Mittwoch, 5. Juni 2013

Italy’s Migrant Detention Centers Are Cruel, Rights Groups Say

New York Times Europe - The Identification and Expulsion Center, a detention complex on the outskirts of Rome where illegal immigrants can be held for months before deportation, is not a prison. But the difference seems mostly a question of semantics.
Tall metal fences separate rows of drab low-lying barracks into individual units that are locked down at night, when the concrete courtyards are lit bright as day. There are security cameras. Some guards wear riot gear. Detainees can move around in designated areas during the day, but they are forced to wear slippers, or shoes without laces, so as not harm themselves or others. After a revolt in the men’s section, sharp objects — including pens, pencils and combs — were banned.

The center, in the suburb of Ponte Galeria, is one of 11 in Italy used to hold people — some who have lived in Italy for years — who lack working or residence permits, or whose papers have expired. The authorities say that the centers are essential to better regulate illegal immigration and that they comply with European Union guidelines.

But such centers in Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, are coming in for intensifying criticism from human rights groups and others who say they are inhumane, ineffective and costly. In Italy, critics assert that the centers reflect policies that equate immigration with criminality, overlook the economic benefits that immigrants can bring and fail to take account of the increasingly multicultural nature of society.

“They are places — non-places — that have no interaction with Italian society, which is barely aware of their existence,” said Gabriella Guido, national coordinator of LasciateCIEntrare, one of several associations that have been campaigning to close the centers, which in Italy are known as CIEs. “They are political and cultural wastelands that show up on national radars only when riots break out.”

Violent outbursts have become a defining feature. After a change in Italian law in 2011, those found to be residing illegally in Italy can now be detained as long as 18 months, in compliance with E.U. law, while their status is resolved. Since the change in the law, the authorities acknowledge, riots and attempts at escape have become more common.

When observers from Doctors for Human Rights, an Italian association, tried to visit the center in the southern city of Bari last July, they were denied access to holding areas “because of the tensions inside,” according a report that the group released in May. A revolt in August 2010 partly destroyed the center, which is working at reduced capacity after a class action suit was successfully brought against it.

In all, five centers have undergone major renovations after rioting. A revolt also damaged the center in Turin, where detainees are kept in six closed sectors. When workers from Doctors for Human Rights visited the center in April 2012, a third of the 120 detainees were taking sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs, and the director of the center reported that there were 156 acts of self-harm among detainees in 2011, the group’s report said. Depression is common in all the centers. Suicides are rare, but happen.

“In the 15 years since they were first instituted,” the group said in its report, the centers “have proven to be congenitally unable to guarantee dignity and fundamental human rights.”

What’s more, critics say, the centers have not deterred illegal immigration. The report by Doctors for Human Rights pointed out that only about 50 percent — 4,015 of the 7,944 irregular immigrants detained in 2012 — were actually deported. That was just a tiny fraction of the 440,000 irregular immigrants believed to reside in Italy.

“In Italy, life is not free,” said a 24-year-old Nigerian woman who did not want her name to be used and was detained at the Ponte Galeria center, which can hold a maximum of 360 detainees. “This is supposed to be a camp, not a prison. We are treated like slaves, but I am a human being. I want freedom.”

In a case that made national news in Italy, a 24-year-old Egyptian, known publicly only as Karim, was brought to Ponte Galeria after being stopped in April with an expired residence permit. He has lived in Italy since he was 6 years old, has two brothers legally residing here, and an Italian girlfriend of three years whose toddler from a previous union regards him as her father.