In its latest report, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe explores the experiences of refugees who after having crossed the Mediterranean had their asylum applications processed in Sicily.

JRS Europe highlights that Italy’s first-level reception system (CARA centres) is unprepared to cope with the large numbers of migrants that have been rescued by the Mare Nostrum operation and then taken to Sicily. The study shows that the reception system is under-resourced and centres in Sicily are overcrowded. JRS emphasises that Sicilians’ solidarity towards refugees and asylum seekers is strong despite the negative impact of the financial crisis in the region. However, JRS denounces that widespread corruption has allowed “unscrupulous entities that have the rights connections” but lack competence and experience to provide services that are far from adequate. JRS recommends that Italy should closely monitor the services provided to asylum seekers in CARA and move from big isolated reception centres, where asylum seekers have fewer opportunities to integrate in local communities, to a more integration-oriented reception system with smaller centres spread across the country, according to the capacity of each region.

Once they are granted international protection, refugees have theoretically the right to live in a ‘SPRAR’ reception centre, usually located in the centre of cities and towns across Italy. However, the 19,000 SPRAR places together with the additional 25,000 emergency places set up in August and some temporary shelters, including a mosque, are not enough to meet the demand. For those in Sicily, problems to find shelter, coupled with the difficulties to find a job, mean that many refugees end up without a place to stay and are exposed to different forms of exploitation, including working in agriculture for long hours and in poor conditions, having to take massive cuts from their wages to pay the ‘caporale’ who engaged them. The JRS report describes how recognised refugees, together with asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of the appeal on their rejected asylum application, and people outside the system, sleep at train stations, on benches, and in abandoned cars and warehouses. Fabrizio Gatti, who investigated the exploitation of migrants in Sicily, said that migrants work in extreme conditions “even to the extent of earning 50 cents an hour.” Often they are not even paid at the end of the week.

JRS calls for more intra-European solidarity to fund basic minimum reception services and asylum procedures, as well as search and rescue operations. Between 2007 and 2013, the EU allocated about 700 million euro to support asylum procedures, but almost 1,820 million euro for border controls. The organisation also recommends that refugees receive appropriate support to enter the labour market and are included in social housing programs. JRS also urges the EU to establish mechanisms that allow for the mutual recognition of international protection status in all EU Member States.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 10 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.