Meeting between associations and institutions in Catania on the issue of refoulement

In front of the
repeating practice of deferred refoulement that
has occurred in several provinces of Sicily since the end of September, the
association Borderline Sicilia became
the spokesperson for numerous associations from Catania and asked for a meeting
with the prefect and the superintendent in order to obtain explanations on what
is happening.

Present at the
meeting that has been held yesterday were representatives of the associations Borderline Sicilia, Rete Antirazzista Catanese,
Centro Astalli

Arci Catania, Asgi sez.
, Arci Catania, Catania bene comune, as well as the
deputy-prefect responsible for immigration, the responsible of the prefecture
for disembarkations, and the chief of the Office for Immigration of the Police.

The dialogue was
opened by the interventions of some of the representatives of the associations
who illustrated the situation that has developed after pointing out again the
illegitimacy of provisions that will be contested in the competent legal
courts. After the refoulement of 32 migrants that occurred after the disembarkation
of September 30, there are numerous persons on the Catanian territory with no
place where to sleep or a place to stay. Some of those 32 have been
accommodated in housings made available by volunteering associations; other
found no other solution than leaving in search for cities more prone for
reception; others have been intercepted by traffickers and sent who knows

In the meantime,
though, the number of refouled migrants who have joined the homeless of Catania
has increased. They arrive from different disembarkation places, particularly
from Pozzallo and Lampedusa, and moved to this city hoping to find assistance.
Here they were able to receive hot meals, legal assistance, the possibility to
have a shower and clean clothes. The unresolved problem remains to find a place
where to sleep and the complete uncertainty regarding what will happen with
them, where to go, what to wait for and whether to wait will result in
something at all.

In this context
of confusion and high concern, all these people feel rejected from the Italian
state without understanding the reason behind it and they are left in the hands
of volunteers who, notwithstanding all their availability, will be able to
offer only temporary assistance. This situation is going to have repercussions
not only on the life of migrants, but also on the city itself that will
experience an actual social emergency considering the increasing number of
homeless people; the overcrowding of legal courts due to the many appeals that
will be presented because of the refoulements – not only in Catania but also in
Ragusa and Siracusa; the increasing work of the Police Station given the
numerous asylum requests that will be presented. Hence, while hoping to “get
rid” of potential asylum seekers in order to ease the reception system, we
actually will be in the opposite situation, which will almost completely burden
on Sicily’s cities.

Considering what
has been portrayed above, the associations therefore wanted to understand the
underlying logic of such practices and their future prospective in relation to
the concrete consequences that will occur.

After a brief
introduction by the deputy-prefect Gullotti, who mentioned a directive that
arrived at the end of September from the Ministry of the Interior, Ms Dr.
Scacco of the Office for Immigration explained in more detail the provisions
they received. She clarifies that after the European Summit at the end of
September the Ministry of the Interior has clearly given new provisions that
the Police Offices have to follow. First of all, during disembarkations the
criteria to apply is to differentiate between economic migrants and refugees on
the basis of nationality. Syrians,
Eritreans and citizens of the Central African Republic are considered political
migrants, while all others automatically belong to the category of “economic

In order to favour
this operation, new modules for the pre-identification of migrants have been
distributed as to make more uniform the evaluations that were previously made
on the basis of as many modules as the places of disembarkation. The new module foresees the question “why did
you come to Italy?” and the possible answers among which to choose are the
following: employment, war, asylum, other. The task of providing legal
information should be of associations that have a convention with the ministry
(UNHCR, Save the Children, IOM, Red Cross) – the only ones that have
been accredited to enter the harbour. Their task should be to give migrants who
just disembarked all information relevant to their rights and this should
happen while migrants are queuing for their turn in the time span before their

But with regard
to Catania we are talking about disembarkations of hundreds of people where the
time available is very limited and is just necessary to operations of
pre-identification. The chief of the Office for Immigration shows to be aware
of the difficult current situation and repeats the provisions from the Ministry
of the Interior with respect to refoulement operations that have been put into
place. Furthermore, she mentions decisions taken at the European level and the
inevitable consequences of these at a national level.

This new general
direction is nonetheless inacceptable and some of the lawyers who were present
underlined how decisions taken at political level can under no circumstance
contrast regulations on international protection, which is an individual right
that refers to the personal story of every individual and not to
classifications established on the country of origin. Collective refoulements
and the list of countries that have a right to request international protection
are totally illegitimate procedures.

Moreover, many
show strong concerns regarding the work of humanitarian organizations during
disembarkations. All migrants who have been refouled say that they did not
speak to anybody and that they did not receive any information regarding their
right for asylum. Apparently, the time that should be reserved for this information
is neither well defined nor long enough and doubts arise on the effectiveness,
efficiency, and number of staff available for this important moment. The doubt
arises that considering the presence of Frontex-staff there has been
constraints on the possibility for organizations to get into contact with
migrants before the operations of pre-identification.

It is suggested
to render the harbour accessible also to other associations that may bring an
additional contribution during the information-time of disembarkation
operations. As a conclusion, the deputy-prefect thanked for the volunteering
activities recognizing the valuable help that they are giving in this uneasy
moment caused by the change that is taking place and which, as such,
necessitates monitoring and amendments.

The meeting has
definitively represented an opportunity to discuss and have a confrontation
with the institutions in a constructive way and this has been widely
appreciated, also allowing the clarification of certain points. What is still
causing concern, though, is the direction taken by Italy on the basis of
European provisions. The risk is a constraint of the right to access
international protection with drastic consequences for the lives of extremely
vulnerable people, in a moment in which Europe is building new walls and
barriers instead of searching for solutions in order to guarantee and
strengthen the right to asylum, also in light of the extremely serious
humanitarian emergencies that are taking place.

Giulia Freddi

Sicilia Onlus

Chiara Guccione