NEWSLETTER Siciliamigranti – february 2012

Delegation representing the families of missing Tunisian migrants arrives in Italy
The ECHR condemns the Italian governments refusals of entry carried out at sea
Somali asylum seekers on trial in Modica (RG)
Observatory against racial discrimination opens in Palermo
Observatory on the violation of the right to a defence

On the 28th January a delegation representing the families of young Tunisians arrived in Italy. Their relatives had left Tunisia in March 2011, but since then all traces of them have been lost. The relatives brought carefully prepared dossiers with them with photos showing the arrival of the Tunisians in Italy. The delegation represents the family members of 250 Tunisians who travelled on four boats in March 2011. But the actual figures for those “missing” are thought to be much higher: according to some estimates as many as 800 families have lost all contact with their relatives. The group first went to Palermo, where they were informed by the Tunisian Consul that “they were all alive and could be found in north Italy”. In response to the lack of any further information being supplied, the group began a hunger and thirst strike, calling for the resignation of the Consul. With the support of anti- racist groups, a meeting was then set up at the immigration office of the police headquarters in Agrigento, in order to identify all of those who had arrived in Lampedusa. Yet no positive outcome was reached. So the group then went to Rome, where they made a camp outside the Tunisian Embassy until they were finally received for a few minutes. On the 21st February they managed to have a meeting with the Home Affairs Minister. “We are asking the Italian and Tunisian governments to help us. All we need is to exchange fingerprints,” said Nourredine, a father and member of the delegation. The question of fingerprints is one of the diplomatic knots in the story. The fingerprints could prove the Tunisians arrival in Italy and their eventual entry into the European administrative system of detainees. The two governments are in contact, but so far no progress has been made. The Viminal (the Italian Ministry of the Interior) has stated its availability to collaborate, but only on the condition that first of all Tunisia sends over the fingerprints. Whilst at the centre of all this to-ing and fro-ing the desperate families remain.

Thanks to the appeal at the Court of Strasbourg by 24 Somali and Eritrean asylum seekers who on the 6th May 2009 were deported to Lybia, the inhumanity of the practice of refusal of entry made at sea has finally been condemned. The practice originally conformed to the Friendship Treaty between Italy and Lybia. The sentence is of particular importance not only because it inflicts another hard blow to the migration politics put forward by the Italian government in recent years, but also as it highlights the necessity to reconsider such politics in toto, particularly in the light of new political arrangements in other Mediterranean countries.
The transcript of the sentence:
Also in Italy, another trial is underway against the refusal of entry carried out by a general of the Financial Police. The trial has been transferred from Syracuse to a higher court in Rome.

The extreme south- east of Sicily is another landing place for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Those who arrive here go immediately to the CSPA (First Reception Centre) in Pozzallo (Rg) where they are identified and provided shelter. The structure is a hangar inside the port. In 2011, in the midst of the so-called “North African Emergency” it was used to hold migrants who had arrived in Lampedusa whilst they waited to either be sent back to their countries or to be transferred to other centres.

Many notable riots and escapes have occurred at the hangar, and consequently there have been the arrests and trials of those who were caught. Usually, however, the trails do not actually go ahead as deals are reached, but not in the case of a group of seven Somali asylum seekers:

The observatory, set up by the Palermo Comboniani Missionary, Borderline Sicilia ONLUS, borderline-europe, Altro Diritto ONLUS, the University of Palermo and ASGI (Association for the Judicial Studies on Immigration), has been opened as a structure for observation, analysis, information and sensitization to the phenomena of racial discrimination in Palermo. Its main aims are to investigate the discrimination often faced by immigrants in Palermo in order to promote methods of awareness of the phenomenon and to provide outlines of active politics according to both European and national norms. It also aims to collect information on the phenomena of discrimination and racism, above all operating with the objectives of study, monitoring, sensitization and also as a space for the collection and sharing of information, with the further intention of introducing good practice with local institutions and organisations. For further information:
Training will be followed by a course on Asylum Rights at the University of Palermo, also with the intention of setting up a ‘legal clinic’ with “Altro diritto” and a research doctorate in human rights which has already committed itself to the project.

Access to legal aid
Access to the right to a defence for migrants, something which has long proved difficult, has in the past few months become more complex due to certain measures, such as that circulated by the Minister of Justice on the 27th May 2011. The memo was published in response to a query put forward by the President of the Catania Court of Appeal which questioned the effect of having access to legal aid on the expenses of the State in civil cases. The Catania Court of Appeal is the judicial headquarters dealing with appeals against refusals for international protection from the province of Syracuse and the commission at the Mineo CARA (Hosting Centre for Alylum Seekers)- the largest centre of its kind in Europe. The memo clarifies that the effect of free legal aid in civil matters occurs from the moment of admission from the Bar Council. The problem is that from the enactment of these measures, the time scale is very long. In fact, in the majority of cases it actually proves longer than the time needed to make an appeal. The claimant, therefore, even if in a state of poverty, has to pay the costs of the unified contributions and rights in advance. Or worse still, it is the lawyer who must anticipate the appeal costs for the client. To further aggravate the situation, the Catania Bar Council has recently added a new bylaw which decrees that all cases of free legal aid for asylum seekers without an identity card be suspended. This is regardless of the fact that this question had already been dealt with by a writ of the court in Catania which clarified that a document authorised by the police headquarters would be accepted as a means of identification for the asylum seekers who escape from their country without identity documents.
Appeal against deferred refusals of entry
The inaccessability to the right to a defence also applies to many cases where migrants throughout Italy lodged appeals against deffered refusals of entry (ie- a refusal of entry issued by the police commissioner after entry onto Italian territory has already occurred, instead of the traditional deportation). In 2011 alone, in an Agrigento court, thousands of migrants who had arrived in Lampedusa were denied the right to a competent defence (due to a type of annulment of the refusal of entry measures) even though representatives assigned to them under the law were present. The magistrate declared it was not his role to proceed. Yet in doing so, he failed to address the situation (ie- he did not consider the representatives de facto or the rights underlying the appeal). Instead, he felt these appeals came under the responsibility of the Regional Administrative Tribunal, which on more than one occasion, had already denied its role in the process. The result is that thousands of asylum seekers, vulnerable people, relatives of European citizens, and in general all migrants who aren’t granted the right to leave Italy or stay in a CIE (Immigration Detention Centre) whilst waiting for the outcome of their application for international protection, run the risk of being returned to their countries, being locked up for months in a CIE or destined to life as an illegal immigrant. Luckily, there are some brave lawyers who are trying to end these scapegoats used by institutions, which enable the Italian government to deny migrants a defence.
The subject will be covered in greater depth next month with interviews with those who have been through the experince.

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