Right to Asylum in Italy : Access to procedures and treatment of asylum seekers

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Italy’s geographical position makes the country one of the principal maritime entry points into the
European Union for migrants and asylum seekers from more and more distant countries. In recent
years this situation has led Italian authorities to take initiatives regarding the administration of its
borders and the treatment of asylum seekers which, coupled with a complex and unstable legal
mechanism, does not always meet the requirements to respect Human Rights of the person. This
tendency is in line with the more general direction adopted by the European Union since the end of
the 90s in the domain of the fight against illegal immigration. This is reflected in the strengthening
of controls at the external borders of the EU, particularly the maritime borders, and the methods of
removing unwanted foreigners (joint flights). It is also reflected in the restrictions on candidates’
access to asylum in Europe, in the development of partnerships with countries of origin and, above
all, transit, to encourage them to work in close collaboration with the European migration policy,
particularly in preventing migrants and asylum seekers from continuing their journey to the EU.
The Mediterranean rim is naturally one of the areas of predilection for this policy, which Italy is
experimenting with its North African neighbours, often with detrimental consequences on the
migrants and those in exile who are its focus.

During 2004, several events illustrated in a spectacular manner the strong-arm methods chosen by
Italy to manage the arrival of migrants on its coast by organising massive and almost immediate
refoulement at the time when the country was labouring to adopt a coherent legislative mechanism
with respect to asylum. Although Italy has been able to introduce a dignified system of reception
for asylum seekers in the context of a national reception programme, it is a long way far from
satisfying needs and leaves many applicants by the wayside. Instead of trying to make it generally
applicable, the reform of asylum legislation under way since 2002, which should come into force
during 2005, is based on accelerating procedures and the creation of “identification centres” in
which many applicants risk confinement by way of initial reception. Italy’s experience with respect
to detention centres for foreigners - the CPTAs, in existence since 1998 - is not particularly
convincing, and there are many criticisms of the ways in which their “guests” are treated. However,
although the efficiency of detention with respect to the aims declared (improving the expulsion rate)
has not been proven, the legislator recently doubled the maximum detention period in CPTAs.

This is the context of the FIDH mission to Italy, undertaken from December 5 to 15, 2004. It
followed on the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Immigrant Workers in June
2004 [1]
, and that of a delegation of the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention
of Torture in November 2004 [2]. The intention behind the mission was not to consider Italy’s
complete immigration policy, nor to consider in detail physical conditions in the detention centres
for foreigners. In add to the study it made of Italian law with regard to the reception of immigrants,
asylum and the removal of foreigners, the mission investigated the concrete conditions of treatment
of asylum seekers and migrants in an irregular situation.

This investigation included:

 visits to four CPTA (temporary stay and assistance centres), and one CDA (centre of first
 visits to several association reception centres for asylum seekers,
 a visit to the “Hotel Africa Tiburtina”, considered to be one of the largest squats in the
capital, located on the outskirts of Rome, and where many asylum seekers gather,
 meetings with many associations and individuals involved in the defence of migrants and
asylum seekers (see appendix list), and a representative of the Italian delegation of the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR),
 meetings with officials of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs.

The mission also pieced together, from information received, the sequence of three events that
marked 2004: the Cap Anamur affair in July, the massive expulsions organised in October from the
island of Lampedusa to Libya and, in the same month, the expulsion of thirteen Kurdish stowaways
on the cargo ship Lydia Oldendorff, who were prevented from lodging applications for asylum on
their arrival in Italy. These events are an illustration on the one hand of Italy’s attempt to take a
firm stance in the European debate on immigration, and on the other hand the contradictions
between its internal legislation, its international commitments, and the practices of its politicians.

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