Italy: Release from immigration detention during the pandemic shaped by "gendered and racialised notions" of vulnerability and danger

A report by an international group of academics finds that although the Italian government took steps to release people from immigration detention due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the reduction "has been governed by selective logics of social control. Logics which have ultimately established a sort of ‘hierarchy of detention deservingness.’" This logic is centred on "gendered and racialised notions of 'vulnerability' and 'dangerousness'," with women and asylum-seekers released first, with other groups - homeless people, those with criminal records - continuing to be held and even being placed in detention during the pandemic.

‘No one is looking at us anymore’: Migrant Detention and Covid-19 in Italy (Border Criminologies, link):

"In line with previous findings by Francesca Esposito, which demonstrate how gendered and racialised notions of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘dangerousness’ shape the continuous (re)drawing of the line between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ subjects in detention, women and asylum seekers were the first to be released (this trend was common to other countries too; see here at 11 May, here, and here). In other words, these were the first groups deemed ‘worthy of compassion.’ Unsurprisingly, on the other hand, homeless people – many of whom also face mental health challenges – and foreign nationals with criminal records are the ones who continued to enter and populate detention facilities during this period. This evidence highlights the role of constructions of ‘social marginality’ and ‘dangerousness’ as main forces behind the selective enforcement of detention during the period of our analysis.

It is also interesting to note how these constructions, which predated the pandemic as demonstrated by the work of Giuseppe Campesi and Giulia Fabini, were further modified by the hygienic-sanitary logic of bordering at stake in this period. As a result, it is the numerous migrant people without a ‘home to stay in’, and left in greater vulnerability due to the closure of the already limited health and social services available to them, that have become a prime target of police control and the racialised politics of containment (see, for instance, the case of Turin’s detention centre). Notably, most of these cases were assessed by Justices of the Peace who, even in the context of this global health emergency, have confirmed their tendency to validate and extend detention measures ordered by the Public security authority - in contrast to the guidelines usually adopted by the specialised sections of the Courts (on this topic see also here)."


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