Italy: MSF denied access to identification centres for asylum seekers

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On 27 May 2004, the Italian branch of the international humanitarian doctors' organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced that its volunteers were denied access to the Identification Centres for asylum seekers in Otranto and Borgo Mezzanone (both in Apulia, southern Italy). The organisation considers this refusal of entry a response to the publication by MSF in January of a critical report on the situation in Italian Centri di Permanenza temporanea (CPTs, detention centres for migrants against whom expulsion orders have been issued) and the Identification Centres for asylum seekers that were established in accordance with the Bossi-Fini reform of the Italian immigration law (see Statewatch news online, February 2004, and Statewatch bulletin vol. 14 no.1).

Following the report, the Italian government allegedly "cut off any communication" with the humanitarian association". MSF is also highly critical of the fact that the denial of access has been motivated using the legislation for CPTs, which should have a different regime and legal basis to Identification Centres, whose purpose "is completely different from the CPTs" as they have been established "to receive and identify foreigners who arrive in Italy escaping wars and persecution, who want to present an asylum application". It considers the assimilation of Identifications to CPTs to be a "worrying precedent". In April, MSF staff were denied entry to the reception centre on the island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily, where they had been providing medical assistance to recently disembarked migrants for over two years. In the press statement that followed MSF's exclusion from access to the centres in Borgo Mezzanone, Giuseppe De Mola, responsible for MSF's activities in southern Italy, stressed that "Until the presentation of the report on CPTs, our requests for access to the centre have always had a positive outcome". Recent efforts to enforce a situation of secrecy over the situation in Italian CPTs have included a ruling on 5 May 2004 that found Corriere della Sera journalist Fabrizio Gatti guilty of making a false declaration of identity to the police in Lodi on 17 January 2000, by passing himself off as a Romanian who was residing illegally in Italy. The offence was motivated by the journalist's intention to enter the CPT in Via Corelli (Milan) to investigate conditions, and the treatment of detained foreigners awaiting expulsion therein (see Statewatch news online, May 2004).

MSF press statement

MSF is denied entry to the identification centre for asylum applicants in Borgo Mezzanone

The police chief considers reception centres equivalent to CPTs (temporary detention centres)

Rome, 27 May 2004 - The Interior ministry, through the Lecce and Foggia (both in the region of Apulia) police headquarters, has refused the volunteers from the international humanitarian association Medici Senza Frontiere (MSF) permission to enter ithe Identification Centres for asylum seekers in Otranto and Borgo Mezzanone.

The refusal comes only a few weeks after the exclusion of the humanitarian association from the Centri di permanenza temporanea (CPT, temporary detention centres for migrants) in Lampedusa, and four months after the presentation of a report in which MSF criticised the deficiencies and violations in the CPTs and Identification Centres for migrants. Since the presentation of the report, the government has cut off all communication with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning association.

Officially, the denial of entry to MSF volunteers into the two Centres is justified on the basis of the provisions in article 21, point 7 of the DPR 394/99 law decree. "This is a very grave fact - explains Loris De Filippi, the head of the MSF mission in Italy - because the legislation that is evoked refers exclusively to CPTs, that is, to the Centres that were established to hold foreigners whose position does not fulfil the legislation on residence in Italy, against whom expulsion orders have been issued. The centres in Otranto and Borgo Mezzanone are not CPTs, but rather Identification Centres. The purpose of the Identification Centres is completely different from the CPTs, and they have been established by the Bossi-Fini law [on immigration] to receive and identify foreigners who arrive in Italy escaping wars and persecution, who want to present an asylum application in our country. The official assimilation of Identification Centres to CPTs is a truly worrying precedent".

Since 1999, MSF volunteers have regularly visited the two Centres in order to monitor the standards of the reception given to asylum seekers and to collect information from the guests concerning situations in their countries of origin, countries in which MSF often manages projects for medical and humanitarian assistance. "Until the presentation of the report on CPTs - explains Giuseppe De Mola, responsible for the MSF activities in southern Italy - our requests for access to the centre have always had a positive outcome. Unfortunately, in the report we presented in January, we had already warned of the risk of Identification Centres being assimilated to CPTs, particularly with regards to the centre in Otranto itself, where asylum seekers, as well as irregular foreigners who await to be notified of an expulsion order issued against them and the order to have them transferred to the nearby "Regina Pacis" CPT, are regularly kept. Denying MSF the authorisation to enter Borgo Mezzanone is even a paradox because the guests of the centre, once they are given their first residence permit for "asylum request", are free to enter or leave the structure, and many local associations have been authorised to enter by the Foggia police headquarters itself.

For these reasons, and considering the absence of a regulation on the implementation of law 189/2002 which would regulate the operation and the nature of the Identification Centre, MSF asks
a) on the basis of what legislation have the Identification Centres in Otranto and Borgo Mezzanone been established;
b) to make public the method of management of the two centres, particularly in reference to the procedure of access by humanitarian organisations (which are otherwise envisaged for the CPTs).

For further information:
Chiara Banella - Ufficio stampa MSF - Italia
Tel +39 06 44869255

(Statewatch translation of MSF press statement, 27.5.2004, which is available in Italian on: )
Full-text of MSF report on conditions in Italy's CPTs, January 2004, in Italian (pdf):
Statewatch on MSF report: Statewatch bulletin vol. 14 no 1
Statewatch News online, February 2004.
Statewatch on Gatti sentence: Statewatch news online, May 2004.
Statewatch on detention centres in Italy: Statewatch bulletin vol. 10 no 1 & vol 14 no 1

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