Dienstag, 20. Oktober 2015

Meeting between associations and institutions in Catania on the issue of refoulement

In front of the repeating practice of deferred refoulement that has occurred in several provinces of Sicily since the end of September, the association Borderline Sicilia became the spokesperson for numerous associations from Catania and asked for a meeting with the prefect and the superintendent in order to obtain explanations on what is happening.
Present at the meeting that has been held yesterday were representatives of the associations Borderline Sicilia, Rete Antirazzista Catanese, Centro Astalli,
Arci Catania, Asgi sez. Sicilia, Arci Catania, Catania bene comune, as well as the deputy-prefect responsible for immigration, the responsible of the prefecture for disembarkations, and the chief of the Office for Immigration of the Police.

The dialogue was opened by the interventions of some of the representatives of the associations who illustrated the situation that has developed after pointing out again the illegitimacy of provisions that will be contested in the competent legal courts. After the refoulement of 32 migrants that occurred after the disembarkation of September 30, there are numerous persons on the Catanian territory with no place where to sleep or a place to stay. Some of those 32 have been accommodated in housings made available by volunteering associations; other found no other solution than leaving in search for cities more prone for reception; others have been intercepted by traffickers and sent who knows where.

In the meantime, though, the number of refouled migrants who have joined the homeless of Catania has increased. They arrive from different disembarkation places, particularly from Pozzallo and Lampedusa, and moved to this city hoping to find assistance. Here they were able to receive hot meals, legal assistance, the possibility to have a shower and clean clothes. The unresolved problem remains to find a place where to sleep and the complete uncertainty regarding what will happen with them, where to go, what to wait for and whether to wait will result in something at all.

In this context of confusion and high concern, all these people feel rejected from the Italian state without understanding the reason behind it and they are left in the hands of volunteers who, notwithstanding all their availability, will be able to offer only temporary assistance. This situation is going to have repercussions not only on the life of migrants, but also on the city itself that will experience an actual social emergency considering the increasing number of homeless people; the overcrowding of legal courts due to the many appeals that will be presented because of the refoulements – not only in Catania but also in Ragusa and Siracusa; the increasing work of the Police Station given the numerous asylum requests that will be presented. Hence, while hoping to “get rid” of potential asylum seekers in order to ease the reception system, we actually will be in the opposite situation, which will almost completely burden on Sicily’s cities.

Considering what has been portrayed above, the associations therefore wanted to understand the underlying logic of such practices and their future prospective in relation to the concrete consequences that will occur.
After a brief introduction by the deputy-prefect Gullotti, who mentioned a directive that arrived at the end of September from the Ministry of the Interior, Ms Dr. Scacco of the Office for Immigration explained in more detail the provisions they received. She clarifies that after the European Summit at the end of September the Ministry of the Interior has clearly given new provisions that the Police Offices have to follow. First of all, during disembarkations the criteria to apply is to differentiate between economic migrants and refugees on the basis of nationality.  Syrians, Eritreans and citizens of the Central African Republic are considered political migrants, while all others automatically belong to the category of “economic migrants”.

In order to favour this operation, new modules for the pre-identification of migrants have been distributed as to make more uniform the evaluations that were previously made on the basis of as many modules as the places of disembarkation.  The new module foresees the question “why did you come to Italy?” and the possible answers among which to choose are the following: employment, war, asylum, other. The task of providing legal information should be of associations that have a convention with the ministry (UNHCR, Save the Children, IOM, Red Cross) – the only ones that have been accredited to enter the harbour. Their task should be to give migrants who just disembarked all information relevant to their rights and this should happen while migrants are queuing for their turn in the time span before their pre-identification.
But with regard to Catania we are talking about disembarkations of hundreds of people where the time available is very limited and is just necessary to operations of pre-identification. The chief of the Office for Immigration shows to be aware of the difficult current situation and repeats the provisions from the Ministry of the Interior with respect to refoulement operations that have been put into place. Furthermore, she mentions decisions taken at the European level and the inevitable consequences of these at a national level.

This new general direction is nonetheless inacceptable and some of the lawyers who were present underlined how decisions taken at political level can under no circumstance contrast regulations on international protection, which is an individual right that refers to the personal story of every individual and not to classifications established on the country of origin. Collective refoulements and the list of countries that have a right to request international protection are totally illegitimate procedures.
Moreover, many show strong concerns regarding the work of humanitarian organizations during disembarkations. All migrants who have been refouled say that they did not speak to anybody and that they did not receive any information regarding their right for asylum. Apparently, the time that should be reserved for this information is neither well defined nor long enough and doubts arise on the effectiveness, efficiency, and number of staff available for this important moment. The doubt arises that considering the presence of Frontex-staff there has been constraints on the possibility for organizations to get into contact with migrants before the operations of pre-identification.
It is suggested to render the harbour accessible also to other associations that may bring an additional contribution during the information-time of disembarkation operations. As a conclusion, the deputy-prefect thanked for the volunteering activities recognizing the valuable help that they are giving in this uneasy moment caused by the change that is taking place and which, as such, necessitates monitoring and amendments.

The meeting has definitively represented an opportunity to discuss and have a confrontation with the institutions in a constructive way and this has been widely appreciated, also allowing the clarification of certain points. What is still causing concern, though, is the direction taken by Italy on the basis of European provisions. The risk is a constraint of the right to access international protection with drastic consequences for the lives of extremely vulnerable people, in a moment in which Europe is building new walls and barriers instead of searching for solutions in order to guarantee and strengthen the right to asylum, also in light of the extremely serious humanitarian emergencies that are taking place.

Giulia Freddi
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation: Chiara Guccione