Frontex meets with the Associations in Catania


On Thursday,
14th January, a meeting took place in the press room of the Catania
police station between several associations, police representatives, Mrs Paglialunga and Mr Nicolao, the regional representative of Frontex.
meeting was attended by representatives from the Catanian Rete Antirazzista
(Anti-Racist Network) as well as, by the network’s invitation, the Catania
Bene Comune
(Catania commons), the Campagna LasciateCientreare (Campaign
against deportation centres), Borderline Sicily and the Associazione Diritti
e Frontiere
(Rights and Frontiers Group).

Mr Nicolao
explained the work and function of Frontex, first quite generally and then in
relation to Sicily in particular, where the agency has been present since July
2015. Mr Nicolao emphasised the practices undertaken by the agency in taking
finger prints of all migrants disembarking from rescue ships, both in the
Hotspots (Lampedusa and Trapani) and in the landing ports. Frontex’s
headquarters in Catania, which will have the role of co-ordinating Frontex’s
agents throughout Sicily, has still not opened in the former convent granted by
the city administration for their use, as there is still structural work to be

At sea,
Frontex agents support the Italian police forces.

some questions by the present associations, Mr Nicolao explained that:

  • Operation Triton has access to
    planes and ships already under the command of the Italian authorities,
    coordinated by the commander of the Guardia di finanza in the
    airbase of Pratica di Mare.
  • Their priorities are the finding of sea vessels
    for the effective rescuing, and the identification of all persons who are
  • In relation to the ships
    utilised, he explained that they are provided by the member states,
    following Frontex’s evaluations and directions.
  • If the means used by Operation
    Triton are not sufficient, Frontex will ask member states for the
    necessary means to complete its work, which would then be included within the
    Operation Triton and financed by the European Union.

On the
ground, Frontex agents support the Italian police forces, providing:

  • Screening experts who attempt
    to find out the nationalities of migrants via questions put to them with
    the assistance of cultural mediators.
  • Finger printing experts to
    support the police forensic officers in taking finger prints and making
    photographic identification.
  • Debriefing experts: voluntary
    and anonymous interviews which will not influence the eventual asylum
    procedures, nor function as police statements, but to be used only for
    gathering information on voyage and consequent routes.
  • Support for procedures relating
    to economic migrants: repatriation, acquisition of travel documents,
    financial support to the Italian state.

The Frontex
representative emphasised that the agency respects fundamental human rights: an
expert on human rights monitors Operation Triton and the agency involves a
consultant forum (which includes NGOs, UNHCR*,
IOM*, Save the Children, etc), who provide independent recommendations.

Mr Nicolao
then reaffirmed that Frontex is in favour of forced identification, as those
who do not identify themselves “have something to hide”. Frontex has to
guarantee Europe’s security, uncovering terrorists and “foreign fighters”.
Recourse to the use of force in identification would be used in different
stages: a first phase based on providing information and a second phase, for
those who refuse, which would include the transferral to other structures. In
any case, the activity of taking fingerprints would always be delegated to the
Italian police.

The Frontex
representative emphasised that the agency and its personnel only provide a
supporting role to the Italian authorities.

interventions of the associations and the humanitarian workers present raised
various doubts and criticisms relating to:

  • The Hotspots, detention for the
    taking of fingerprints, the recourse to the use of force, and the lack of
    any juridical basis.
  • The differentiation, at the
    moment of arrival, between “economic migrants” and refugees via the
    so-called “notification paper”, a brief questionnaire for the migrants
    issued by police, which contains misleading orders and is not clear on the
    difference between economic migrants and asylum seekers
  • Deferred rejections, with the
    command to leave the country within seven days, allowing people deprived
    of any means of sustenance or documents to be abandoned in open
    countryside (Agrigento)
  • The non-functioning of the
    relocations and the consequent tense situation in the Hotspots
  • Accompanied, forced Repatriations
    (only a few days after entrance into the country by means of rescue
    operations), in particular of Nigerians and Egyptians, including the
    reference to “group flights” running monthly from Roma Fiumicino to Lagos.
  • Lack of application of the
    clause in the Dublin Convention which allows migrants to join their families.
  • Prolonged detention in
    reception centres of various kinds, such as the CSPA* at Pozzallo, where
    Frontex agents are also present, and which is to become a Hotspot, without
    any juridical validation.
  • The form of cooperation of
    vessels included in Frontex’s assets with the vessels participating in the
    EUNAVFORMED* operation, in
    particular in respect to the interventions at the borders of Libyan territorial
    waters and the related demand to carry out search and rescue.

responses given by Frontex to the various questions, on the basis of
information contained in official documents of the UE, can be summarised as

