Immigration detainees fight back in Italy

As reported in the last two issues of FRFI, confrontation has grown between the reactionary, racist ruling class under the leadership of Silvio Berlusconi and those forces in Italy beginning to fight back. On 24 January up to 800 migrants and refugees escaped from the deportation centre in Lampedusa, a small island 200km south of Sicily and 100 km off the coast of Tunisia. The remaining detainees then tore down the security gates, meaning around 1,300 people were able to escape, although the majority then returned. Migrants marched on the town hall, chanting ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ and ‘Help us’.

Lampedusa is the first port of call for many migrants from Africa and the deportation centre on the island functions both as a ‘centre of first reception’ and a ‘centre of identification and expulsion’ (CIE). Now in line with the hard-line racist, anti-immigrant stance of ruling coalition partner, Lega Nord, changes have been introduced that will see migrants ‘processed’ and deported straight from Lampedusa rather than being allowed to move on to Sicily or southern Italy where there are open asylum centres. So far this year 50 Egyptian migrants have been deported from the island.

Following the arrival of hundreds of new migrants from across the Mediterranean and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni’s refusal to allow any movement off the island, the situation at the deportation centre became critical. Nearly 2,000 people were crushed into a centre capable of accommodating just 850, with many forced to sleep rough in the rain. On 23 January the UN High Commission on Refugees released a press statement, stating that ‘the overcrowding of the temporary reception centre on the small island is creating a humanitarian situation of concern’ and that the cause of the problem was the change introduced by the Italian government at the start of the year which forced migrants to stay on Lampedusa.

Local residents also held a 4,000-strong protest at Maroni’s decision to open a new CIE in a disused military base, with Lampedusa’s mayor Bernardino De Rubeis saying many believed the new deportation centre ‘would become a sort of prison.’ According to reports, there has been no hostility between migrants and residents, with many escapees joining the local protest, and locals helping to feed and shelter those who escaped. It is a clear sign that the racist divisions sown by Lega Nord and Berlusconi can be defeated.

Joseph Eskovitchl

FRFI 207 February / March 2009



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