How hotspots delete the right of asylum

Alioscia Castronovo – Dinamopress – Violation of human rights, de facto undermining the right of asylum and unlawful rejections: In the course of the following interview, the lawyer Paola Ottaviano from Borderline Sicilia denounces the procedure at the hotspots.

Some days ago, we received the news that MSF* will leave the reception centre of Pozzallo. The reasons for this decision are untenable conditions on-site and the lack of guarantees concerning the respect of human rights. This centre is supposed to become the junction of the whole hotspot system…
Officially, the CPSA* of Pozzallo is a centre of primal care and first accomodation. Over the years it became a deportation camp. Refugees are detained in this camp for several weeks or months without any judicial order. For many years, MSF* has been working in support of the health care of the detainees, which is important in terms of the presence of an independent organisation in the usually non-public facility. Access is granted to the organisations of the facilities’ operator and those, which have reached an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior. (Acnur*, OIM*, Save the Children and the Red Cross).

MSF had the function of a guarantor of the reception of particularly vulnerable people and the complaints body if human rights have been breached. In the last report, MSF emphasised that the centre does not respect the statutory provisions concerning the reception of refugees. Also other organisations such as Borderline complain about the illegitimate practice of the police forces of Ragusa, Palermo, Trapani, Syracuse, Catania and especially Agrigento, where the centre of Contrada Imbriacola became a hotspot. The centre of Lampedusa is the first official hotspot in Italy. Pozzallo is soon to become one, for it has already initialised practices of the hotspot. Also, a few days ago, a hotspot in Trapani was launched.

How do procedures at the hotspots affect the right of asylum and the rejections?
It seems important to me that I emphasise the following: The distinction between economic migrants and refugees by police forces immediately after their arrival is the main task of the hotspots. It is the cornerstone of European policy, which tries to reach an agreement concerning the allocation of refugees in Europe. In return for the establishment of hotspots, Italy and Greece have reached the set of quota, which has been promoted as a significant step towards the realisation of the right of asylum, but in practice has never been realised. It has just been a political agreement, which is part of the Italian Road Map. This is a political document, not a judicial one. There are no laws or orders which refer to international protection legislation.

Due to the Road Map, the hotspot directory has been established – namely the distinction between refugees and economic migrants without any right of asylum. This distinction is made arbitrarily by police forces. I need to emphasise that the right of asylum is a subjective right, which needs to be assessed and applied individually for every person. The right of asylum forbids collective refusals, for instance based on the nationality – the European Court of Human Rights prohibits this practice. If we read the Road Map carefully, it is clear that this is the intention. There is a list of countries with readmission agreements and migrants are returned to these countries.

Nigeria and Gambia are among these countries: as lawyers we give legal advice to many migrants from Nigeria and 80% of the objections are successful, even though Nigeria is listed as a home country of economic migrants. This means that they would not get asylum because of their nationality. Furthermore, Gambia and Nigeria are listed in the Road Map as countries with which Italy desires police collaboration. The consequence would be that migrants will be controlled by police forces of their home country. There are hundreds of pages in international reports about the political situation in Gambia and Nigeria. I remember the case of 66 women from Nigeria, who arrived at Lampedusa and subsequently have been arrested, transferred to Ponte Galeria and finally deported, even though the competent judge declared this order invalid.

What are the material consequences of this practice for migrants?

This procedure is not only completely unlawful, but also destructive for the life of these people after their journey. We know the details of these trips because of their reports- they crossed the desert after their stay in Libya, a nation of chaos with horrifying acts of violence, where torture is a common thing not only in prison, but also in the collecting camps just before the passage to Europe.

At their arrival they are facing the police and FRONTEX-forces, which confront them with the so-called “Foglio notizie“ – a questionnaire concerning the reason for their journey. On many questionnaires you cannot even find the reason “asylum”. There is much discretion concerning the use of the questionnaires. We documented many cases where migrants had to complete the questionnaire before they even get the notice that they can seek asylum.
How can they exercise a right without any knowledge about it?

Some of them haven’t even been asked for the reason of their journey. Others report that they have never seen the questionnaire. It has been reported that some police officers have already ticked the boxes in the questionnaires before the interview with the migrants, others state that it is already noted that they do not want to provide information. Migrants themselves report that they have never seen such a questionnaire. Others state that they have already received their deportation order on the vessel from Lampedusa to Porto Empedocle.

In fact, migrants receive a deportation order as soon as they have arrived. The reasons for this are not linked to their personal history, but to their nationality and the capacities in the dormitories of the reception centres, which determine how many can be accepted. Many of them end up in the streets – without money but with the order to travel back – via the airport Roma Fiumicino – to their home country.

