A diary of life in Lampedusa
On 7 October 2005,the weekly magazine L'Espresso published a report by Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti, in which he wrote about the time that he spent in Lampedusa "reception centre" after jumping into the sea and pretending to be an 'illegal' Kurdish immigrant from northern Iraq named Bilal Ibrahim el Habib in order to be detained. In 2000, Gatti had managed to enter the via Corelli detention centre in Milan by pretending to be an 'illegal' Romanian migrant, and had written a report for the Corriere della Sera about his experience. He was found guilty of "providing a false declaration of identity" to police officers, and was handed a suspended 20-day prison sentence.
Gatti's account of the week (from 23 to 30 September 2005) that he spent inside the centre, from when passers-by rescued him from the sea until he was taken to the mainland and released with an expulsion order, is written in the form of a diary. This allows him to detail the problems that migrants face during their stay, as well as allowing him to draw a distinction between the rounds of duty during which reasonable, and even helpful, officers were in charge, and others when officers (identified as a group of carabinieri) who slapped, hit, made fun of and insulted detainees, as well as making them sit on a floor that was wet with liquids trickling out from the toilets while they waited for lunch, were in charge. Interesting details of the living conditions and extreme overcrowding (the account of the toilets is particularly unsavoury, and the experience of using them was "unforgettable", according to the author), the identification process (during which scans of his fingers and palms were taken, and the name of his alter-ego from 2000, Roman Ladu, appeared after they were processed) and concerning some of the rights that migrants are supposed to enjoy (in Bilal's case, he is provided with an interpreter, he is denied a phonecard to call his relatives, and some of the detainees are released without being given back their money), are included.
At the end of the piece the author also notes that the some assurances given to EU bodies by the interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, namely that that a hearing before a 'giudice di pace'* was held to validate the detention of every person detained in Lampedusa. "In the cases of Bilal Ibrahim el Habib and the other foreigners detained between 24 and 30 September 2005 in the cage of centre for migrants on the island", ne notes, "this claim is false".
*Honorary "judges of the peace", a figure established in 1995 with competencies for some civil cases and, since 2002 for minor criminal offences against people, such as bodily harm or failure to provide assistance; reputation, such as defamation; or property, such as damaging or entering someone else's property. They were given competence to validate expulsion in September 2004.
1. Full-text of the report (link, L'Espresso, in Italian):
2. Previous Statewatch coverage and background material: Italy: Journalist who revealed abuses against migrants sentenced (May 2004)
3. Gatti's article from 2000, after getting himself detained in a detention centre, 'Io clandestino rinchiuso per un giorno nel centro di via Corelli', Corriere della Sera, 19 January 2000; available at: http://www.meltingpot.org/articolo2750.html
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