The Right of Asylum becomes a Utopia

In the last few weeks, while the news in the
newspapers has focussed on other events, Italy has continued to deny young
migrants a future and a hope: those running from the hands of terrorists, from
“democratic” bombs, from multinationals, from slavery, from the desert and the
sea, are ending up under a bridge or in a doorway.

The hope of which we speak is called international
protection, which today seems little more than a utopia – both for those who
have been in Italy for some time, and those who have arrived in recent days. In
the midst of almost total silence, the Italian government has signed or revived
agreements with various African nations (Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria, Gambia),
covered by large sums of money, both to impede departures headed for Europe and
to promptly repatriate those who are not stopped by the desert, the traffickers
or the sea.

These agreements result from the “road map” (
a document established by the government, in which Italy’s intentions
and the commitments to Europe in the field of immigration are laid out in black
and white, behind the request for conspicuous sums of “necessary” money.

The agreement, for example, with the Nigerian
government has imposed a gear change in the possibilities of accessing
international protection: for some months, Nigerians who set foot in Italy can
be taken directly to the CIE* for a swift meeting with the African ambassador
and then through to immediate repatriation.

At the latest disembarkings at Lampedusa, Pozzallo and
Trapani (those in which one man lost his life and arrived at the port as a
corpse), the Nigerians were transferred directly to the CIE at Pian del Lago,
di Ponte Galeria (70 women and 20 men) and at Milo (34 people transferred from
Lampedusa who had fruitlessly expressed their desire, on the ferry to Porto
Empedocle, to request international protection). Fortunately the Nigerians
transferred to the CIE at Trapani managed to formalise their demand, thanks to
information received by the workers of the International Organisation for
Migration, while in Rome the 90 people at Ponte Galeria were stopped from being
deported thanks to the anti-racist groups who acted quickly to block what has
unfortunately in recent weeks become normal practice.

And when the ambassadors or consuls do not work, or
when the CIE are full up, the police stations are now issuing illegal orders of
deferred collective deportation, already in many cases suspended through the
Sicilian courts. Many informants coming to us from all over talk about the absence
of any information given to migrants on arrival, instead taken as subjects for
cards provided by Frontex personnel, in which surname, nationality and date of
birth are included, but nothing inquiring as to the motives for their arrival
in Italy.

Moreover, we note that tens of migrants given orders
for deferred deportation have futilely returned to Sicilian police stations
asking for the formalisation of their requests for asylum. Their only luck has
been in meeting good lawyers ready to defend them and strive for the
recognition of their rights. For example, the thirteen Pakistanis and two
Malians who arrived at Agrigento from Lampedusa on 5 November, where the police
station gave them notice of deferred deportation, and who on 11 November ended
up in Palermo where the door of the Immigration Office was slammed in their
faces, refusing to record their desire to ask for international protection, in
violation of any legal basis. The only solution, for those who do not find a
supporting association (such as those supporting the homeless, who are working
overtime on the night shifts now), or a willing lawyer, is the street: yet
another humiliation, another deprivation of dignity and the creation of an army
of invisibles.

In these hours, hundreds of people from Mali, Nigeria,
Pakistan and Senegal are wandering the cities of Italy with a notice of
deferred deportation in their pockets, in the hope of finding a police station
open to receive their request for protection, despite this being their
fundamental human right! The decision of the Italian government has been to
decide already at the point of disembarking whether someone is worthy of
international protection, on the basis of their nationality and not their
personal experience.

Another shameful practice is that put in place by the
Sicilian commissions who, with the goodwill of international organisations such
as the UNHCR (which is meant to work for the instruction of rights of asylum),
in order to reduce the backlog (notinline with their commitments in the “road
map”, average waiting times already being 15-18 months) have resorted to
interviews which last only from 30 to 40 minutes at most. The result is that
interviews are entirely superficial, with pre-written forms, in clear violation
of the rights of asylum. In recent weeks, huge numbers of rejections of the
request for protection have been recorded (already increased over the past two
years) peaking at 60% of processed instances. The rejected, as witnessed by the workers at reception centres, are tired of waiting to fight the Italian bureaucratic monster; and so they disappear discouraged, entering into invisibility and doing a favour to the Prefectures who thus gain a freed-up place in the centres.

All this corruption of the system is creating
ill-feeling among refugees and asylum seekers; in centres like the CSPA at
Lampedusa, the migrants there have refused for days to give their finger prints
and begun a hunger strike. Lampedusa is the first Italian ‘Hotspot’, a
laboratory for Frontex and other European agencies; it is from Lampedusa that
the planes go directly to Rome (the CIE at Ponte Galeria) before being
repatriated (especially Nigerians); it is at Lampedusa that a tiny boat arrives
with 14 people, who are yet again tracked down, recognised as Tunisians and
transferred to Palermo, from where they are repatriated with the regular planes
bound for Tunisia. Obviously no one is provided any longer with the possibility
of requesting asylum.

On top of all this the prefectures continue to delay
payments of daily wages to the managers of the reception centres, further
complicating the difficult work of the smaller enterprises, thus forcing them
to close their doors and opening up space to the sharks of the immigration business,
who divide up the migrants of the smaller centres. And so we realise that this
system is no longer an Italian one but now bears a European stamp, always
shrinking the guarantees and support, and making access to fundamental rights
ever harder and frequently impossible.

We continue to oppose ourselves to all this because
the respect of fundamental rights is a duty of any state which professes itself
to be civilised and democratic, requesting meetings with Sicilian prefectures
and police stations, with the goal of asking for an end to illegal practices
and to find shared solutions, so that the right of asylum does not become a

Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia Onlus

*CIE – Centro di Identificazione ed
Espulsione: Immigration Detention and Deportation

Translation: Richard Braude