Never Again CPRs – the antiracist garrison at Pian del Lago

On Saturday, January 18th, a garrison formed in front of the CPR* of Pian del Lago in Caltanissetta, promoted by various Sicilian and national associations including Borderline Sicilia, Rete Antirazzista Catanese, Campagna LasciateCIEntrare, Sportello Immigrati di Caltanissetta, Forum Antirazzista di Palermo, and groups Arci of Catania and Palermo.

The movement was organized following the death of Aymed, a 34-year-old Tunisian man who had been detained in the administrative detention center for over nine months and died there on the 12th of January.

His has been declared a natural death, but its causes remain unclear, just as it is yet unclear whether Aymed had been provided adequate and timely medical care. It seems the young man had been unwell in the preceding days.

This is not the first time. It is not the first case of a “natural death” within a CPR. And, as on other occasions, the death of the young man has incited the anger and protests of the other migrants housed in the center, who are currently more than 70. Last Sunday the protests resulted in a fire being set to the structure, as already seen another time in Caltanissetta in 2017, and as occurs often in the CPRs throughout Italy.

Once again, the silence of the institutions and of most of the media weighs heavily and relegates the protests in the CPRs to sporadic episodes.

The detention and repatriation centers are presented to the eyes of the public for the sole purpose of criminalizing irregular migrants and calling attention to the risks (however nonexistent) surrounding the repatriation of those detained inside these facilities.

In fact, these are centers of confinement where people with very different histories and vulnerabilities meet, detained despite having committed no crime, or having already served their sentences, and for the mere fact of not having a regular residence permit to stay in Italy. Ever more frequently, then, due to changes introduced by the new security decree, there is an increase in asylum seekers in repatriation centers who have received a denial or are undocumented because of the elimination of humanitarian protection.

The only thing that unites all these people is that they remain without a residence permit due to the various laws that have made legally entering Italy impossible, and made regular residency in our land increasingly complicated. No crime committed, therefore, but fewer privileges than for criminals. There is talk of distinguishing it as “administrative” as opposed to “criminal” detention, but the reality in Italy is that those detained within the prison system, regulated by the rules of that system and subject to the supervision of the judicial authority, have more protection than those who, for the mere fact of having been denied a residence permit, are held in a CPR for the purpose of repatriation.

In the immigration law there is a generic reference made to the fact that the foreigner must be detained in the center “in such a way that ensures the necessary assistance and full respect of his or her dignity.” In fact, those held in the CPRs do not have the option of lodging complaints regarding lack of protection of their fundamental rights, and there is no guarantee for access to NGO support systems or associations that can independently monitor the conditions of the centers and the treatment of people detained there.

The National Guarantor of persons detained or deprived of personal freedoms has intervened several times to underline the violations of the rights of foreigners restricted to the repatriation centers, but for the associations and activists who have been working within these territories for years, the access is continually denied.

In Caltanissetta, after the death of the boy last week, a parliamentary inspection took place, which resulted in the denouncement of the structure as “unsuitable for human beings.”

Likewise, the migrants detained in the center of Pian del Lago have reported terrible sanitary conditions. They referred to rooms without windows, without heating, showers and bathrooms that are mostly out of order and of the difficulty of communication with the outside.

The deputy Erasmo Palazzotto, who carried out the inspection, hopes for the closure of the CPR of Caltanissetta, at least until the conditions are made adequate for “hosting human beings.” In fact, the structure of Pian del Lago (whose managing body is a temporary grouping of companies formed by the Essequadro Social Cooperative Society of Caltanissetta and by AdMajora SRL, the latter already terminated in extensive judicial investigations for the poor conditions of its reception centers) was destined to be closed at the end of the month, for renovations already contracted.

As a network of associations that have been dealing with these issues for years, we believe that the degrading and inhumane conditions in which the “guests” of the CPR are actually detained are just the first of the problems, the most immediate. The criticality however regards the system itself which must be completely overhauled.

It is a system that segregates and deprives people of freedom for the irregularity of their presence on the territory, which is largely linked to circumstances external to the will of the foreigner – that is, to the effects of legislation that tends to produce irregularities. Migrants can be held in these facilities for months, as the security decree has extended the maximum term of imprisonment from 90 to 180 days, often in critical conditions and without receiving adequate assistance.

In most cases, once the maximum terms of detention have expired, due to the lack of repatriation agreements with the countries of origin, foreigners return free but are forced to live in conditions of irregularity and invisibility. So, it is merely propaganda.

Administrative detention facilities are the emblem of the failure of immigration policies and of the system of expulsions and repatriations. Designed (as it is said) to protect the borders of Europe and internal security, they are in fact prisons, useless for the purpose claimed for their establishment, and where a suspension of the rule of law is legitimized for those with the wrong passport.

At Pian del Lago, while the garrison was in progress, voices of the boys imprisoned emerged: “Help us! Come!” they said. We cannot afford, in a country that wants to call itself civil, to build and finance structures from which these voices of protest and pleas for help arise. It is a human and social cost that we can no longer afford to justify in the name of an alleged, but non-existent security emergency.

The governments that have followed one another over the years have persevered in building the CPR system (previously known as CPT* and CIE*) and both Minniti and Salvini have arranged for the expansion of the network of repatriation centers which from the beginning have been a great speculative opportunity for the cooperatives that have managed them.

The successive protests in CPRs across the country remind us of how current the problem of administrative detention in Italy is and the garrison on Saturday was only one step on a path taken for years, which will see the emergence of new initiatives in support of blocking the opening or reopening of new centers and the closure of all CPRs currently in operation.

Valeria Pescini

Borderline Sicilia

Translation from Italian by Olivia Taibi

CIE: Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione – Detention and Repatriation center

CPR: Centri di Permanenza per il Rimpatrio – Detention and Repatriation center

CPT: Centri di Permanenza Temporanea – Detention and Repatriation center