Original article by Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo published by Il lavoro culturale on 10 October 2013.
After the enormous tragedy in the seas around Lampedusa, some consideration of responsibility for the ‘reception’ system in Italy is in order.
The pictures taken by a RAI correspondent who spent the night at Lampedusa’s Contrada Imbriacola initial reception and emergency centre [here some images, from minute 1.10] have been seen all around the world. The Minister for the Interior, Alfano, and the managers of the centre can no longer say that the centre is only experiencing overcrowding and that the Italian reception system is working.
Officials, using the 1995 Puglia law, have put together a myriad informal (and illegal) detention centres – improvised shelters such as schools and gyms, and also industrial sheds and tents erected in a fish market. For many migrants, it is imperative to get out of Italy without being fingerprinted, in order to enter a country with an asylum procedure that is really able to welcome and integrate them. This year, almost 5,000 Syrians arriving in Sicily fled to countries in Northern Europe to submit an application for asylum and find a decent reception. Many were beaten as they tried to escape or because they refused to be fingerprinted.
And the survivors of the Lampedusa tragedy know this. They are afraid of being transferred to facilities such as the Pozzallo CPSA where there have been serious abuses of migrants, some unaccompanied minors.
Once again, Lampedusa is providing the same poor reception, a reception which has been complained about since 2003 and which is documented by video and reports readily available on the net. This happens again and again, a recurrent emergency as international crises erupt.
Now it’s almost exclusively potential asylum-seekers who arrive – ‘potential’ because really none of them want to apply for asylum and stay in Italy where, as is well known, the procedures can last for years. In fact, in Italy asylum-seekers do not have work or housing and are systematically denied the possibility of integration which other European countries provide. Once again, the Lampedusa initial reception centre illustrates the much larger and deep-rooted problem of the Italian reception system.
It was only in 2008 that the “Lampedusa model” (an integrated system of fast transfers and second reception centres, created by State Regional Prefect Morcone and developed into the Praesidium project, in agreement with the Ministry of the Interior) made it possible to ensure the rapid transit of 30,000 survivors from the island (fewer people than this have arrived this year), with a shorter maximum stay of 72 hours, and then rapid transfer to second reception centres throughout Italy.
Now we see a degrading and disheartening situation affecting the survivors of the most serious shipwreck tragedy that has ever occurred in the Mediterranean. And the representatives of the Praesidium, who live with this situation every day, are no longer able to influence the decisions of the Ministry of the Interior. On the contrary: most do not report what is happening, even with simple communications, as was the case until 30 April this year.
It is journalists and parliamentarians who have been able to uncover the inhuman and degrading treatment suffered by immigrants detained in the initial reception centres (Centri di Prima Accoglienza, CPA). In fact, in Lampedusa’s CPA, no-one is allowed inside, not even the Mayor of Lampedusa. It is often used as a “closed centre”, even though it’s a building you can easily go in and out of, despite continual repair of the barbed wire fence surrounding it. Outside, it looks like a big cage at the bottom of a ditch; inside, there are not enough beds. Women and children often have to share sleeping areas with men. [The lack of beds means that many people also sleep outside.]
This is a situation we have complained about for years and which many have ignored until Lampedusa attracted the mainstream media’s spotlight. This time, with so many dead, no-one could ignore what was happening and had also to consider the unacceptable conditions in which those rescued are being held. The criminal investigations to which the “survivors” were subjected show all too clearly the immigration law’s unnecessary harassment, that is, the Bossi-Fini law and the complementary 2009 Maroni decree which introduced the crime of illegal immigration.
The Contrada Imbriacola initial reception and aid centre should be emptied and renovated – there are still signs of the fire that destroyed part of it in 2011. As a matter of urgency, the refugees should be transferred to proper shelters or to requisitioned hotels, helped by professionals such as counsellors, lawyers, psychologists and doctors. They should not be deported to the Pozzallo reception centre (CPSA) which, when it is overcrowded as it is now, has similar conditions to those of Lampedusa. And they should certainly not be deported to the Mineo mega-reception centre (CARA) where 3,000 people are sinking in a place beyond time and history. Other centres with the appropriate expertise to provide a properly decentralised reception are needed. This takes money and professionalism. This subject, which is not only and always part of public order, has to be removed from the sphere of State regional prefects and prosecutors.
The recurring and clearly unacceptable conditions of the Italian reception centres (CPSA) in Sicily (Pozzallo and Lampedusa) are outlined in a report coordinated by ASGI “The right to protection”.
They will be able to clean up and clear the Contrada Imbriacola centre ahead of Mr Barroso’s visit to Lampedusa with Deputy Prime Minister Alfano (9 October) but they will not be able to hide the shame for which they are responsible.