Italy pre­pares mi­grant ‘hotspots’ amid doubts over Europe’s scheme


It will be one of Italy’s brand new “hotspots” for iden­ti­fy­ing newly-ar­rived mi­grants — but as the Poz­za­llo re­cep­tion cen­ter in Si­cily pre­pares its fin­ger­print­ing kits, the EU-led plan for these fa­cil­i­ties is still plagued with un­re­solved is­sues.

For now, the vast hanger over­look­ing the sea in south­ern Italy hosts the ma­jor­ity of mi­grants land­ing here each week, giv­ing them time to wash and rest be­fore they are sent on to more per­ma­nent cen­ters to file asy­lum re­quests.

From there, up to two thirds of mi­grants ditch their newly found lodg­ings to con­tinue their jour­ney north to­wards a new life — cre­at­ing a flow of un­doc­u­mented peo­ple across borders that the Euro­pean Union is de­ter­mined to stem.

When Poz­za­llo be­comes an of­fi­cial “hotspot” at the end of Novem­ber, new ar­rivals will in­stead be obliged to pro­vide their fin­ger­prints as part of an asy­lum re­quest, or be taken to a de­ten­tion cen­ter to await ex­pul­sion from Italy.

The hotspots will be closed-door cen­ters, sharply re­duc­ing the chance that peo­ple can flee and head north off their own backs.

Those very likely to win refugee sta­tus — Syr­i­ans, Eritre­ans and Iraqis — will be fast-tracked and taken to a sep­a­rate cen­ter, where they will be di­vided up and dis­trib­uted to other coun­tries within the Euro­pean Union.

But an ex­per­i­men­tal phase be­gun two weeks ago on Italy’s Lampe­dusa is­land has re­vealed po­ten­tial stum­bling blocks in the “hotspot” process.

What will hap­pen if Syr­ian or Eritrean na­tion­als refuse to give their fin­ger­prints, see­ing as they can­not be ex­pelled? Would they be kept in a de­ten­tion cen­ter un­til they change their minds?

Once asy­lum seek­ers are sorted and placed in open cen­ters, will Italy con­tinue to look the other way if they hop the fence and head for the bor­der?

And how easy will it be to con­vince those hop­ing to join rel­a­tives or friends in Ger­many and Swe­den to ac­cept a place in Por­tu­gal or Lithua­nia in­stead?

“They prob­a­bly won’t be com­pletely sat­is­fied, but we try not to think about it, so as not to get de­mor­al­ized,” An­gelo Ma­lan­drino, deputy di­rec­tor of the civil lib­er­ties and immigration depart­ment at Italy’s in­te­rior min­istry, told AFP.

Flaws in the Sys­tem

Car­lotta Sami, spokes­woman for the U.N. refugee agency in Italy, said the hotspot scheme “will work only if the rules are clear and the qual­ity of re­cep­tion is high right from the start,” adding that the agency would be keep­ing an eye on the process.

There will also be rep­re­sen­ta­tives from a whole host of other Euro­pean bod­ies on site: the asy­lum sup­port of­fice (Easo), bor­der con­trol (Fron­tex), the EU’s law en­force­ment agency (Europol) and ju­di­cial net­work (Euro­just).

Pri­or­i­ties will not only in­clude reg­is­ter­ing and car­ing for mi­grants, but also in­ves­ti­gat­ing the smug­gling net­works which load hun­dreds of peo­ple into rick­ety boats to cross the Mediter­ranean, and any pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist threat from new ar­rivals.

While Poz­za­llo’s high walls give it a grim as­pect, in­side is dec­o­rated with chil­dren’s draw­ings and mul­ti­lin­gual signs. There is lit­tle pri­vacy, how­ever, with dozens of peo­ple sleep­ing side-by-side on closely packed bunk beds.

The cen­ter was built to host 180 peo­ple but can house up to 250. With the other “hotspots” planned across the coun­try, Italy’s to­tal ca­pac­ity will al­low for some 1,500 peo­ple to go through the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process at any one time.

Crit­ics — who point out that ar­rivals of be­tween 4,000 and 6,000 peo­ple in 48 hours are not un­com­mon in Italy — ar­gue the sys­tem is at risk of be­ing quickly over­stretched, and col­laps­ing.

They also say the “hotspot” sys­tem will in­crease the load on Italy, which is al­ready shoul­der­ing a mam­moth task as a first point of call for peo­ple flee­ing war­zones and per­se­cu­tion.

Rome will help dis­trib­ute Syr­i­ans and Eritre­ans across Europe, keep­ing them out of the hands of peo­ple-traf­fick­ers.

But the “hotspot” plan means na­tion­al­i­ties that would oth­er­wise have quickly moved on — So­ma­lis, Su­danese and Ethiopi­ans, for ex­am­ple — will now be forced to re­main in Italy for up to 24 months while their asy­lum re­quests are pro­cessed.

Ac­cord­ing to the latest sta­tis­tics, be­tween Jan­uary 2014 and May 2015 some 90,000 of the 217,000 mi­grants ar­riv­ing in Italy ap­plied for asy­lum.

Of the rest, over 37,000 were nei­ther Syr­i­ans nor Eritre­ans — mean­ing that Rome may be look­ing at find­ing beds for close to 40,000 ex­tra peo­ple once the hotspots launch.

And there will be another fall­out: by hold­ing on to a greater num­ber of peo­ple whose asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions are less than guar­an­teed, Italy will likely see an in­crease the num­ber of com­plex and ex­pen­sive ex­pul­sions re­quired.

That is­sue has al­ready prompted the coun­try to call ur­gently for the cre­ation of a Euro­pean ex­pul­sion sys­tem.

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