Yesterday, on May 19th, the plan for the project OPENEUROPE was presented in Rome. The project has been created by Oxfam Italy in partnership with Borderline Sicily and the Diaconia Valdese, with a goal of providing assistance to migrants excluded from the national reception and protection system due to having received a notice of deferred rejection. Since September 2015, when the so-called ‘Hotspot’ approach was initiated, thousands of people have been summarily and arbitrarily identified as economic migrants and consequentially given handed this measure, finding themselves in the street without knowing what to do or where to go. Among them there are various vulnerable cases. The project is going to set up a mobile team of Oxfam workers who can move through the Eastern provinces of Sicily with the aim of providing basic material support and legal guidance to this group of people. Borderline Sicily will provide legal assistance and the Diaconia Valdese will guarantee housing and reception for the most vulnerable cases.
The project plan:
A year on from the shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa during which at least 800 migrants lost their lives, Europe has still not managed to ensure legal protection to the most vulnerable subjects.
HOTSPOTS: FACTORIES OF UNCERTAINTY AND FEAR
The maritime route between Libya and Italy is the most deadly in the world.
On 18 April 2015, a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa claimed the lives of around 800 people who were trying to reach Italy. The EU responded to the tragedy by convening the first of many meetings on the migrant emergency and by accelerating the adoption of the EU agenda on migration. The packet of measures aimed at heightening European border security and lowering the number of people who arrive there also contained what is today known as the Hotspot approach: a system defined by the European Commission itself as a “working solution for emergency situations”, officially created to speed up the process of requesting asylum and guaranteeing more rapid deportations of those whose claims are rejected. At the time of writing, there are Hotspots active in Italy in Lampedusa, Pozzallo, Trapani and Taranto. In addition, staff from European agencies and the Ministry of the Interior have been deployed at the various locations of landings, while waiting for the formaliztion of a proper mobile Hotspot team.
Throughout, the Italian and European authorities who have taken on the management of the Hotspots still need to establish a clear legal framework and standard procedures for their running. This has resulted in a significant lack of clarity with regards to how this system can assure respect for Italian, European and International law.
Since their opening in Sicily, concern has been expressed over the way in which the Hotspots function, in particular the possible violations of the right of migrants to request international protection.
In reality, migrants are being subjected to an interview immediately after landings which de facto establishes their juridical status, an interview undergone in extremely stressful psychological and physical conditions, in a meeting which lasts only a few minutes, and in which no observing entity is present. This approach, which puts pressure on speed of decision making and has resulted in a high number of rejections, has ended with many people being ejected from any national system of reception, remaining abandoned by themselves, without any certainty as to their rights and in conditions of extreme vulnerability. Those rejected, left without any documents and with an entirely irregular status, are at risk of falling into the net of people trafficking and black market labour, and at the same they are afraid to seek for assistance.
AN INTERVENTION TO GUARANTEE ASSISTANCE TO THOSE REJECTED BY THE HOTSPOTS
The number of those excluded is already several thousand, and ultimately will likely rise with the increase in the number of people making the crossing across the Mediterranean in the warmer season. Oxfam Italia, Borderline Sicily and the Diaconia Valdese believe that it is fundamental and urgent to act in to contain the risks and absence of protection generated by the Hotspot system, through creating an integrated system of legal and material support for those rejected by the centres. Oxfam Italia is a global actor specialising in responding to global emergencies and has, always and in every place, the primary objective of saving lives. It has worked in Sicily since 2015 in the reception sector, strengthened through almost twenty years of experience working with migrants in Tuscany, and has the ability for provide a model of assistance and integration based on a multi-sectoral approach.
Borderline Sicily is one of the few organisation in the region which has managed to provide a legal response to these events, managing to assist in practical legal appeals against the rejections through a network of lawyers, and at the same time denouncing the high workload left to the lawyers involved and the lack of services provided to migrants in the region.
The Diaconia Valdese has a collaborative relation with Oxfam regarding reception and integration on a national level, and will contribute in Sicily through offering material support to migrants, through making its reception centres and cultural-linguistic mediators available. From 9 May a mobile unit of socio-legal workers and cultural-linguistic mediators has been operating in Sicily, prepared to travel at speed to the places in which the presence of rejected migrants has been noted, and to provide them with legal assistance so as to take appeals against the rejection notices. This is done so as to then follow the procedures for requesting asylum, the migrants being informed of their rights and directed towards reception centres available to both the project itself, and from other bodies.
The mobile team also provides material support to those rejected migrants it meets, guaranteeing a minimum standard of security, through providing them with basic necessities such as a mini hygiene and sanitary kit for men, the Dignity Kit for women, as well as clothes, shoes,
underwear, sealed food, water and local and international telephone cards.
Those most vulnerable are, beyond this, offered lodging and guidance and inclusion services in the small structures dedicated to such work, where they can stay for a limited period of time during which the practical legal help can be carried out to place them in structures designated for asylum seekers. Updates will be provided and translated into target languages through the Migrant Sicily blog, the central instrument of communication for informing public opinion at a local and national level with regard to the Hotspot system, managed by Borderline Sicily.
WE ASK ITALY AND EUROPE TO DO MORE: The #openeurope awareness campaign
Oxfam Italy, the Diaconia Valdese and Borderline Sicily believe that Europe must urgently reconsider its treatment of people arriving at its borders, and give assurance that every human being, regardless of their status, will be guaranteed dignity and respect for their fundamental human rights.
For this reason Oxfam, Borderline Sicily and the Diaconia Valdese want to put pressure on institutions at a regional, national and international level to develop a system for legal guarantees which currently do not exist, and for the creation of an appropriate legal framework which guarantees the protection of rights, with clear responsibilities. Beyond this we ask the Italian government and the European Union to guarantee independent organisations regular access to landing points and in the Hotspot centres, in a way which allows them to offer support to migrants and to monitor respect for human rights, and to create specific procedures for the protection of the most vulnerable.
Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
Translated by Richard Braude