Commentary. The logic of containment, separation and control that has characterized the policies of reception is likely to backfire against the local communities and put an even heavier burden on our healthcare system, already stretched to the limit.

Italy must not wait for contagion in reception centers to act

Do we need to wait for an outbreak of contagion in one of the many centers for immigrants in Italy for the government to take this issue seriously?

We have read that they’re studying the issue at the Interior Ministry, one that could become explosive if no urgent and effective action is taken. There is not much time left. Indeed, it seems we are in a position to say that it is already late.

The extraordinary reception (CAS) centers for asylum seekers, like all the large centers managed by the Interior Ministry (hubs, hotspots, CARA, CPR), have so far received only general recommendations on how to deal with the health emergency. But the conditions in which people are living in these centers are not at all the same as in normal homes.

Only the local reception activities of the former SPRAR centers (now SIPROIMI), managed by the municipalities in collaboration with the third sector, are taking place in apartments located in urban environments, and only in these cases can the emergency be tackled by applying the general health safety rules established by the government, although only by observing them scrupulously.

The mistaken and purely instrumental political choices made by the “Conte 1” government, led by the Lega, and which have still not been substantially modified by the “Conte 2” government, have been drastically reducing the role and the number of places available in the local reception system (as of February 29, there were 23,000 places left out of the previous 86,600), replacing them with places at the CAS centers, which belong to the Prefectures and which today are hosting the majority of asylum seekers and refugees, as many as 63,000 (73%).

Most of these centers host hundreds of people, who are being offered common services and for whom it is impractical to observe the mandatory safety distance.

For these people—both for those hosted at the facilities and for the workers—the general indications are not sufficient; instead, they need specific procedures and individual protection equipment, as in other similar settings.

The logic of containment, separation and control that has characterized the policies of reception based on the notion of a state of emergency, stressed more and more in recent years for political and electoral reasons, is likely to backfire against the local communities and put an even heavier burden on our healthcare system, already stressed to the limit. Accordingly, it is necessary to intervene with the utmost urgency.

The prospect of contagion in the reception centers would—among other things—certainly end up being exploited to fan the flames of Lega-nurtured racism, which lies dormant for now, as we are in a phase in which the country has to deal with dramatically real problems, and is therefore less willing to listen to the siren song of the racist right.

The national institutions, both government and Parliament, had repeatedly expressed their willingness to move towards a single system for reception, based on the public network managed by the municipalities, one in which—although with limitations and inconsistencies—the dignity of people is respected, and attention is being paid to the relationship between the beneficiaries of reception and the host communities.

It is time to commit once again to this objective, as many municipalities have already called for, and to begin a process that is diametrically opposite to the one favored by Salvini’s interventions, restoring the SPRAR system (and thus allowing asylum seekers to be received by the system run by the municipalities), initiating a progressive and urgent transfer from CAS centers to the SPRAR system and thus promoting the establishment of a single system, which will certainly have to be reviewed to overcome a number of limitations and problems.

In addition to the critical nature of the reception system, the health emergency and the measures taken have led to difficulties and contradictions in the asylum procedures, which at this stage are suspended except for deportation proceedings and expulsions to other EU countries according to the Dublin Regulation, which are impracticable due to the block on mobility abroad.

Access to the asylum procedure, which is still possible according to the provisions of the Interior Ministry, is currently not allowed in a large part of Italy, despite the recommendations of the UNHCR, and hundreds of people who are entitled to reception risk being left on the streets.

The crisis we are facing highlights the dramatic effects that the wrong choices made in the recent past, and not only, might have.

It would be truly unforgivable to fail to intervene urgently and effectively to reverse this state of affairs, both with possible legislative changes when the coronavirus emergency decree is converted into law, and with administrative measures to repair the damage caused by the hegemony of racist ideology.

Filippo Miraglia is National ARCI representative on immigration.

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