Still more news about the human rights violations internal to the Italian migrant detention system continues to reach the public. In a joint press release, the coalition of LasciateCIEntrare, Legal Team and Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata (OMB) denounce the CPR (Centro di Permanenza per il Rimpatrio) of Palazzo san Gervasio as a site of repression and abuse. On the phone with a local news site, the spokesperson of LasciateCIEntrare, Yasmine Yaya mentions the presence of some particularly vulnerable migrants who are trying to seek asylum and need urgent assistance. At the same time, the organisation denounces the high degrees of psychological stress that leads some inhabitants to purposively inflict self-harm and attempt suicide. In the afternoon of 26 April, a Syrian Kurdish citizen threatened to kill himself; while two other people, perhaps of Tunisian nationality, threatened to hang themselves in another migrant reception center. Final proof of the migrant rights violations arrived a few days later, with the unconditional release of all 42 inmates of the CPR in Palazzo. Interviewed by the same press agency, the lawyer of the OMB Angela Bitonti, confirms that she and her assistants managed to liberate these citizens because the detention measures were “illegitimate”, as they were based on an alleged social danger that did not persist (remember the migrants had been detained on presumption of having set fire to the reception center in Lampedusa). “From now on, they are asylum seekers, for whom the application of the rule of international protection applies… Many of these people should be helped,” Bitonti concludes, remembering that “we are dealing with human lives, with human beings, to whom life can not be denied.”
The Alarm Phone project publishes its report entitled “Mediterranean Coalitions of Struggle”. It offers an overview of the situation in the three main Mediterranean regions and the developments there: of deterrence, forcible returns, and criminalisation of migrant flows. In addition, the report gives an overview of the political campaigns and struggles members of the Alarm Phone have been involved in over the past six weeks, ranging from 24/7 phone activism, symbolic actions in the Netherlands, protests with fishermen in Tunisia, rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, counter-investigations that speak back to European attempts to criminalise non-governmental rescue, to collective commemorations in Greece.
A consortium of associations led by the Coalition for Freedom and Civil Rights (CLID), the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), and Indiewatch confirms earlier findings about the systematic abuse against migrants, including children, at two locations in Sicily and Potenza that were mentioned in a previous post: Lampedusa and Palazzo San Gervasio. The report (English summary here) says migrants and asylum seekers at the two sites have been victims of human rights violations and the right to defence, as well as inhumane living conditions and violence. Specifically referring to Palazzo, ASGI notes what it calls “very serious violations of the right to defence, which impeded the migrants from being assisted by their attorneys during the confirmation hearings.” In the meantime, an attempted escape by 22 detainees from the detention center yesterday has resulted in a mass search operation by the police, resulting in the arrest fr 12 of them. Human rights organisations are worried about the increasing repression of those who remain internalised. A complete report (in Italian) about the joint visit by Campagna LasciateCIEntrare and Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, together with Europarlamentarian Eleonora Forenza has been made available here.
A violent clash between inmates and police left several injured in the migration detention of Palazzo San Gervasio, Italy. Palazzo, a small town of 5000 inhabitants in the region of Basilicata, has recently come to host a group of Tunisian asylum seekers from Lampedusa, which has been officially closed down for renovation (another group was dispatched to Turin). Officially, the Tunisians are being charged now for setting on fire parts of the Lampedusa camp in protest against their inhumane treatment -a charge that has been firmly denied and contested by a court in Turin.
After their arrival in Basilicata mid-March, some Tunisian asylum claimants had started a hunger strike, in a desperate attempt to claim their right to asylum and to see their lawyers. on 27 March, a sit-in in front of the gates by a dozen of activists from the CSOA Anzacresa collective incited the inmates to protest against their infinite detention, which caused the police offensive (according to this report by Cronache di Ordinario Razzismo). Video fragments (which are very difficult to obtain because of the deliberate destruction of personal belongings by the camp guards) shared by the family members of the detainees show several injured inmates carried away by the police.
After a long closure, the migrant detention centre (officially Centri di Permanenza per i Rimpatri: CPR) of Palazzo was officially reopened in January to take on inmates from the overpopulated hotspot of Lampedusa, which had been criticized for some time for its inhumane conditions (for Italian reports see here and here). The structure has a long history of migrant accommodation. Originally confiscated from organized crime in 1999 (from a man called Antonio Sciarra), it initially served as a temporary accommodation for seasonal foreign labourers who return to the region each year to harvest tomatoes (an issue we talked about repeatedly on this blog). In 2011 regional authorities abruptly closed the infrastructure, officially to prevent migrants to settle illegally within the camp structure. While this decision deliberately dispersed foreign labourers to the surrounding countryside to set up their makeshift migrant ‘ghettos’, the regional administration quickly transformed the former labour camp into an open prison (officially CIE: Centro per Identificazione e Espulsione) for about 60 migrant detainees dispatched from various landing sites in Sicily. In April 2011, journalist Raffaella Cosentino documented the extreme cruelty with which migrant prisoners were detained there at the time (amongst others in this video), causing a subsequent protest and official visit by three Italian parliamentarians (Touadì, Calipari and Giulietti), who confirmed this situation as unacceptable.
