Concern over the violation of rights of migrants who were refused entry, expelled, held in detention centres, asylum seekers and foreign workers
A document produced by ASGI (Associazione di Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione) on 12 August 2011 raises several concerns over the treatment of migrants who arrived in Italy as a result of political turmoil in the north African countries of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia since December 2010.
The first part of the six-page document focuses on the denial of the rights of defence, detention outside of the conditions set out in legislation, problems concerning requests submitted before judicial authorities for detention periods to be extended, collective and deferred refoulements. It highlights the existence of significant obstacles to the exercise of the right to defence for migrants who arrived in Lampedusa and Sicily, particularly insofar as asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors are concerned, in spite of the presence of bodies working to provide assistance in the framework of the interior ministry-funded 'Praesidium' project. One problem is the routine detention of those who disembark, sometimes for long periods, without a formal judicial decision or legal basis, both in the Contrada Imbriacola early reception and aid centre on Lampedusa and in other centres in Sicily (Pozzallo, Rosolini, Porto Empedocle, and the Barone barracks on the island of Pantelleria). Similar problems apply to migrants transferred to the temporary CIEs (identification and expulsion centres) set up in Santa Maria Capua Vetere (Caserta), Palazzo San Gervasio (Potenza) and Kinisia (Trapani) in execution of prime ministerial ordinance no. 3935, dated 21 April 2011. The statement notes that the Palazzo San Gervasio centre has been shut because it did not fulfil requirements for this kind of facility, and procedural irregularities like the collective validation of detention measures on 9 June 2011 by a justice of the peace [a lay judge] are taking place, thus eluding the requirement for an assessment of individual circumstances in depriving people of their freedom, especially noteworthy in the case of minors in the detention area.
The statement also raises the matter of justices of the peace's authorisation to extend the detention period in CIEs (there has been tension in detention centres nationwide after the maximum length of detention was raised to 18 months by law no. 129 of 2 August 2011 following an ECJ ruling that deemed the routine imprisonment of "irregulars" after their status was criminalised unlawful), stressing that the right to defence, compliance with deadlines and assessment of individual circumstances should be guaranteed. Furthermore, detention should be used as a last resort and cannot continue if there is no "reasonable prospect" of a foreigner being repatriated and the authorities should also document what steps have been taken to enact a repatriation. An example is provided to highlight malpractice in the case of Tunisians who arrived since February 2011 and are held in Turin's CIE. The police chief's office (questura) requested that their detention period be extended.
It also wrote to the justice of the peace in order to avoid a possible rejection due to the lack of specific details on individual cases and proceedings concerning them to explain that repatriations are being managed by the central directorate for immigration and the border police in association with the public security department of the interior ministry, with assistance from the Tunisian embassy in Rome. Thus, the mere personal details of those held and references to charter flights used for repatriations should be deemed sufficient to extend the detention period for the people concerned, "to allow the central directorate to complete its complex work... and not to thwart good relations with Tunisia". ASGI argues that this constitutes an unusual interference in a justice of the peace's work, all the more so as they are asked to consider "good relations" with another state in reaching a decision; that the extension be motivated by the treatment of Tunisian detainees as a category, rather than basing it on personal circumstances; and, among other concerns, that it enables arbitrariness and allows the public administration to exert pressure on justices of the peace. A further issue noted in the statement and seldom reported, is that Egyptians arriving in Italy are being periodically subjected to collective refoulements in cooperation with the Egyptian consulate. Associations seeking to assist migrants find it difficult (if not impossible) to contact Egyptian nationals, and the presence of consular staff in airports deters them from applying for asylum.
The statement then examines the situation of unaccompanied minors, determination of their age and their access to asylum procedures, noting that times to establish their age are growing longer, and de facto resulting in many minors turning 18 before they are able to submit an asylum application, thus denying them the benefits attached to their condition as minors. It highlights the risk that unaccompanied minors may be detained alongside adults in Lampedusa, while there are delays in informing minor's courts and tutelary judges about them, and they are sometimes transferred into "half-way facilities", without having had the opportunity to apply for international protection, an option that they should be guaranteed.
ASGI argues that refusals of entry often intervene before those who have disembarked have had effective access to asylum procedures in centres including Lampedusa, meaning that they may end up in CIEs (from where attempts will be made to repatriate them) rather than in CARAs (reception centres for asylum seekers). A large CARA was set up in Mineo (Catania) in an interior ministry initiative that was labelled the "Village of Solidarity" in which an estimated 1,800 asylum seekers have been waiting for months, some of them transferred from other facilities. ASGI recalls that it called for its closure on 28 July 2011 after protests and a forceful intervention by the police, and that the work of the territorial commission to assign refugee status may result in claims taking over a year to be resolved in spite of resorting to practices whose "lawfulness" is "questionable" to speed up the process. High rates of denial of protection have resulted in tensions rising, fighting and protests in the CARA in Salina Grande (Trapani), where the situation was previously calm. ASGI warns that delays, rejections and migrants' uncertainty over their future may prime a spiral of violence while, paradoxically, 40,000 people have been reported to Agrigento court for the offence of illegal entry and residence, and this will entail both costs and a greater workload. The only positive development noted by ASGI is the setting up of four new territorial commissions to evaluate protection requests in Mineo, Verona, Milan and Bari, with possible new additions in Trapani, Florence, and perhaps Crotone. The inadequacy of the system for managing asylum seekers leads ASGI to call for the closure of CARAs, especially the largest ones, and to promote a de-centralised system, increasing the number of territorial commissions, in closer coordination with the national system for the protection of asylum seekers, among other measures.
To end, ASGI stresses the "mass" practice of irregular employment in seasonal agricultural work, which largely concerns "irregulars" and asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their procedure, particularly in the south (Apulia, Campania, Calabria and Sicily). Over one year on from disorders in Rosarno that led to the evacuation of the black African workforce in January 2010, it appears that inspections by the employment ministry are unable to control seasonal employment in agriculture, favouring exploitation. In this context, ASGI laments Italy's failure to transpose the European Parliament and European Council Directive 2009/52/EC of 18 June 2009 on minimum norms concerning sanctions and measures to be adopted against employers who employ third-country nationals in an irregular situation.
ASGI, "Documento del 12 agosto 2011. Grave preoccupazione per le ripetute violazioni del diritto nei riguardo degli stranieri respinti, espulsi o trattenuti nei CIE, dei richiedenti asilo e dei lavoratori stranieri" (in Italian)
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