Hotspot Confinement and the Mirage of Redistribution
In continuing to carry out our recent weeks of monitoring, we returned to Pozzallo and Messina to meet with some of the individuals staying in these two hotspots.
As a more coherent translation of the “Malta agreements” into a concrete instrument is in the works, the situation for asylum seekers – one of an indefinite waiting period – remains unchanged.
Indeed, with the violence endured prior to the sea voyage, the weeks spent at the mercy of the European states’ bureaucratic decisions, and the current closed-port policy, are added months of waiting and a lack of information with regard to their own destiny and legal situation.
As has already been highlighted multiple times, the redistribution procedures we have witnessed in the last few months are not subject to any legal regulations limiting the actual schedule of the process. They are based solely on the sovereignty clause of Article 17 of the Dublin Regulation, which dictates that a member state may receive certain asylum seekers, notwithstanding the criteria with which the Regulation attributes competence.
In fact, it is an entirely informal agreement between member states, which determines on the one hand the arbitrariness of redistribution, and on the other an indefinitely long period of stay on the part of asylum seekers in the so-called hotspot.
At the moment, the redistribution practices seem to consist of the following: they begin with interviews with the EASO* operators and agents of the Italian police, in order to fill out the information form and the C3 module in order to formalize the request for international protections.
From what we’ve been told, there are no copies provided of the documents signed by asylum seekers, who are only informed that they will be handed a document of identification at some later point. What’s more, these nominative certificates, which verify their status as asylum seekers, are given to those staying at the centers at inconsistent intervals and only after weeks of waiting, if not months.
The meeting of delegations from the countries of redistribution is held immediately upon the formalization of the C3 module; many have said the proceedings recall that of an interrogation, rather than an attempt to gather stories from the candidates for asylum. Many of them perceive in the interviews real “tests” they must pass. Only the delegations of certain countries provide a document attesting to the completion of the interview.
individuals from the hotspot in Pozzallo to some extraordinary reception centers (CAS)* in the province of Ragusa, despite the fact that these individuals have been in contact with delegations from different countries, and have been informed of their status as they await transfer to the destination country. What’s more, this practice is only discretionary and often a source of further confusion among asylum seekers who have no explanation for the various paths this process may take.
Some of the candidates still in Italy tell us that people undergoing transfer to other countries, such as France, would by this point have obtained recognition of international protections without having to restart the asylum procedure in the destination country. If this were the case, there would be an upstream selection of candidates to be admitted to a given state, based on certain criteria, which could range from nationality to age or other subjective qualifications. Or it might be based on the pre-evaluation determining the presence of the requirements for recognition of international protections. If this last hypothesis is true, what will be the fate of those who don’t seem to fall within the strict definitions for international protection, even in light of the repeal of humanitarian protection following the forced passage of the security decree?
The Sea Watch case and the practices of confinement
Given the informality of the redistribution accords and practices, not all of the delegations follow the model outlined above.
Emblematic of this is the case of the rescue of those aboard the boat Sea Watch III, involved in the redistribution process, late last June. While the majority of the 53 people saved from the German ship were already placed in their destination countries, the fate of 18 migrants kept in Italy is left unresolved. For almost four months now they have been waiting in vain in the CPA* of Messina to know whether they will be transferred as requested to Germany, which not only has yet to officially declare how many and which people it will take, but has not even provided the asylum seekers with a document attesting to their interview.
In the course of the four months spent waiting in Italy, these individuals have received no information about their alleged redistribution in Germany. Once again the lack of procedural rules generates conditions of uncertainty, suspension of rights, and discrimination. From what we are told, the redistribution also affects eligibility for medical care, which is not provided with the justification that it ought to be paid for by the destination countries.
For these 18 individuals, their retention in Messina has become a confinement in limbo where they have no access to basic services and their rights are systematically trampled. Redistribution, for many, is no more than a distant mirage.
The precariousness of the former Bisconte barracks
The structure of Messina is, as we know, divided into two zones, one used for CPA and one for CAS. Although they are two separate structures with two different managing bodies (specifically, Medihospes for CAS and Badia Grande for CPA), in fact both centers perform hotspot functions. Indeed, the assignment and transference of asylum seekers from one zone to another is arbitrary.
From conversations with people we met outside the center, it appears that between CPA and CAS there are about 300 individuals currently present.
The points of criticism are many. The most grave is perhaps the absence of adequate medical care; this is practically nonexistent. From several voices it emerges how the guests, some of them present since last July, are not granted adequate medical screening, yet are distributed painkillers (however insufficient in quantity) to remedy any malaise.
