of Journalists (lOrdine dei Giornalisti).

The campaign calls for constant monitoring of the situation within CIEs, which are often located in run -down buildings that cannot provide decent living conditions. The Mai piu CIE report contains witness statements, reports and photos that have been collected in CIEs by individuals and organisations hoping to raise public awareness about the centres and those detained within them.

The evidence gathered shows that those whom the authorities call guests within the CIEs face continuous violations of their fundamental rights. Indeed, although those who are detained are classified as guests, their detention resembles imprisonment they are denied their freedom despite not having committed any criminal offence, and are subjected to a coercive regime which prevents them receiving visits or having access to legal advice.

Conditions are unsanitary and there are no planned activities organised for detainees. In many cases they dont know the length of their detention, which is supposed to end when the authorities are able to arrange repatriation to their country of origin, but the continuing problems communicating with national embassies make it very difficult to determine its length. While there have been protests and escape attempts in CIEs, many are forced to use sedatives by the staff or engage in self-harm as an escape from the appalling conditions, sometimes with tragic results.

In light of these considerations, LasciateCIEntrare calls for the immediate closure of all CIEs in Italy. Although the ongoing human rights violations in the centres should warrant their closure, the report also notes their high operating costs (maintenance, surveillance, staff); and their ineffectiveness and inefficiency - less than half of the people detained between 1998 and 2011 were actually repatriated. [4] The report also argues that while EU legislation permits the use of detention only as a last resort, in Italy it has become an ordinary part of the expulsion process, making CIEs both unconstitutional and illegal.

The demonstration in Rome must be viewed within the context of a long-term nationwide mobilisation against detention centres from Italy's southern tip on the island of Lampedusa (see La Carta di Lampedusa) [5] to its north-eastern province of Gorizia, where demonstrations against the Gradisca dIsonzo CIE and institutional recognition of the veracity of criticism voiced by civil society and activist groups resulted in its closure on 6 November 2013.


Further reading


Footnotes

[1] Valerio Renzi, '"Mai piu' Cie": in 5000 a Ponte Galera a Roma', Il Manifesto, 15 February 2014
[2] LasciateCIEntrare, 'Mai piu CIE', 2013 (pdf)
[3] Another report published last year on the situation in Italy's CIEs was 'The CIE Archipelago: Inquiry into the Italian Centres for Identification and Expulsion' (pdf, Medici per I Diritti Umani, May 2013) 
[4] Statistics are available at: 'Mai più Cie foglio di via alla violazione dei diritti umani'
[5] 'A breath of fresh air, the "Lampedusa Charter"', Statewatch News Online, 5 February 2014

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