11 April 2017

New Rejections, Arrests and Hotspots: The Migrants Italy Does Not Want to Protect But Continues to Exploit

Around 250 people in just one landing: this is the number of migrants, almost all Moroccans, who were handed rejection notices immediately after arriving in Pozzallo over a week ago on board the Golfo Azzurro. Photocopied rejection notices which impose that you leave the Italian state within seven days, via Fiumicino airport in Rome. This absurd, illegal, unconstitutional procedure has been carried out yet again, leading to the collective rejections of which Italy was found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights.

La nave Aquarius al porto di Catania

“Preliminary investigations” continue on the other fronts, into the search and rescue operations, with NGOs forced to demonstrate the transparency of their work, while the Libyan Coast Guard wait for the money promised by the Italian government to combat the infamous “smugglers”. In the meanwhile, the rescue operations at sea continue at an even pace, with around 2,000 migrants saved last weekend alone. And with them, the ‘deferred rejections’ are growing, and the arrests of the ‘alleged boat drivers’, and the dead.

The survivors of the latest crossing all left from Sabratha, Libya. The journey took around three days before finally arriving at Pozzallo, Catania, Augusta and Trapani. On the morning of Friday 7th April, 433 people arrived in Catania on board the Aquarius, including many women who spoke to staff on board about the abuse and maltreatment they received immediately before departure. Most of the new arrivals were from Bangladesh and Morocco: the high number of North African citizens, and the fact that the police organised for them to be among the first to land, provided a forewarning of mass rejections – which we were, unfortunately, able to confirm a few hours later.

In fact, it was only three and a half hours after the end of landing operation that we came across dozens of young Moroccan men who had left the port with nothing except a bag from the Red Cross (which we saw contained water, a change of clothes, and some food), and a rejection notice ordering them to leave Italy within seven days. We found them the next morning in the premises of the train station, along with staff from the OpenEurope project. With the help of a mediator, they had provided them with some basic legal information the evening before, as well as kit for their bare necessities, a telephone card and some information on where in the city they could get a warm meal, a change of clothes and take a shower. The majority of them are determined to continue their journeys to other places, but for some of them it is not even possible to decipher signs written in Italian. “I want to go to Spain” – ‘A.’ told us in broken French – “I have friends there, relatives, a second family. But coming this way was the only way to do it.”

The rejected young Moroccans at Catania train station

There are around 80 young men passing through the train station in this situation; they explained how they were interrogated by the police about why they have escaped to Italy, only for the majority of them to be removed from the port with the legal notices which we already know all too well. The signs of exhaustion and the difficulty of communication means we have serious doubts about whether it was possible, in the space of a few hours, to fully inform hundreds of people of the situation, and examine each person’s situation while respecting the right to individual protection. How many of these young men have understood what is happening, and above all what the rejection notice in their hands means for their future? What protection of basic rights is guaranteed to those who are left in the street like this, in a foreign country, without documents, money or even much ability to communicate? Italy is simply continuing with the production of invisible, irregular persons, who from the North to the South are filling up the ranks of black market and exploitative work, blocked from exercising even the few rights left to them.

The plan according to which, for every rescue there is a corresponding arrest of at least “alleged boat driver” continues to be rigorously followed in Pozzallo. After the landing operation of MOAS’s vessel Phoenix on April 6th, three migrants – including one minor – were arrested, and further investigations are underway. These past few months dozens such “alleged boat drivers” were all let out of prison within the space of a few weeks and dumped on the streets of Ragusa. Their ability to obtain legal status in Italy still needs to be confirmed. But even now that some judges are recognising the argument that a “state of necessity” forced many of them to drive the vessels, the form and method of the investigations carried out on arrival has not seen any modification, and the number of arrests continues apace. Italy and Europe needs sacrificial victims to demonstrate their ability to fight human trafficking, even when it is all too clear that the real traffickers are far off. Those who land on our shores can bear witness to this easily enough: “They brought me to Sabratha along with the others, continually escorted by Libyan men pointing their guns at us… Whoever didn’t have the money was beaten and tortured, and then killed – and I saw plenty of people left outside the compound where we were kept – with a bullet in their head. I was lucky, because I had managed to get some of the money sent to the Libyans who were asking for it. They put me together with the other who hadn’t paid the full amount and ordered me to do some things, like carry the boat, take the compass, use the satellite phone and hand out biscuits and water. I couldn’t say no, I didn’t have any choice, otherwise they would have killed me.” “We were stopped by the Libyan Coast Guard, who stole everything we had, and then left us to the sea.” “This is my second attempt to get to Italy. The first time we were intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard and brought back to shore, imprisoned, and forced to pay again before leaving.” Witness accounts of this kind are nothing new, but they are becoming even more difficult to listen to while the Italian government is proposing deals with the Libyan Coast Guard and punishing those it ought be protecting.

Among the 320 migrants who arrived at Pozzallo on board the Phoenix, there were also around 40 unaccompanied foreign minors, still “detained” in the Hotspot, while some of the 1,126 migrants who docked in at the port of Augusta on board the Dattilo on April 7th had to wait 2 days before touching dry ground. The body of a 40-year-old Cameroonian man also came in at Augusta, who most likely died during the extreme conditions immediately before departure. The landing operations organised the migrants to disembark in groups of 50 at a time, an extremely slow procedure which left no doubt that the “security” checks and the investigations are taking on an ever more concerning role during the reception activities. Those who landed in the province of Syracuse also saw the perverse man-hunt for the “alleged boat drivers”, which always finds some space in the local press. The conditions and the rights of thousands of people crammed into two large tents for days, however, rarely finds any such column space.

We are building walls for those who arrive, and new barriers which block the process of regularisation. Thus while works continue at the CARA* at Mineo for another ‘Hotspot’, the recent Minniti-Orlando decree – which has already been voted through by the Senate – aims to speed up deportations and eliminates one level of legal appeal, leaving asylum seekers with negative responses the possibility of making appeals only at the High Court of Appeal.* This has raised serious doubts about the decree’s legality, which only works in the favour of a rapid descent into irregularity for hundreds of people already present in Italy, who then simply become new goods ready to be exploited.

Whether alive or dead, for Italy migrants remain mere numbers. They are to be controlled, identified, selected and inserted into statistics, according to criteria which all too frequently have nothing to do with the safeguarding of human rights.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus
* CARA = Centro di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo (Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers)

* “High Court of Appeal” = La Corte suprema di Cassazione

Translation by Richard Braude

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