Dirt, cold, lack of shared spaces, mixed accommodations and the deprivation of rights. The first report of the National Guarantor for the Rights of Detained and Semi-Detained Persons on the conditions of the detention centres (CIE*) and of the hotspots paints a harsh picture of the state of the main structures for migrant’s first reception. Out of nine centres inspected between January 2016 and April of this year, five are located in Sicily: the CIE* –meanwhile renamed into permanent centre for repatriation– of Caltanissetta and the hotspots of Lampedusa, Pozzallo, Trapani and Siculiana.
The commission overseen by prof. Mauro Palma has detected a series of critical points common to all CIE*, starting from the hygienic conditions which “in most of the cases are inadequate and in need of urgent interventions of renovation, restructuration and maintenance”. Migrants who arrive in Italy end up waiting to know what will be of their hope to stay in Europe while living in places where goods of basic needs are lacking. “All interventions necessary to raise the standards of living should be urgently undertaken”, it says in the document. Another aspect common to the former centres of detention is the condition of mixed accommodation between the detained persons “without there being any consideration for different juridical situations” between subjects with criminal records, those with irregularities concerning their residence permits or those seeking asylum. Criticised was also the scarce offer in terms of cultural mediation – little spaces for praying and shortage of staff that should guarantee the correct transmission of information to the foreign citizens, as well as the incapacity of constantly keeping track of critical events happening every day in the structures.
Specifically, the inspection of the CIE* in Caltanissetta which took place on January 16 of the last year, has brought to attention the state of decay of one of the accommodations in which migrants live. “The bedrooms with their built-in beds, foam mattresses and bed linen – the commission writes – appear narrow, characterised by a lack of ventilation and natural light. Although the radiator appears to be working, it is rather cold. The spaces for lavatories also appear to be in a critical state due to their intense use”. In the structures of Caltanissetta, migrants receive a kit composed of pyjama, underwear, an overall and some other personal effects including a first supply batch of hygienic products as well as three telephone cards topped up with 5 Euros each, which will be replaced with a new one of the same value every 10 days.
Regarding the hotspots, the Guarantor underlines that although by law persons have the possibility of leaving the structures after going through the photo-identification, this does not happen anywhere, turning the site into a de facto prison. Further criticism is made in relation to the time it takes to complete procedures– far off the expected 48 hours, including cases in which the permanence in the structures even reached one month – and to the difficulties experienced by associations and the press when trying to access the structures. The quality of life in the hotspots, according to the commission, must be seriously reconsidered starting from the awareness that it is necessary to “guarantee the migrants who just arrived essential conditions of personal dignity (provision of a clean change of clothes, socks, blankets to warm up in case of averse weather conditions) and the satisfaction of primary needs such as the possibility of washing and receiving refreshments” before proceeding to the identification.
A summary of the state of decay is given by the double inspection in Lampedusa carried out by the commission a few months ago. “The only communal spaces are canopies made of concrete with benches, also of concrete, where the migrants who just arrived await to be identified and taken their photographs of”, the members of the organisation say. „This happens in every season, whether it is raining or sunny. There are no other shared spaces where people can pass the time, where they can eat (there is no canteen and the food, which is cooked on the spot, is packaged in plates wrapped in cellophane and distributed to the people who eat where they can, on their beds or outside). There is no laundry“, the account continues. “The guests receive detergent to wash their clothes in the (small) sinks of the toilets. There is no courtyard but just the space between the two lines of buildings in which the dormitories and the offices are situated.”
The series of shortcomings also applies to the spaces where they spend the night. “The dormitories are composed of 12-bed rooms, but in some rooms there are bunk beds so they add up to 24 beds, or even, if necessary, to 36 beds if the mattress on the lowest bed is pulled out. The sleeping spaces are large rooms with each bed next to each other without any point of support.” To make them less depressing, women and girls “have put isothermal blankets in the shape of a big ribbon on the walls. “And this “– the commission admits – “is the only colourful spot in the dirty white of the walls and the greyness of the concrete”. Certainly not better are the hygienic services: “The women’s toilets have three showers, three squat toilets and metal sinks”.
Not only are the structures unfit to live in, but also the modalities in which the identification process takes places are criticised. “The Guarantor deems inacceptable the situations in which foreigners, amongst them a group of unaccompanied minors, was waiting in line outside under the rain, barefoot, waiting for the photo-identification”. In yet other cases, there appear to be procedures touching the limits of legality. Regarding the talks with the authorities, the commission reveals: “Migrants found themselves signing a completely blank piece of paper which had not previously been filled out. This means they had no guarantee that what they said had been correctly understood and written down in the way they had meant it.”
CIE - Centro di Identificazione ed Espulsione – detention centre
Translation: Greta Pallaver