02 January 2017
There's a charter plane to fill and interviews with Nigerian authorities have already been agreed
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A telegram sent by Giovanni Pinto, the director of the Italian interior ministry's public security department's central directorate for immigration and border police on 26 January 2017 to all the questure [police headquarters] in Italy concerning the scheduling of a deportation flight and interviews with Nigerian authorities, explicitly instructs police services to target Nigerians. Its contents are troubling although they fall within the measures announced by the chief of police and the interior minister since December 2016, which called for new detention centres to be opened, for an intensification of activities to track down irregular migrants and to increase the number of deportations.
Under the headings "interviews and Nigeria charter" and "activities to counter irregular immigration", the telegram explains that the instructions it contains are:
"for the purpose of proceeding, in agreement with the Federal Republic of Nigeria's embassy, to conduct interviews for identification purposes with people claiming to be Nigerian citizens found in an irregular position in the national territory for their subsequent repatriation."
It continues by informing its recipients that 95 places in detention centres (CIEs, Centri d'Identificazione ed Espulsione) have been reserved for Nigerian nationals and that the competent police headquarters are responsible for making them available. 50 places for women are being freed up in Rome and 45 for men will be distributed between Turin (25) Brindisi (10) and Caltanissetta (10), from 26 January to 18 February 2017. These places must be made available "without exceptions", even if this means releasing other occupants ahead of schedule. The brief note continues with instructions to ensure that the places made available are effectively used. Consequently, the different police headquarters "are invited to carry out targeted services for the purpose of tracking down Nigerian citizens in an irregular situation in the national territory."
Since the end of 2016 and the change in the government which followed the referendum on 4 December 2016, Paolo Gentiloni, the previous foreign affairs minister who had been busy striking deals with African countries in order to enact fast-track returns and cooperate in the fight against irregular migration, became prime minister. In compliance with repeated requests from the Commission within the context of the European Agenda on Migration and the roll-out of the hotspot approach since the summer of 2015, police authorities and the new interior minister, Marco Minniti, announced the opening of new detention centres and an intensification in activities to track down "irregular" migrants to increasing the number of expulsions.
A circular from the police chief Gabrielli on 30 December 2016 explained that such measures were needed to counter exploitation and contamination of the economy and a heightened need to keep the territory under control due to increasing security threats and "a growing migratory pressure". As justification for its claim that "it appears necessary to give maximum impulse to the activity to track down third country nationals in an irregular situation, particularly through a specific activity of control by the different police forces", it confirmed these measures were also connected to the Commission's instructions regarding the EU's returns policy. It went on to state that:
"After all, the returns policy for foreigners in an irregular situation also represents a priority within the European Union context and is found, in particular, in the obligatory provisions of constitutive treaties (arts. 77-80 of the TFEU), as well as in numerous acts of political and strategic guidance including the recent recommendations termed "European agendas" in the field of security and on migration (adopted in Strasbourg and Brussels on 28 April and 13 May 2015)."
The logical endpoint of the hotspot approach
At a time when the EU has opposed what it views as discriminatory actions by the new US president linked to immigration and security measures adopted, it is worth noting that this telegram cannot be portrayed as an aberration, but rather, it fits squarely within the model adopted by the Commission since 2015 for the purpose of restoring credibility to the EU's returns policy. After ensuring that every person who arrives is fingerprinted and seeking to prevent secondary movements through measures including the reintroduction of controls at internal borders, the only logical consequence was that of filling two frontline member states with people who are hurriedly illegalised, initially excluded from asylum procedures and issued orders to leave.
The following step, which was evident from the institutional documentation produced, would be to undertake large-scale activities to target migrants with a view to "apprehending them" for the purpose of enacting "returns". Several commentators have highlighted that this appears to be opening a season for hunting people and it starts with Nigerians, 95 of whom have places reserved in detention centres, while arrangements have been made with Nigerian authorities to interview them and a deportation flight is approaching.
Filippo Miraglia, vice president of the association ARCI, highlighted the illegality and discriminatory nature of this initiative, telling Repubblica newspaper that it is "a collective expulsion, forbidden by law, enacted on the basis of nationality, and hence discriminatory, regardless of the individual people's situations". In an interview with Radio Radicale, he explained that people do not have "irregular Nigerian" written on their forehead, so there are strong concerns over how police services will implement these instructions in practice. There is also the problem of Nigerians who may be in a position to claim asylum as a result of people trafficking, particularly affecting women, and of Boko Haram's violence, both of which are factors in their home country.
Lawyer Giorgio Bisagna of the Adduma association of lawyers working for migrants rights, told press agency AdnKronos that "the first thing which is disconcerting is the order to track down people on the basis of their ethnic origin". He also expressed concern over the intention to enact a "collective expulsion of irregulars", adding that "Apart from the evident discrimination, beyond any available justification for an operative practice, we cannot disregard the basic principles of the rule of law" and that "you cannot carry out a sort of round-up [operation]".
Sources and media coverage - the telegram can be viewed in the links provided:
"In Italia è caccia ai nigeriani? L'ordine che viene dal Ministero dell'Interno", Alfonso Di Vito 1.2.17
Baobab Experience Facebook page, 1.2.17
Immigrazione, la stretta sugli irregolari parte dai nigeriani, V. Polchi, 1.2.17
Interview with Filippo Miraglia, Radio Radicale, A. Billau, 1.2.17
Migranti, denuncia avvocati diritti umani: "Da Viminale rastrellamento nigeriani", 2.2.17
Polizia a caccia di nigeriani, l'ordine del Viminale, 1.2.17
Translated text of the chief of police's circular of 30 december 2016, and of its critique by ASGI
Italy: New CIEs and the repatriation of foreigners: ASGI statement on the Chief of Police's circular, 4.1.17 and The text of the chief of police's circular of 30.12.16.
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