Some guests also reported that in order to access medical care, it is not enough to ask: they must protest vociferously with the managing bodies, “make themselves heard”, “make noise”, so we are told.
Another criticism is the lack of adequate personnel for linguistic mediation. We are told that the staff is Italian and that they do not fluently speak or understand English or French.
Pocket money received is insufficient to meet the needs of the guests (the boys we spoke with said they received around 15 euros a month).
Others report the lack of personal hygiene products; we are told that just one bar of soap is distributed at the moment of entry, which is meant to last the entirety of their stay.
The lack of services in both zones of the Messina structure is made more intolerable by the slow pace of transfers and by the lack of any kind of information about the progress of relocation procedures.
The questions we are asked by those we encounter demonstrate the clear lack of accurate information about the procedures for formalizing requests for international protection; they ask why they have not received a copy of the documents they’ve signed and why they’ve been subjected to fingerprinting.
Added to this is the absence of any type of recreational activity. Even very young children we spoke with lamented this state of affairs, which renders the days an interminable succession of hours spent waiting without any idea of how their situation will evolve, or how much time it will take.
The unbearable situation described has, as one outcome, the voluntary removal of some of the guests, who will attempt to reach the border with other European countries, perhaps relying on human traffickers. Many of these individuals will not be able to leave Italy, risking being trapped in an unprotected status and going to swell the ranks of the army of undocumented workers.
The Pozzallo hotspot
From what was observed through our monitoring, the structure was vacant until a few days ago. All of the people who had been present in the hotspot at the time of our last visit were transferred to make space for 56 new arrivals on October 2nd (seemingly arriving from independent landings on the island). Of these, 14 individuals were unaccompanied minors and two were pregnant women; most were of Tunisian nationality. The speed of these last transfers was not accompanied by any communication to the MEDU operators who had taken them in with regard to the patients’ new destinations, provoking the sudden interruption of psychological treatment that had been initiated, affecting its effectiveness, and impeding their referral to local services.
Dopo circa tre giorni anche le persone arrivate a inizio ottobre sono state trasferite e l’hotspot era stato nuovamente svuotato. Trattandosi per la maggior parte di cittadini tunisini, la loro destinazione più probabile è stata il CPR di Caltanissetta, in coincidenza dei rimpatri settimanali. Per queste persone la possibilità di essere rimpatriate – sulla base degli accordi di riammissione e dato che la Tunisia oggi è considerata oltre che un porto sicuro, anche un paese sicuro secondo la lista stilata con decreto ministeriale del 4 ottobre scorso – vuol dire spesso non avere accesso di fatto alla richiesta di protezione, in violazione del diritto di accesso alla procedura in base alla storia personale e non la nazionalità.
Negli ultimi giorni sembra che la struttura sia stata nuovamente utilizzata per trasferirvi un gruppo di migranti che, dopo essere sbarcati a Malta, sono stati portati in Italia, prima a Lampedusa e poi a Pozzallo, in attesa delle ridistribuzioni.
La ridistribuzione: abbandono e violazione dei diritti a tempo indeterminato
Gli accordi di ridistribuzione – che per molti potrebbero significare anche la possibilità di non rimanere bloccati in Italia (paese che per molti non è l’obiettivo finale del difficile viaggio intrapreso) – di fatto rappresentano l’ennesimo ostacolo imposto dalla politica europea ai richiedenti asilo.
Nonostante le “promesse” dei governi europei e la dichiarata volontà di istituzionalizzare il meccanismo di ridistribuzione, le procedure restano attualmente sconosciute ai più, in primis ai diretti interessati, che si trovano relegati ad attendere per un tempo indefinito in condizioni e strutture inadeguate.
I nuovi accordi sembrano voler fare della Sicilia un hub di confinamento, un grande centro dove mettere in pratica le strategie securitarie e biopolitiche della fortezza Europa.
Si continua a ledere i diritti delle persone, negando ogni genere di servizio di base (cure mediche, sostegno psicologico e legale) dietro la scusa di un trasferimento all’estero che tarda a d arrivare.
Ribadiamo, in questo senso, le indicazioni espresse nella lettera aperta, sottoscritta con ASGI e ActionAid, con la quale chiediamo l’accesso ai servizi di prima necessità a Messina, come in ogni altro luogo di transito, accoglienza o detenzione dell’isola.