Italy: right to asylum at risk

On 23 January, the refugee organisations of Tavolo Asilo, including JRS Italy, Amnesty International and Save the Children among others, urged the minister for home affairs, Roberto Maroni, to suspend immediately the new policies applied to refugees and migrants arriving in Lampedusa Island.

Alarmed and saddened by this situation, Tavolo Asilo has asked for a meeting with the minister in the hope of changing government policy.

According to the refugee organisations, in the last few days the minister suspended the transfer of migrants arriving in Lampedusa Island to reception centres in mainland Italy. In the meantime, the migrants and asylum seekers remain in the overcrowded primary care centre in Lampedusa. The members of Tavolo Asilo expressed concern about health conditions in the centre, in particular for children and women. On 21 January, there were more than 1,800 asylum seekers and migrants in the centre, well over its capacity of 804.

The organisations also expressed concern that the government was undertaking refugee status determinations on the island. They said that there were neither the courts to hear appeals nor the law firms in a position to provide specialised legal assistance to the asylum seekers. The refugee advocates effectively accused the government of denying asylum seekers the right to fair refugee determination procedures as guaranteed by national and European law. Asylum seekers risk being returned to a country where they would face serious human rights abuses.

Tavolo Asilo pointed out that those arriving in Lampedusa have frequently been subject to trauma on their journey to Italy, such as witnessing the deaths of close family members or friends. Upon arrival in Italy, they find themselves immediately being thrown into administrative procedures, such as the asylum procedure, the outcome of which will determine their future safety. This, the organisations stated, was in contravention with international human rights standards and the humanitarian nature of the right to asylum.

For years, the Lampedusa centre has been used for primary healthcare. It is not suitable to be used either as an identification and expulsion centre or a reception centre for asylum seekers. Under Italian law, asylum seekers should neither be held nor deported from primary care centres. They should be transferred to reception centres for asylum seekers on the Italian mainland where information and legal assistance is available. Their detention in primary care centres is a deprivation of their rights to personal liberty. When this detention exceeds 48 hours without judicial oversight, as it does at present, the situation becomes extremely worrying.