The result of the action of the police is, that a mass of illegal people is spread around the country and, in their legal vacuum, may become victims of human traffickers or exploiters. They do not get any sleeping place, no food, no support and no information about their possible actions and about what happens to them. Some of them are lucky enough to get in touch with humanitarian organisations, with activists, which support them solidly by writing complaints and demanding their rights. Others have no other choice than to be exploited by illegal and badly paid jobs.

Furthermore, we documented that unaccompanied minor refugees, pregnant women and other particularly vulnerable persons have been deported. Paradoxical situations happen: Some weeks ago, a rejected boy who did not know where to go, just stayed in the entrance hall of the Pozzallo centre. Some days later, the same vigilantes have torn the deportation order and accepted him again in the reception centres. Most of the migrants which have been rejected in the last month come from Senegal, Mali, Pakistan, Guinea, Gambia and Nigeria.

Concerning the situation in Sicily from where you report as humanitarian organisations from the different provinces: What is the situation like and how can you intervene?

Support networks have been established in all the provinces of Sicily. They are composed by lawyers, antiracism activists and humanitarian organisations. For instance, in Catania, where a collective deportation order for 32 migrants has been carried out, we grouped together with the Centro Astalli, with the antiracism network Catania, with Arci* etc. We found an accommodation for 15 of the refused migrants. They have been accommodated by mosques and the Caritas. Some lived for months on the streets, others departed. We have asked for an interview with the prefecture and the police authorities and denounced this practice. It has been confirmed to us that the directives for this practice come from the EU and the Italian government.

Also in Palermo we intervened in respect of the refused groups. It is a fact that migrants, which have been deported in Lampedusa, Pozzallo and other provinces, end up in Palermo and Catania.

A prime example for the mess which is triggered by these dispositives is the incident in Trapani: two days after the CIE* has been transformed to a hotspot, 198 persons have been expelled. We condemned this practice in cooperation with others.

In consequence of this, the prefecture ordered that a gym had to be opened, which should have been in charge of the Red Cross. Because of the poor structural condition, the migrants have been sent back to the hotspots instead, where they undertook their application for asylum. However, their deportation orders haven’t been revoked yet. This points out the futility of the system. It is a waste of money, because many deportation orders are initially carried out and annulled later. In practice, these deportation orders only serve the purpose of statistics, which should proof to the European Union how many migrants have been expelled. Even police departments realised that this practice disrupts the public order and that it makes no sense.

What are your demands as activists and anti-racist movements?

Together with other organisations, we developed a document in which we call for the immediate stop of the practice of delayed deportation orders and the shutdown of the hotspots. We oppose the incarceration of migrants which refuse to be identified. This is the case in Lampedusa, where Eritreans which refused to be identified are detained since months. It is a serious incident that identifications have been carried out with violence. Furthermore, the quota system does not work. You cannot send people to countries where they do not want to stay. The same applies to the Dublin Convention, which allocate people to countries where they do not want to stay, without asking them for their own will.

We want an asylum law which lives up to its name: in the last years, progress was achieved with great effort. For instance, in Italy, where it is still difficult to enforce these rights, years have been spent to fight for the mobilisation, lobbying, law suits, complaints and the implementation of the European directives. With this practice we are set back several years and the right of asylum is jeopardised.

We must not let this happen. No political agreement should breach European and International directives and international safeguard provisions, if this obviously violates human rights. We can say that the hotspot-system undermines the right of asylum. We cannot accept these retrograde steps today.

Visit the website of the organisation Borderline Sicilia !

*CPSA: Centro di Soccorso e Prima Accoglienza – Center for primal care and first accomodation.
*MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation.
*ACNUR: Alto Commissariato delle Nazione Unite per i Rifugiati or UNHCR United nations High Commission for the Refugees
*Arci: Associazione Ricreativa e Culturale Italiana: established 1957 – A social service in Italy which promotes Anti-racism and the declaration of human rights
*Asgi: Associazione per gli studi giuridici sull’ immigrazione –Association for the legal study of immigration
*Centro Astalli – servizio dei gesuiti per i rifugiati in Italia – humanitarian organisation of the Jesuits for asylum seekers in Italy
*CIE: Centro di Identificazione ed Espulsione – Center for the Identification and Deportation
*OIM: Organizzazione Internazionale per la Migrazione – International Organization for Migration

Übersetzung von Jan-Carl Janssen