After a long closure, the management of the infrastructure has been assigned now to a private company, called Engel Italia srl. Engel is not new to migration detention in Italy. In 2014 two civil society organizations, the labour union CGIL and LasciateCIEntrare, officially denounced the company for serious irregularities in the management of a refugee reception centre in Paestum, where migrants claimed they were threatened at gunpoint after claiming their basic human right to medical and assistance and to legal support. Local associations from Basilicata, presided by the Osservatorio Migranti Basilicata, and flanked by LasciateCIEntrare and the legal assistance collective ASGI, already last December attempted to sensitize the public opinion to the imminent reopening of the centre with a joint appeal. Lawyers, who have been denied access to the centre now for “security reasons”, are trying to find other ways to reach the 40 people held in this open-air prison. The only news that crosses its walls now arrives through local associations and through the relatives of the detainees.
With less than one month to go, I gladly announce here the closing event of the New Plantations project, in Brussels on 14 December. For the last two years our international research team from Switzerland, Belgium and Italy has analyzed migrant work conditions in Europe, focusing on dynamics of illegalization, racialization and labour exploitation in the contintent’s agricultural sector.
Directed by a group of activists, artists and academics, the event will highlight the forces at play in the European horticultural industry. Rather than a classic presentation-based conference, the workshop will be pinpointed around several interactive tables, each of which will address a specific theme. The event will be closed by a short theatre show by Cantieri Meticci, whose members have been active participants in this project.
Anyone who is interested in participating, please send a confirmation email to project director Timothy Raeymaekers (firstname.lastname@example.org) by November 30th. More information on time, place and logistics of the event can be found on our facebook page and on the attached flyer. The language of the event will be French.
The new issue of Movements: Journal for Critical Migration and Border Studies appeared, addressing current migration and social rights Europe’s border and asylum policies
More questions arise around the fire that destroyed the ghetto of Rignano last Thursday, only hours after police had moved in to forcefully evict its residents. As I wrote yesterday, the fire claimed the lives of two Malian citizens, Mamadou Konate (33) and Nouhou Doumbia (36), whose bodies were found carbonised in one of the destroyed barracks. Mamadou and Nouhou were among more or less hundred residents who refused to leave their homes in the aftermath of the eviction. For fear to loose their belongings, and to be turned away from their bosses (the caporali who practically run the labour rackets around here), they decided to stay put, paying with their lives.
During a protest march organised on Thursday, immigrants had already denounced the lack of available accommodation, which, for the 3-400 remaining day labourers, risked to close their opportunity to work for good. Regional authorities mention 320 beds in two facilities: Arena and Casa Sankara. Both are closely supervised by the police now, officially for fear of retaliations from the part of the capi neri -or African caporali. In a statement to the national press, regional governor Michele Emiliano ensured that soon, his administration would prepare “ways in which any worker who comes to Puglia will find accommodation with the help of different organizations, including agricultural enterprises and the state, to ensure that employment in agriculture is not in hands of the capi neri who control this field in criminal fashion (mafiosamente), but it is in the hands of institutions, enterprises and the Puglia Region.”
But while state authorities are joining efforts to blame the deaths of Mamadou and Nouhou on their fellow nationals, questions arise as to the coordination of police forces in the ghetto area. After a delegation of immigrant workers had tried to convince the attorney of Foggia in vain to leave the ghetto open for the next agricultural season, some immigrants decided to return to Rignano. The question now rises how the fire could spread through the night under the full presence of carabinieri, police and fire brigades. The next day, when Mamadou’s and Nouhou’s bodies were discovered, Foggia’s attorney (prefettura) was quick to deny any malicious intent. But on Saturday, superintendent Antonio Piernicola Silvis publicly raised the suspicion that the fire had been ignited deliberately. Commenting a video spread by Corriere della sera, where several immigrants appear to laugh at the event, he commented: “in the area 7-8 well-known subjects were involved, who were stirring up the others to leave. Probably they did not want to kill anyone but … you know, in these situations, fortune takes a hand.” The video effectively shows a few burning barracks, but those who are laughing rather do so with a grim: one person cynically says, in Wolof: “look at the destruction… because of one man, a thousand people will loose everything, where will they all sleep now?”
In the meantime, another video -which was not made publicly available- shot by the national Air Force during the eviction could possibly eliminate some doubts. According to one source, it clearly shows how Thursday’s fire spread simultaneously from several points within the ghetto. The superintendent has now opened an investigation into manslaughter.
