When we visited the Hotspot at Pozzallo a few days ago, we asked repeatedly for clarification regarding the procedure for separating “economic” migrants from those seeking international protection. The officials at the Prefecture told us how, once the disembarking operation has come to an end, the refugees are transferred by bus to the centre situated a few hundred metres away, and allowed into a building through a side entrance which leads directly from the port; here there is the initial health screening, immediately followed by ‘pre-identification’, including the filling out of the so-called “notification paper” which inquires into the migrant’s reasons for having fled from their country.
As for the possibility for the IOM*, the UNHCR* and Save the Children to provide legal information prior to migrants being subjected to pre-identification, it was explained to us that these organisations can intercept migrants and provide information at the moment of disembarking and transferral, and can then continue their work after the pre-identification operation. Through assisting at arrivals, we know that it is not possible to interact with migrants at the moment of disembarking for their immediate removal from quay to bus, and we note therefore that the only useful moments for the provision of this information would be those few minutes on the bus ride itself. Proper information can therefore only be provided by the accredited organisations in a second phase, following the filling out of the “notification paper”. At this point, however, it is still extremely difficult to guarantee the individual care, protected in national and international laws and regulations, to a large number of people of different nationalities, given state of confusion frequently induced by the sea crossing and the restrictions on available amount of time, inhibiting interactions of any prolonged or effective kind. We also know from the Prefecture that those refugees at the Hotspot who did not initially make a request for protection were given a second interview this week, this time following the information given by the IOM* and the UNHCR*. It seems that on this occasion some migrants have had time to come to a decision to seek protection, while others have confirmed that they have arrived in Italy for work, essentially making them applicants for nothing other than rejection.
Then the news came on Monday of deferred rejections handed out to dozens of migrants from Morocco who had been left in the middle of the street, taken there by a bus from Pozzallo at the weekend. Unfortunately this group has been only the first of a large number of other migrants – not only from Morocco but also Nigeria, Sudan and Pakistan, who in the last 48 hours have found themselves removed from the centre, given no more than a decree that they should leave Italy within 7 days. We met them while they were making their way to Pozzallo, many without shoes, walking in plastic slippers, and telling us different accounts: we also managed to exchange some words inside the centre with some of them, who nonetheless limited themselves to brief jokes, repeatedly emphasising that “there wasn’t any problem”. A young man from Nigeria explained to us that right up until the last moment he had intended to ask for international protection, because he had fled from his country due to problems with Boko Haram; he has a wife and children in Holland and immediately told this to the police and anyone he met. “When I asked if I was obliged to give me finger prints, they told me that I had to do it, but they didn’t tell me what this meant”, he says. Following this, he declared his intention to ask for protection, while receiving information from the UNHCR*, but then was stopped at the last police interview. “When they asked me to leave, they told me to choose what I wanted to do: either request international protection, staying for a year or two in Italy, or to go to Holland to find my family. I was confused, but also scared, and I said that I wanted to reach my family. Then they told me to sign this form [the rejection notice] without even reading or translating it for me, telling me that I had seven days to leave Italy. And now I’m here.” These are serious accusations which signify a total lack of adequate information on the behalf of the police forces in regards to asylum law, as well as the content of the notices handed out. Many of the migrants said that they had been told that they could go and ask asylum in other countries without any problem.
Similar procedures seem to have been applied to another young man, who told us that: “Before leaving, the police asked me what I wanted to do, and I said that I wanted to ask international protection, but in Holland rather than in Italy, where I have acquaintances. At this point they said I had to sign a form, and that I had seven days to get out. Then they asked me how much money I had and gave me a telephone card for €5. I thought that this paper allowed me to travel, but now I’ve found out all this other stuff.” The young men said that only around 5 people remained inside the Pozzallo Hotspot yesterday, out of round 140 migrants present on Monday. Many have similarly been rejected, and removed from the centre while it was still night-time. The notices of deferred rejection given to three of the migrants we met were full of errors. Having slept rough for one night, the young men met a lawyer in order appeal against the forms and make requests for protection.
The rejections are also continuing in Lampedusa. Those rejected on the island are taken to Agrigento, where the other evening we also met a minor, rescued at sea and taken to the Lampedusa Hotspot, where he was registered as an adult and left in the street, notwithstanding serious medical problems.
Yesterday the news arrived of another 600 migrants at Augusta, while the navy vessel Bettica landed with 483 people on board. Among them were many women, of whom 15 were pregnant, and minors originally from Subsaharan Africa and the Horn of Africa. Those present include Eritreans, Sudanese, Nigerians, Moroccans and Somalians. Yet again, yesterday’s disembarking operation was extremely slow: the ship arrived at 10am, but by 4pm some people were still on board. Along with the police forces there were also various Frontex agents present, who, as with the previous disembarking at Pozzallo, were supplied with a bib stamped with the appropriate acronym, but of the same colour as those worn by the workers from the UNHCR*! – a choice which is both dangerous and misleading for the migrants who are then approached by them. At the port we came across IOM*, Save the Children, Terres des Hommes, UNHCR*, two doctors from MSF*, the Red Cross, ASP and some representatives from Emergency. The police investigations were undertaken immediately, and lasted several minutes on the quay; some migrants were separated from others and removed in an official car. The others were alighted very slowly, photographed by the forensics, and given a hygiene kit, slippers and some provisions before being put on a bus. One of them was taken ill when he finally touched ground after many hours, while others were visibly exhausted, but the rhythm followed seemed to be that of the police and security operations. We know that around 250 of them, presumably those seeking asylum, will be transferred to Tuscany and other destinations after the health screening and pre-identification: from this point the problem of receiving appropriate information prior to the “notification papers” will arise once again. The UNHCR* workers managed to provide information on the bus, which this time fortunately remained some extra minutes at the quay, but obviously there are not the ideal conditions and time period for providing adequate individual safeguarding.
This afternoon another 239 people are expected at Pozzallo.
It does not have to be repeated, therefore, that once again the right of being informed is yet again being disrespected, in refusal to acknowledge even the most recent circular sent by the Ministry of the Interior on January 8th, clarifying the “Guarantees and methods for access to asylum procedures”. For those who remain, we wait to see if yet again this Hotspot will be confirmed as a factory for rejections and the discriminatory selection among migrants seeking refuge, demonstrating the obtuseness of the new European and Italian politics.
*IOM: International Organization for Migration
*UNHCR: UN’s refugee agency
*MSF: Médecins Sans Frontières
Translation by Richard Braude