Afflictive detention: from the CIE (Immigrant Detention Centre) to prison, incarceration without a crime

by Laura Verduci for terrelibere

From prison to a CIE (Immigration Detention Centre): an additional sentence in the absence of a crime- which can last for up to a year and a half. “Many foreigners, having served their sentence, find themselves once again deprived of their freedom,” explained the lawyer Busciano. “If prison’s aim is to be one of re-education, then that of the administrative detention of illegally staying third- country nationals, when it is evident that such detention will not lead to their expulsion, is purely afflictive,” affirms Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo.

TRAPANI- “After a prison sentence, it is unfair that non- European citizens must suffer a further detention on administrative grounds due to the inertia of those who should oversee their identification procedure. For if this process were to be correctly carried out whilst their were in prison, as the law states, at the end of their sentence immigrants would be sent back to their own country directly,” explains the lawyer Giuseppe Boscaino with anger and vigour. He is from the Trapani Forum and has, for years, been working on penal cases linked to immigration. Within the city of Trapani he has earned himself the nickname, ‘the Arab lawyer’.

Italy’s most eastern province is a hotbed of immigration. This is partly due to its proximity to Tunisia and also due to the fact that there are three immigrant centres there: Serraino Vulpitta and Milo (both CIEs) and Salinagrande (CARA- Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers). “Many foreigners having completed their sentence, find themselves once again deprived of their freedom,” continues Buscaino, “without being able to understand or to accept why.” The legal practioner, Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo adds, “Many of them who have been in Italy for several years, can’t bear this additional reclusion (on administrative grounds). If prison’s aim is that of re-education (or at least that is what it should be), then that of administrative detention for illegally staying third- country nationals, especially when it becomes clear that such detention will not result in their expulsion, is purely afflictive.”

We are left asking ourselves: how come a foreigner after having served his/her sentence is not given his/her freedom or else repatriated but instead has to wait up to 18 months detained in a CIE? Why is the identification process of the prisoner not dealt with while they are serving their initial sentence? The causes lie in the lack of coordination between the prison system and the system of immigration, or rather between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior. The European Directive on repatriation (2008/115) states that any detention on administrative grounds is only acceptable if the purpose is to repatriate the detainee. In Italy, the law 129/2011 has not implemented this part of the directive, thereby contradicting European provisions.

Furthermore, extended periods of detention in the CIEs lead to over-crowding, administrative delays, a deterioration of standards, unliveable conditions with frequent suicide attempts, as well as going to serve the proliferation of a breeding ground of violence and rebellion. The consequences are easy to figure out and they are atrocious. The Italian government’s refusal to adopt the European Directive makes the immigrants’ legal defence problematic and inefficient and is made worse by the migrants’ continual transfer from one CIE to another. “Re-establishing an alternative, for example having access to a defence in front of a judge in the same place as the administrative detention, could make it possible to defend the person throughout his/her stay in that specific CIE,” continues Buscaino.

Transferred from one city to another, taken far away from their families, denied a voice and a defence, the foreigners are harmed by their lack of fundamental rights. We met many such cases, almost two weeks ago during a visit to the Serraino Vulpitta CIE with the Euopean MP Alessandra Siragusa. There were more than 40 men, maybe even 50 who were being denied their freedom. Some of them had evident physical problems, whilst others were in a state of desperation, all were in a dehumanising situation.

It would be easy to pour out many a pitiable tale, leading to the paradoxical dynamic of ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’. The personal accounts are important, but alone they are not enough to denounce the inadequacy of the system. There are stories a plenty to be told. Personally, I think that there is a surplus of stories and pietism that are often to the detriment of the foreigner. I believe, however, it is important to analyse with caution the cracks in the judicial system and to denounce the impossibility of the individual to be in a position to defend him/herself. The injustice has to be exposed and denounced and the jurisprudence must be rectified to guarantee justice beyond attitudes of mere goodwill and their inefficiency.