Guest post by Yasmine Accardo and Stefano Galieni. Yasmine Accardo is a long-time activist for human rights as a social facilitator and legal adviser. She is the contact person, at the national level, for the LasciateCIEntrare campaign and the Dossier Libia project. She published extensively on migration control policies both in Italian and Spanish. Stefano is the President of Associazione Diritti e Frontiere-ADIF and currently works as a journalist for the newspaper ‘Left’. Stefano is the head of the migration department of the Italian party ‘Rifondazione Comunista’, and has a 30-years experience as an anti-racist activist. He has been engaged in advocacy efforts to end immigration detention in Italy for 21 years. This is the final instalment of the themed week on assessing border control practices in Italy. 

Translation by Marzia D’Amico. Marzia D'Amico (she/her) is a queer-feminist academic and activist. She co-founded the Italian feminist newsletter Ghinea.

In 2011, the Minister of Interior Roberto Maroni, via contested circular n. 1305, had expressly prohibited access to CIEs (the acronym for the Identification and Expulsion Centers until 2017) and other detention sites. After the government changed at the end of 2011, the new Minister of Interior, Annamaria Cancellieri, suspended the effectiveness of circular n. 1305. However, the access to Italian detention centers continued to be discretionary and limited, and recently (the last couple of years) largely denied.  

LasciateCIEntrare is a campaign led by activists, journalists and lawyers in Italy. On the Campaign website we publish reports and complaints about the inhumane living conditions and human rights abuses systematically taking place inside Italian detention sites. However, while our advocacy work unveils human rights violations in sites of migrant confinement, we have also been impacted by the above ban. Our project, #DOSSIERLIBIA, critically informs on and denounce human rights abuses taking place against migrants in Libya, Niger, Tunisia and Morocco, sites of EU’s externalborder control. This project, developed in collaboration with Tunisian, Nigerian, Moroccan and Libyan activists, includesa map of Libyan detention centers where torture is practiced, information about Italian detention centers, the fallacies of the reception system, and migrants’ right to be registered in the civil registration system (iscrizione anagrafica). Finally, LasciateCIEntrare monitors the operation of the Italian asylum system, in collaboration with Italian, French, Swiss and German activists.

ADIF (Associazione Diritti e Frontiere, Rights and Borders Association) is an association created in 2015 with the goal to carry out research, training and awareness-raising on migration-related issues, with a focus on the Central Mediterranean area and particularly on Libya. ADIF looks at illegal policies to combat migration implemented both at Italian and European level and the increasing criminalization of NGOs working in safe and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Over the years, ADIF has organized international conferences such as ‘Peace and rights in the Mediterranean Area’. On our website we also publish thematic posts, court judgments, interviews, and research findings. In March 2019, LasciateCIEntrare and ADIF co-edited a collaborative book ‘Mai Più; La Vergogna Italiana dei Lager per Immigrati’ (Never More. The Italian Shame of the Concentration Camps for Immigrants). This book on immigration detention in Italy – composed of contributions written by activists and advocates – was published by the weekly newspaper Left.

Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre, January 2020. Photo credit: LascieCIEntrare

In Febrary 2020, the Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese reiterated that CPRs (Centri di Permanenza per i Rimpatri, Accommodation Centres for Repatriations, the name currently used for Italian detention centres) must open in every Italian region. She argued that these facilities have nothing to do with the former CIEs where migrants, paradoxically called by staff members and police officers as “guests”, could stay for months and where human rights were systematically violated. The plan to have detention centers in each Italian region has been around for a while: for fifteen years right-wing and left-wing politicians have advanced this idea. The new Interior Minister is actually putting into practice what was already promised. After having reopened the Gradisca D’Isonzo detention centre in the province of Gorizia (16 December 2020) and the detention centre in Macomer (Nuoro), the reopening of the CPR in Milan in Via Corelli is likely to happen in March (see also the guest posts from the Mai Piu Lager – No ai CPR in this series). There is a push to open the Oppido Mamertina detention centre in Calabria. Moreover, the mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, has requested for the Minister to promote the opening of a detention centre in Tuscany, against the wishes of the municipalities and regional councils. Finally, a centre was supposed to reopen in Modena by the end of October.

The alarming situation in operating detention centres is also a concern. The Piano del Lago detention centre in Caltanissetta (Siciliy) is riddled with riots and protests. At the moment, basic services to detainees are not provided, as stated by the member of Parliament Palazzotto, and the need for renovation might see the centre being temporary closed. Palazzo San Gervaso detention centre (near Potenza) is in the similar situation, as the falling facilities are to be expanded.The detention centre in Bari, following a riot carried out by detainees in December 2019, became mostly unusable and detainees were transferred to the detention centre in Gradisca. Finally, the detention centre in Turin was, after the riots in January 2020, declared unfit for use and partly shut down. 

Protest in front of Caltanissetta detention centre, January 18th, 2020.

The Minister of Interior, thus, has made a serious mistake — to put it mildly. While the Minister argues that CPRs are better facilities than the former CIEs, the evidence demonstrates quite the opposite. For instance, the maximum term for detention in CPRs has been increased to 180 days by means of the first Salvini’s Security Decree, compared to the former CIEs in which the lenght of detention was reduced to 90 days in 2014. 

The deprivation of freedom for someone who did not commit any criminal offence is morally unacceptable, independently from their migrant status. Moreover, the increase in the lenght of detention does not corrisponde in an increase in the number of deportations, which remains constantly under 50% of the population of those held in detention sites under immigration powers. The increase of detention inevitably exacerbates desperation and tensions inside the centres: this situation, in turn, leads to a high prevalence of self-harm, suicide attempts, drug use, escapes, protests and riots, followed by interventions by police and military (see here for detailed evidence on what happen in each centre). The low-bid offer system through which the management of Italian detention centres has historically been outsourced to private entities (see tender specifications here) has progressively led to a further reduction of the already deficient healthcare, food, hygiene, and psychological support provided in these sites. The result is that as today, more than in the past, CPRs are a sort of ‘ticking time bombs’. The acts of self-harm have been exponentially increasing and three deaths have occurred in Turin, Caltanissetta, and Gradisca detention centres (investigations are under way for all these cases).

As of February 2020, the Italian government is not accepting the failure of its administrative detention policies. Minimum requests need to be made to the government. These are: 1) to suspend the opening of new CPRs and expantion of the Italian detention industry; 2) to re-interpretate the Italian Immigration Act 40/1998 and the EU Return Directive (Directive 2008/115/EC) and consider the deprivation of liberty of people for migration-related reasons a measure of last resort. We believe that these changes, together with a drastic reduction in the length of confinement, would reduce the risk of further deaths. We believe that, in making detention a measure of last resort a process that would eventually see the end of detention in Italy could be initiated. This would eliminate unnecessary and cruel confinement in what we can describe as ‘ethnic prisons’.

People fighting for human rights in Europe need to acknowledge these tragic statistics, especially the figures concerning deaths in Italian detention centres, and provide support for action at a European and international level. We wonder if it would be possible to file an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against Italy for the inhuman and degrading treatment that our government is inflicting on people seeking sanctuary in our country. In our view there is no other solution but to close down all the CPRs. How long will it take for the Italian and European governments to understand that? How many deaths, self-harm acts, and violations of human rights must be reported before an action will be taken? 

We don’t have answers, but we know that we need to take a stand. Otherwise, we will be complicit in this ongoing history of violence.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Accardo, Y. and Galieni, S. (2020). It is time to stand up against migrant detention. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/02/it-time-stand [date])