  • Frontex expects that all the
    planned Hotspots (five in Sicily) will soon be in operation, and under
    Italian regulations, because there are no directly binding rules on
    European level which order the operative details of this feature.
  • A reinforcement of Frontex is planned,
    with a higher number of agents involved, as well as the following launch
    of a new border police and a new European coast guard.
  • At the Hotspot at Trapani Milo,
    opened last December 28th, there are four Frontex agents and
    two from EASO*.
  • At the old CPSA* at Pozzallo,
    where there has been a permanent Frontex presence since November, and
    which will shortly become a Hotspot, a presence of at least 12 Frontex
    agents is predicted, as well as two EASO* officials.
  • At the old Lampedusa centre of
    initial aid and arrival (CPSA), at Contrada Imbriacola, now re-defined as
    a Hotspot, there are 17 Frontex agents and one from EASO*.
  • It is not clear when the other
    two Hotspots in Sicily will open, one planned for Augusta (where there has
    been opposition from the local administration) and one at Porto Empedocle
  • The sorting HUB at Siculiana
    (Villa Sikania) for those who enter the reception system after having
    given their finger prints and registered a request for asylum, or
    eventually relocation, is not an appropriate structure, and the CARA* at
    Mineo in which no Frontex agents are currently working, has an uncertain
    future which depends on the Italian authorities.
  • In relation to the revision of
    the Dublin regulations and the relocation operations, the Frontex
    representative held that whoever is fleeing from war cannot choose the
    place in which they request asylum (aside from those with family ties, as
    already considered in the regulations). He said that to convince migrants
    that do not want to be identified, and so as to accept the relocation
    operations, they will organise a Skype chat with someone who has already
    been relocated in order to relay a positive experience.
  • He attacked MSF* harshly for their report on
    the CPSA* at Pozzallo, saying that it was all lies and that MSF* wrote it only in reaction to the
    missed renewal of their agreement with the Prefecture. The same Frontex
    representative claimed that the agency worked some time ago inside the
    CSPA* at Pozzallo and that which was described has no correspondence with
    the truth.
  • By the interventions of
    representatives from the police station and Frontex it was also revealed
    that the workers who were previously part of the Praesidium project are
    now engaged on the basis of different agreements with the Ministry of the
    Interior (Save the Children, OIM*, UNHCR*), intervening only when they manage to be present,
    perhaps turning up to the disembarkings, during collective court hearings,
    but without aiding migrants individually, due to the reduced number of
    workers and the chronic lack of interpreters.

The day
following the meeting, the next boat of migrants came into the harbour of Catania,
and confirmed the form of operations anticipated by the agency’s representative
during the meeting. Particularly distressing was the situation of migrants numb
with the cold, still wrapped in anti-hypothermia blankets, waiting in line in
the wet, before a tent in which they were subjected to fingerprinting. In this
first phase, there were no recorded cases of use of force, but the blinds were
down, with only police officers present, and a total exclusion of the voluntary
workers who in the past have contributed to a more humane welcoming of

This new
year of disembarkings in Sicily has opened with a sign of closure over the
lives and journeys of migrants, and those who help them. The police practices
have pre-empted decisions made in Brussels by those still searching for a legal
basis. All the attention is concentrated first on the taking of finger prints,
and then on the identification of so-called economic migrants, with collective
rejections in mind, a barrage of unjustified measures which create new ranks of
“illegal immigrants”, who in only a very limited number of cases are actually
forcibly taken to the border.

The associations reiterate their clear opposition
to the militarisation of initial reception, and their doubts regarding the
legitimacy of prolonged detentions for the ends of taking finger prints, as
well as the recourse to the use of force by the police in responding to those
who refuse to give their fingerprints, simply so as to not be subjected to the
consequences of the unjust Dublin Convention.

  • They strongly request the
    immediate suspension of the Dublin Convention, the reconversion of the
    current Hotspots into centres of initial aid and reception (CSPA), with
    the full involvement of associations, as well as independent cultural and
    linguistic mediators, both at disembarkings and in centres of very first
  • They request the end of the
    administrative practice of collective rejection, carried out without
    distinction by the Sicilian police stations, frequently only on the basis
    of nationality, and the provision of full access to the procedures of
    international protection, including the provision in advance of
    information given by the EU Directorate, which still remains to be
  • They request the recall of the
    circulars adopted by the Ministry of the Interior (such as that of 6
    October 2015) which establish practices deprived of any legal basis at a
    national level, concerning the form of the detention of persons taken to
    or confined in the Hotspots by police force, or other similar structures
    of very first reception, which manifest a limitation on personal freedom.
  • They press for a reinforcement
    of missions of search and rescue in the Central Mediterranean, in the
    context of worsening marine weather conditions and the deteriorating
    situation in Libya, placing the saving of human lives at sea before any
    ends of a military nature.

Rete Anntirazzista Catanese, ADIF, Borderline
Sicilia, Campagna LasciateCientrare, Catania Bene Comune

*UNHCR: UN’s refugee agency
*IOM: International Organization for Migration
*CSPA: Centro di Soccorso e prima Accoglienza: Primary care and initial reception center.
*EUNAVFORMED: As a consequence of the April 2015 Libya migrant shipwrecks, the EU launched a military operation known as European Union Naval Force Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR Med), also known as Operation Sophia, with the aim of neutralising established refugee smuggling routes in the Mediterranean.
*EASO: the European Asylum Support Office.
*CARA: Hosting Centre for Asylum Seekers
*MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières

Translation: Richard Braude