11 March 2016

Strong criticism regarding the Lampedusa ‘hotspot’ has been raised by the report on the Identification and Expulsion Centres (CIE – Centro di identificazione ed espulsione) by the Human Rights Commission of the Italian Senate. The report assesses the situation after five months of the start of the Lampedusa ‘hotspot’ operations, and highlights pre-identification, access to information and registration as particularly worrying aspects.

The pre-identification phase consists of a questionnaire handed out to people almost immediately after disembarkation, in which they are asked to indicate some general details and the reason for their arrival, in a section where they can choose ‘to work’, ‘to be reunited with family members’, ‘to escape poverty’, ‘to claim asylum’, ‘other’. The answer to this question constitutes the basis for the initial separation between asylum seekers – who can then potentially enter the relocation mechanism – and irregular migrants – who are given a return decision.

While UNHCR, IOM and Save the Children are present inside the Lampedusa centre, there is no guarantee of information about the asylum procedure being provided at the moment of disembarkation. Refugees and migrants recently arrived are still in many cases traumatised by the journey and may not be in the best state of mind to respond to a questionnaire which will determine their future.

Italian ECRE member ASGI, in exchanges with the ECRE Weekly Bulletin, stated that “We consider the so-called ‘hotspot’ approach illegitimate: it is not foreseen in any legally binding EU document and, as the report shows, the actions taken in the framework of the ‘hotspot’ are allegedly in violation of the recast Asylum Procedure and Reception Conditions Directives.”

Fingerprinting and registration are also issues of concern, as some people do not want to be fingerprinted in Italy. Fingerprinting by force is not allowed under Italian legislation, therefore those who refuse – which they are entitled to do – are left in a state of legal limbo and are not allowed to leave the ‘hotspot’ centre.

The centre itself foresees a very short stay of a maximum of 48 hours and provides no activities besides access to basic services. In many cases, however, people are held for much longer times, even exceeding 30 days.

The report suggests, as a measure to increase the speed and efficiency of the relocation programme, to take into account the preference of the asylum seeker as per the country of relocation, based on family or community links. At present, many people do not want to enter the process because they are not allowed to choose where to go.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 11 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.