[en] Immigrants detention centers in Italy

For a wider view on the italian immigration policies we suggest to read: Italian policies on migration.

History of the CIE

The acronym “CIE” in Italian stands for “Centro di identificazione ed espulsione” (Center for Identification and Deportation). These centers were first established in 1998 following the approval by the centre-left government of the anti-immigration law known as “Turco-Napolitano”, from the name of the promoters. These centres, initially known as “Centri di permanenza temporanea” (Temporary Detention Centers), serve to detain “illegal” immigrants (i.e., those without papers) while the police identify them. The “Turco-Napolitano” law turned the “reception camps” into detention facilities. In 2002, a more restrictive law was passed: the so-called Bossi-Fini law. Moreover, in 2011 the same government passed a law that extended detention times to a maximum of 18 months, nine times longer than in the past.

Legal and cultural framework

Recently, even the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has complained about the conditions of refugees and migrants detained in Italy, many of whom are actually asylum seekers. These policies concerning migrants derive mainly from the common European framework in which the free circulation of people inside the European borders is permitted, while at the same time tending to exclude non-European citizens. The definition of “Fortress Europe” is useful in explaining this concept. (“Fortress Europe” is the name of a website which constantly supervises the European and especially the Italian legal system in regard to migrants).
Similar detention practices are widespread across Europe (like Greece, Spain, and France), and the common European legal framework enforces the restriction of migrants’ movements. The EU legal framework also supports integration policies for regular immigrants, and this is where Italy distinguishes itself from many other countries: the country’s recent laws greatly stress criminality and focus much less on rights. The fact of being detained simply for being an immigrant, without any law-breaking, is, in itself, mostly exclusive to the Italian legal code. The situation can become difficult given that Italian law recognizes as Italian only those individuals born to two Italian citizens. If one of the parents is a non-EU citizen, she/he must achieve citizenship while risking detention in a CIE. The risk is even higher for those who have been living in Italy for many years, and whose visa renewal depends on a regular job contract.
In Italy, especially since the 1990s, there has been a growing public discourse on criminalizing migrants, which has been fueled by the mainstream media and even by institutions, not only by right-wing parties, as the “Turco-Napolitano” law demonstrates. The xenophobic and often racist behaviour of some political organizations (Northern League, PDL, and the fascist organizations Casapound and Forza Nuova ), the slaughter at Firenze, and the Torino pogrom are just a few examples.


Security Set 94, approved in 2009, changed the name of CPT into CIE and introduced CDA and CARA.

  • CDAs are reception camps (literally “Center for First Assistance”) where immigrants are taken upon their arrival, identified and where the legitimization of their possible stay is controlled. Here, the authorities decide whether immigrants can remain or if they have to go to a CIE for deportation. All five CDAs are in southern Italy.
  • CARAs are identification centers for “immigrants (without documents) asking for political refugee status”, where the legitimization of their requested refugee status is controlled. There are 8 CDAs, mostly in southern Italy.
  • CIEs are “centers for identification and expulsion”. Every immigrant caught without a residency permit, or not recognized as an asylum seeker, is taken to a CIE, identified and deported to his/her country of origin.

Maps:CIE, CDA and CARA (Semptember 30, 2011 – Source: interno.gov.it)


