AYS SPECIAL ABOUT CPR — Italian pre-deportation centres: An administrative hell

T., a man in hunger strike in the CPR (Italian pre-deportation centre) of Turin, contacted Radio Blackout (1, 2), an activist radio based in the same city. By Monday 25th of February, T. was at his 16th day of hunger strike to demand his freedom and to enlighten the public about the brutal conditions people are forced to suffer in the centre.

CPR in Turin (photo by Hurriya)

The other side of Schengen

Italian CPRs (Centri di Permanenza per il Rimpatrio) are the renovated version of detention centres for undocumented migrants. They have had several different names (CPT, Centri di Permanenza Temporanea, CIE, Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione) and opened for the first time in 1998.

The detention of people who did not commit any crime, and whose only fault is trying to find better living conditions in Italy or in the rest of Europe is strictly connected with “free movement”, as it was thought of by European politicians at the time of the Schengen agreements. One of the clauses of the agreements was to identify those people who did not benefit from such freedom, and to introduce new ways to limit their rights.

“Bars and barbwire.” “Imagine if we had committed a real crime.” (Vermi di Rouge)

In Italy, throughout the years, the maximum time for detention in these centres increased from 30 days in 1998 to 18 months in 2011, only to go down to 90 days, following an EU directive, in 2013. With the new laws introduced by Interior ministers Marco Minniti, and then Matteo Salvini, people can be detained for up to 180 days (6 months).

Managed by private companies, and guarded by private security firms, police forces and the army, there are now between 5 and 7 open centres: in Bari, Brindisi, Rome (this is the only female detention centre), Potenza, Turin and in Trapani and Caltanissetta — where they have been recently reopened. Additionally, four more centres are due to open in the first six months of 2019.

The exact number and capacity of the centres, as well as data on future openings is not clear, as often authorities “forget” to publish such information. Private companies hired to manage the centres are often chosen through private agreements.

In December 2018 the capacity of all open centres reached 1,035.
The centre in Caltanissetta had been closed in 2017 after a revolt, and the only public announcement of its reopening came from minister Salvini during one of his speeches. The centre in Trapani had been initially used as a hotspot and no news about its conversion to a CPR has ever been released, but several people were moved there while waiting to be deported in the first moths of 2019.

Some centres have been converted from disused prisons, hospitals, psychiatric wards, others were opened as hotspots or were built appositely as detention centres.

Conditions in Italian CPRs go too often unnoticed, due to the obstructions to communication to and from such centres employed by guards and operators. Since 2001 journalists have not been allowed within detention centres for migrant people.

Inside Turin’s CPR

The situation is very bad. It’s horrible. Animals have more rights. If I had an animal at home I would treat him better than how we are treated in this place.

At his 16th day of hunger strike, T. has lost more than 11 kg. In the last 4 days he refused to drink any water or to take any medicine. He feels pain in his kidneys and has to use a wheelchair when going to the doctor’s office. Apart from brief daily medical visits, during which he is constantly being told that ‘he is OK’, no one has talked to him and no action has been taken to meet his demands.

T. states the he has his papers in the UK, and asks to be sent back there or to his country of origin. The private-run management of the centre and Italian authorities have so far refused to meet his demands, more interested in keeping him detained for as mach longer as they can, so to get as much money as they can from national and European institutions. In doing so, the living conditions of Turin CPR are “a humanitarian disaster”. Only a little part of the money received is actually spent in services for the ‘detainees’.

As T. states, those who manage these centres are much more similar to human traffickers than to any sort of migration officers.

Under the name of “administrative detention”, these centres are actual prisons. Those trapped inside are not called prisoners but ‘guests’, and do not have many of the rights and legal safeguards that a real prison’s inmates enjoy.
According to the law, people have to be brought before a judge within 72 hours from the moment they are sent to the CPR. That is often the last moment at which they receive news from outside.

While detained, no information is given about the scheduled deportation or about any changes regarding the case.
Solicitors and lawyers often show up only when there are papers to be signed, and they rarely take calls from their clients.

No activity is provided for the people trapped inside. Books and magazines are banned as they are flammable, remote controls for televisions are not provided, funds for language classes and other activities have been suspended thanks to the Salvini law on Migration and Secutiry passed during Fall 2018.
Guards and doctors often don’t intervene when they are needed, such as in case of fights or accidents.

As T. explains, one of the main problems regards the quality of food and the humiliating modalities of distribution:

“In this place there’s not even a table and chairs where we can sit down and eat all together.” Prisoners have to eat on their beds or on the floor.”
[…] They bring the food in kind of boxes, in plastic cans and plastic plates. It is very cold and it’s never on time.
[…] It is always cold and they just throw it into the floor with all the bread and they close the gates. like it’s for dogs.”

Protests outside and inside

Small and large protests often happen in Italian CPRs, but they are only rarely reported. Breakout attempts, revolts and hunger strikes. In the last six months the centre has been damaged several times and areas have been burned by the prisoners in a desperate attempt to be noticed by the outside world. More recently some prisoners managed to reach the roof of the centre in protest against their living conditions.

Local and national networks of activists have been created in order to support prisoners and gain access to information from within the centres. During the last weeks a militarised police operation hit anarchist groups active in the struggle against CPRs, especially in the Turin area. Labelled as terrorists by most mainstream media, some of them are still in jail waiting trial, under the charges of “subversive association”.

“Send me anywhere, but let me out of here”

The message of the prisoner in hunger strike is clear:

The problem is worse than what you imagine.
[…] I used to see these ‘Conan the Barbarian’ movies, these crazy monster movies… and we are living them in our reality in this place.
[…] I have lost 11 kg, I’m between life and death. I want to relay this message to anyone in Italy and in the world. What they are doing to us in this place is discrimination, they don’t care.
[…] To all people who are trying to come to Italy: ‘Don’t come here!’. They are destroying our hope, they are destroying everything from us.
The only thing I’m demanding is my freedom.
Send me wherever you want, send me to India, send me to the Moon, send me in the sea, but let me out of here.
Here is worse than prison, is worse than being lost in the desert.

As Are You Syrious? we demand for independent human rights organisations to be allowed inside the CPR in Turin, to check on T.’s health situation and on the conditions within the centre. We also demand for the immediate release of T.

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