Guest post by Maurizio Veglio. Maurizio is a clinical faculty member at the International University College (IUC) of Turin and a lawyer – admitted to the Turin bar – specializing in immigration law. Since 2011 he is a lecturer at the Human Rights and Migration Law Clinic (HRMLC). He is author of articles and contributions on the topic of asylum, administrative detention, legal storytelling and cultural translation. In 2014 he co-authored the textbook "Lo straniero e il giudice civile" (Utet). Among his recent works, “Uomini tradotti. Prove di dialogo con richiedenti asilo” (Diritto, immigrazione e cittadinanza), “L'attualità del male. La Libia dei Lager è verità processuale” (Seb27, 2018) and “La malapena. Sulla crisi della giustizia al tempo dei centri di trattenimento degli stranieri” (Seb27, 2020). This is the fifth post of Border Criminologies themed series on 'Detention And Migrant Confinement in Italy at Times of Covid-19' organised by Francesca Esposito and Giulia Fabini.

Turin's pre-removal detention centre
When it appears that a reasonable prospect of removal no longer exists for legal or other considerations or the conditions laid down in paragraph 1 no longer exist, detention ceases to be justified and the person concerned shall be released immediately”.

When the European Parliament drafted art. 15, par. 4, of the Return Directive (Dir. 2008/115/EC), it could hardly have predicted such a “perfect storm” as the one caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The state of health emergency, the scale of border closures, the interruption of almost all land, sea and air routes, as well as the need for social distancing measures, have led to a largely unprecedented situation. Yet the worst global health crisis of the century has not managed to call into question Italy’s administrative detention system, as has happened, instead, in other countries (e.g., Spain).

After the pandemic was officially declared, the number of people detained in Italian pre-removal detention centers was significantly decreased to 178 in May 2020, of whom nearly all were Tunisian nationals. This was the result of a fine-tuned and calculated political decision from the Ministry of Interior, while the judiciary did not contribute to it.

Notwithstanding the practical impossibility to return migrants, almost all requests from the police for validation and extension of detention were granted from honorary judges (Giudici di Pace, Justice of the Peace). This is the ultimate symptom of the failure of the system of safeguards for detained migrants.

As shown by the reports published by Lexilium, the Monitoring Centre on Judicial Control of Migrants Removal established in 2014, honorary judges usually rely on strictly formal and superficial investigations. Detention proceedings are marked by the poor quality of judges' and lawyers' performance on one hand, and the inadequacy of the assessment of the lawfulness of detention on the other; often resulting in decisions lacking legal reasoning or omitting crucial objections raised by the defence. Judicial control thus seems unable to comply with national and ECHR case law, which urges for the thorough examination of a detention file (including the lawfulness of the deportation order entailing detention). Further causes for concern are the high number of decisions showing limited or no legal reasoning at all, often disregarding decisive arguments set forth by the lawyers. This year has been no exception, other than one paradoxical aspect: the lack of any reasonable prospect of return, despite art. 15, par. 4, of the Return Directive (Dir. 2008/115/EC).

Left in detention without an effective remedy, people detained have had to face the added suffering generated by the pandemic. In many centers the right to receive visits was discontinued, exacerbating the feelings of neglect that pervades these places. Yet the Ministry of Interior continued its policy of confiscating detainees’ personal mobile phones, without granting adequate alternatives for communication and internet access. Often detention means socially disappearing, beyond having consequences on detainees’ physical (serious loss of weight, especially) and psychological health.

At the root of this health related emergency lie the conditions set forth in the tender of the Ministry of Interior in 2018, which by decreasing further the budget for detention centers, dismantled services and resources for migrants confined within them. The average daily cost – including staff salaries, food, lavatories, hygiene, cleaning and communication – for each detainee in centres with a capacity below 150 migrants amounts to 32,15 euros. In centres with a capacity above 150 migrants, the average cost further decreases to 24,65 euros. The operating personnel is beyond inadequate: the tender allows only one nurse 24 hours per day and only one doctor 6 hours per day; 24 weekly hours for social care workers and psychologists, 48 weekly hours of linguistic mediation, 16 weekly hours of legal counselling, just four professionals working at day shift and two at night shift.

The coherent and predictable outcome of this policy of humiliation – leaving migrants stranded in a bubble of uncertainty and indifference – is the long list of violent episodes occurring inside centers, mainly self-harming. After receiving news on the resumption of deportation flights to Tunisia (by far the country of origin of most of the people confined in Italy’s detention centers), several Tunisian detainees pushed their resistance to an extreme, seriously injuring themselves, breaking legs and ankles. But the cry of despair falls on deaf ears.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Veglio, M. (2021). The Arab Spring’s Fall in Italy’s Detention Centers. Available at: [date]