Montag, 23. November 2015

The Right of Asylum becomes a Utopia

In the last few weeks, while the news in the newspapers has focussed on other events, Italy has continued to deny young migrants a future and a hope: those running from the hands of terrorists, from “democratic” bombs, from multinationals, from slavery, from the desert and the sea, are ending up under a bridge or in a doorway.
The hope of which we speak is called international protection, which today seems little more than a utopia – both for those who have been in Italy for some time, and those who have arrived in recent days. In the midst of almost total silence, the Italian government has signed or revived agreements with various African nations (Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Gambia), covered by large sums of money, both to impede departures headed for Europe and to promptly repatriate those who are not stopped by the desert, the traffickers or the sea.

These agreements result from the “road map” ( a document established by the government, in which Italy's intentions and the commitments to Europe in the field of immigration are laid out in black and white, behind the request for conspicuous sums of “necessary” money.

The agreement, for example, with the Nigerian government has imposed a gear change in the possibilities of accessing international protection: for some months, Nigerians who set foot in Italy can be taken directly to the CIE* for a swift meeting with the African ambassador and then through to immediate repatriation.

At the latest disembarkings at Lampedusa, Pozzallo and Trapani (those in which one man lost his life and arrived at the port as a corpse), the Nigerians were transferred directly to the CIE at Pian del Lago, di Ponte Galeria (70 women and 20 men) and at Milo (34 people transferred from Lampedusa who had fruitlessly expressed their desire, on the ferry to Porto Empedocle, to request international protection). Fortunately the Nigerians transferred to the CIE at Trapani managed to formalise their demand, thanks to information received by the workers of the International Organisation for Migration, while in Rome the 90 people at Ponte Galeria were stopped from being deported thanks to the anti-racist groups who acted quickly to block what has unfortunately in recent weeks become normal practice.

And when the ambassadors or consuls do not work, or when the CIE are full up, the police stations are now issuing illegal orders of deferred collective deportation, already in many cases suspended through the Sicilian courts. Many informants coming to us from all over talk about the absence of any information given to migrants on arrival, instead taken as subjects for cards provided by Frontex personnel, in which surname, nationality and date of birth are included, but nothing inquiring as to the motives for their arrival in Italy.

Moreover, we note that tens of migrants given orders for deferred deportation have futilely returned to Sicilian police stations asking for the formalisation of their requests for asylum. Their only luck has been in meeting good lawyers ready to defend them and strive for the recognition of their rights. For example, the thirteen Pakistanis and two Malians who arrived at Agrigento from Lampedusa on 5 November, where the police station gave them notice of deferred deportation, and who on 11 November ended up in Palermo where the door of the Immigration Office was slammed in their faces, refusing to record their desire to ask for international protection, in violation of any legal basis. The only solution, for those who do not find a supporting association (such as those supporting the homeless, who are working overtime on the night shifts now), or a willing lawyer, is the street: yet another humiliation, another deprivation of dignity and the creation of an army of invisibles.

In these hours, hundreds of people from Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan and Senegal are wandering the cities of Italy with a notice of deferred deportation in their pockets, in the hope of finding a police station open to receive their request for protection, despite this being their fundamental human right! The decision of the Italian government has been to decide already at the point of disembarking whether someone is worthy of international protection, on the basis of their nationality and not their personal experience.

Another shameful practice is that put in place by the Sicilian commissions who, with the goodwill of international organisations such as the UNHCR (which is meant to work for the instruction of rights of asylum), in order to reduce the backlog (notinline with their commitments in the “road map”, average waiting times already being 15-18 months) have resorted to interviews which last only from 30 to 40 minutes at most. The result is that interviews are entirely superficial, with pre-written forms, in clear violation of the rights of asylum. In recent weeks, huge numbers of rejections of the request for protection have been recorded (already increased over the past two years) peaking at 60% of processed instances. The rejected, as witnessed by the workers at reception centres, are tired of waiting to fight the Italian bureaucratic monster; and so they disappear discouraged, entering into invisibility and doing a favour to the Prefectures who thus gain a freed-up place in the centres.

All this corruption of the system is creating ill-feeling among refugees and asylum seekers; in centres like the CSPA at Lampedusa, the migrants there have refused for days to give their finger prints and begun a hunger strike. Lampedusa is the first Italian 'Hotspot', a laboratory for Frontex and other European agencies; it is from Lampedusa that the planes go directly to Rome (the CIE at Ponte Galeria) before being repatriated (especially Nigerians); it is at Lampedusa that a tiny boat arrives with 14 people, who are yet again tracked down, recognised as Tunisians and transferred to Palermo, from where they are repatriated with the regular planes bound for Tunisia. Obviously no one is provided any longer with the possibility of requesting asylum.

On top of all this the prefectures continue to delay payments of daily wages to the managers of the reception centres, further complicating the difficult work of the smaller enterprises, thus forcing them to close their doors and opening up space to the sharks of the immigration business, who divide up the migrants of the smaller centres. And so we realise that this system is no longer an Italian one but now bears a European stamp, always shrinking the guarantees and support, and making access to fundamental rights ever harder and frequently impossible.

We continue to oppose ourselves to all this because the respect of fundamental rights is a duty of any state which professes itself to be civilised and democratic, requesting meetings with Sicilian prefectures and police stations, with the goal of asking for an end to illegal practices and to find shared solutions, so that the right of asylum does not become a utopia.

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*CIE – Centro di Identificazione ed Espulsione: Immigration Detention and Deportation Centre

Translation: Richard Braude