The greatest criticsm, the core of every critique made by the many NoCIE activists, is the role played by these centers in the larger picture. According to Martelli law an Italian visa can be obtained for work, study, medical care or family reunification. Over 90% of those granted are for family reunion, mainly in connection to those immigrants already working in Italy. These working immigrants, in order to obtain a work visa, must have a regular contract before coming to Italy, thus forcing them to come to Italy illegally and to find a regular job after the fact. Because they must already have regular contracts, immigrants often accept any kind of job and pay and become totally subject to their employers. This system naturally creates a distortion of the job market, as well as exploitation and a rivalry between Italian and foreign workers. Many immigrants do not succeed in finding a regular job and look for irregular ones, even for very short periods. This makes living impossible, prevents integration and creates fear and hatred toward police forces and Italian citizens; one can see this in terrible situation that was created in Rosarno in 2010.
A lack of information both within and outside of CIEs urges many immigrants to destroy their documents, in the hopes of making their deportation more difficult for the local authorities. In turn, the need to identify illegal immigrants without identification documents makes CIEs very crowded. Due to the rough living conditions, violent riots have been carried out by the immigrants in these centers, as was the case in Lampedusa in 2011, not to mention the cases in which individuals engage in self-harm in order to get out of the CIEs. In 2003, the Italian Court of Auditors denounced the unrealistic planning, the poor conditions of the buildings, the low safety and the limited services of the CIEs. In 2004, Doctors Without Borders, a non-profit health organization, described the structures as inadequate and denounced the frequent cases of self-mutilation of the prisoners.
Many immigrants arriving in Italy are asylum seekers; however, the procedures involved are difficult due to the imprisonment of immigrants in the CIEs, where they barely have access to information about their rights, as well as contact with a lawyer or journalist. For this and many other reasons, the Italian immigration norms for political asylum are not in compliance with the UN Convention (according to Amnesty International’s statements of 2006).
In April 2011 Roberto Maroni, ex-Interior Minister from Lega Nord, issued a ministerial circular letter that denies reporters and journalists access to any detention centres. Even regional politicians were prohibited access. After the campaign “LasciateCIEntrare” (Open Access Now), the new Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri revoked the circular letter.
In 2011-12, the different private companies in charge of the administration of the different centers started a competition over operating costs in order to win the public tender done by local governments. In some cases, it reached less than 30 euros a day per person. It is self-evident that the minimal legal and health assistance as well as the everyday necessities will suffer in the name of the profit.
A further criticism is the total absence of information about the detention centers on the official website of the Interior Minister.

Related Articles and Pages

[en] Immigration Policies in Italy
[en] The Revolts of Migrants in Lampedusa and Pozzallo
[en] The struggle of migrant workers in Castelnuovo Scrivia


[en] UNHCR Report: Asylum procedure and reception conditions in Italy.
[en] Fortress europe website
[en] Immigrants detention centers in EU – Openaccessnow.eu
[en] Closed sea – Documentary
[en] Geneva Graduate Institute, “Global Detention Project:Italy”, 2011
[en] Pushback in Italy – invisible-dog.com
[en] “1,000 immigrants break out of detention centre on Italian island of Lampedusa” – Telegraph.co.uk
[it]Inquiry by “Repubblica”
[it] Daily news and analysis about immigrant detention centers: Denti Di Ferro

Photos of CIE (by Gabriele del Grande)
Struggles In Italy – Pinterest Board on Immigration in Italy

17 Responses to [en] Immigrants detention centers in Italy

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  12. hyenazhyenaz says:

    Hi thank you for this great information. We are artists and researchers currently in Sicily and would love to interview you if possible. We are working on a project about migration and have been in palermo doing research.
    Thank you
    Kind regards

    • barrister amos says:

      This’s her number over there;+393773408890, I will need your direct Email address and phone number for more information. This’s one of the gils she newly sponsored by libya road to italy.

  13. barrister amos says:

    Please I want those nigerian sponsorals to be brought to book for they’ve condemd so many Edo state girls future cause of prostitution, there’s a lady there in perugia named Christabell ogbewe who sponsor 30 girls annualy’ presing them to pay the sum of $50,000 each which’s not right and falure to do so’ the parents here in Edo state will be presecuted.

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  15. Jack Garrett says:

    Ciao! This piece is stellar. I hope that more people become aware of what is occuring in Italy’s CIEs. As a student learning about Italian immigration, it is saddening to see the extent to which the current immigration process is systematically against migrants. Besides the non-profit foundations that enrich migrant integration, how can we better these migrants? Is the Italian government actively doing anything to better this process? No one should ever have to experience a CIE and ponder the idea of a self-sustained injury to get out of one.

  16. osazuwa kelly says:

    for those with good and congent reasons should be libertized

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