The Grand Ghetto is no more… On Thursday night, a fire destroyed the remains of Italy’s biggest informal labour slums, only hours after police had moved in to forcefully evict its 3-400 residents. The Grand Ghetto, between Foggia and San Severo (Puglia), is located in one of Italy’s prime agro-food basins, the Capitanata, which produces about one third of the country’s industrial tomatoes (the famous pellati). Since the mid-1990s it has grown into a permanent settlement, hosting between 300 and 3.000, mostly West African workers.
Recently, the ghetto had become a thorn in the eye of Puglia’s regional governor Michele Emiliano, who is running as president of the social democratic party. After several failed attempts to dislodge its inhabitants in the last half decade, his administration has worked hard to find alternative living and working conditions in the area with the assistance of several community organisations. One of these is called Casa Sankara, an association directed by two former day labourers Herve Papa Latyr Faye and Mbaye Ndiaye, from Senegal, who currently manage the Fortore enterprise on the SS16 from Foggia to San Severo, and currently hosts about a 100 immigrants. But while police were putting ghetto residents on buses to transport them to Casa Sankara and other locations (including, for some, police headquarters) on Wednesday, about a hundred workers are believed to be dispersed in the area, sleeping rough and occupying abandoned buildings. This number will likely increase at the start of the tomato season late March, when about 30.000 agricultural workers join the area to work as day contractors -usually without legal pay and under the close supervision of criminal intermediaries (so-called caporali).
Several questions are raised now as to the efficacy of the anti-ghetto operation. First, the rapidity of the intervention has, unwillingly, caused a number of victims. While fire workers worked hard to quench the flames on Thursday, unfortunately help came too late for two Malian citizens, Mamadou Konate (33) and Nouhou Doumbia (36), whose bodies were found carbonised in one of the destroyed barracks. Apparently one of them, Nouhou, was deaf, and could not hear the blazing fire approaching his shack. The other victim, Mamadou, was an active member of a local association which had denounced labour exploitation on several occasions. Ghetto residents publicly ask themselves how this tragedy could happen under the eye of state security forces, who were massively present during the eviction.
Secondly, people are asking what will become of the shop owners, cooks, prostitutes, and other residents who have been dislodged by the operation. During a protest march organised on Wednesday -closely monitored by some African caporali, according to witnesses- about a hundred ghettisards showed billboards saying ‘we want to live in the ghetto’. Clearly, the prospect of being hosted in one of the region’s reception centres looks largely unattractive to the majority of former ghetto residents who come to Puglia to work. At the same time, the protest also shows to what extent foreign workers, who often depend closely on intermediaries for their residence status, are systematically marginalised and segregated.
Finally, questions arise around the judicial investigation by the regional anti-mafia authorities (DDA), which previously sequestered the Grand Ghetto area with the ‘faculty of use’ -a privilege that has now been revoked, apparently. With only one arrest so far (of an Italian who apparently has no links to the criminal caporale system), criminal activities – including prostitution, stolen cars sales and, last but not least, illegal labour mediation – have remained undisturbed by recent operations. Yesterday, a drive-by shooting took place just opposite the hotel which hosts several police personnel engaged in the anti-ghetto operation. The shooting took place days after the mayor of San Severo decided to engage in a hunger strike, demanding more police to combat local crime. After these clear warnings, the Interior Ministry has decided to increase its presence in the area and organise a more permanent police backup.
Under the banner ‘ferries not FRONTEX‘ the Mediterranean Alarm Phone project pushed passengers and crew on the Tanger-Tarifa line (Morocco-Spain) in a conversations about what has recently become the deadliest and most militarised border in the world. In its latest monthly report, it furthermore assesses 18 cases of alerted border crossings, all to be found in their website.
Further to my blogpost on Boreano yesterday, I’d like to mention this report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which just came out last month: Out of Place. Asylum seekers and refugees in Italy: informal settlements and social marginalisation (the full report is only available in Italian so far).
“Based on research carried out in 2015, the report details the unacceptable conditions in which thousands of people are living in dozens of informal sites which have sprung up around the country. Most are asylum seekers and holders of international protection –and therefore legally present in the country– who have been forced to live in these conditions for months, and sometimes years, due to the inadequacies of Italy’s reception system and social integration policies. They include asylum seekers who have just arrived in Italy and who are being denied the assistance to which they are entitled by law due to a shortage of places in reception centres. They also include people in transit towards other European countries, and refugees who have lived in Italy for years but remain excluded from mainstream society.”
The sites visited by MSF include the former Olympic village in Turin exMOI, about which I wrote before, which continues to shelter over 1,000 people, to the Don Gallo house in central Padua, the “Ex-Set” factory in Bari, and the Borgo Mezzanone runway in Foggia, an informal site beside a government reception centre. But they do not include the many informal settlements like Boreano and Rignano Garganico that serve as permanent labour camps for predominantly African (but also Romanian, Bulgarian and other nationals) farmworkers dotted across the peninsula.