Analysis. The executive branch is already at work on a new decree on immigration and security, which is set to approved by the Council of Ministers next week.

Lockup, prisons and detention: The Italian migrant strategy

No matter how different the issues it’s facing, this government tends to always give the same solution: lockup, prisons, detention. It was the same after the landings of the last few days: on Monday, the Council of Ministers decided to extend the maximum period of detention for migrants in detention centers for repatriation (CPRs) from three months (extendable to 45 days in special cases) to 18 months.

This sixfold increase was the start of the practical steps to implement Meloni’s approach outlined in her Friday evening video address, when she announced a “military” turn in reception management – quite literally: on Monday, the Defense Ministry was also given the task to “set up the facilities to detain illegal immigrants as soon as possible.” These two measures will be included in the upcoming Legislative Decree “for the South,” which the Prime Minister expects to pass as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the executive branch is already at work on a new decree on immigration and security, which is set to approved by the Council of Ministers next week. This will include new regulations to limit any special treatment for minors, repealing the previous procedures that gave them more favorable treatment in doubtful cases and changing the verification procedures. Meloni also announced that there would be different pathways for women, children, and under-14s.

It’s still not clear what exactly these pathways are going to be set apart from. Because the premier reiterated in front of her ministers what she had said live on social media, namely that “anyone who lands in Italy illegally must go to the detention centers, including asylum seekers.” On this issue, Meloni is mixing up (we don’t know whether intentionally or not) the issue of CPRs with that of expedited border procedures. The government has been working on the latter since the Cutro Decree, which provides for accelerated ways of examining requests for asylum protection – that is, with fewer guarantees and in special detention facilities.

In practice, while today those who are landing are continuing their journey to other European countries or applying for asylum in Italy and then ending up in a reception center, in the very near future they could all be locked up in detention facilities where they will have to wait for the outcome of their application (theoretically within a maximum of four weeks).

In this context, the “border” is no longer understood as a geographical notion, but a legal one. That is, such detention centers could be more or less distant from the point of landing. They will certainly not be in Lampedusa. For example, inside the Reception Center for Asylum Seekers (CARA) in Crotone, an area is being set up for detention. Another facility will be used for this purpose in Roccella Jonica. The first such center has been set up in Pozzallo, with a total of 84 places. However, with such facilities, it’s completely implausible that even a fraction of what Meloni promised – detaining all 130,000 landed people – could actually be accomplished. Even subtracting women, children and those with nationalities with a high probability of obtaining asylum, the numbers don’t add up.

This is where the military is supposed to step in. First, in order to go around the likely opposition from regions, such as Tuscany, and municipalities by using state-owned facilities. Then it will revamp these facilities. We don’t know which ones will be involved yet. On Monday night, a meeting was underway at the Defense Ministry headed by Guido Crosetto (FdI) to sift through all the options in the field: from disused barracks to isolated and closed-off tent cities. One option doesn’t necessarily rule out another. Choices will be made based on three criteria: cost, timing and particular needs. It all depends on how far Meloni wants to go with her muscular response. It could all be done on the model of Greece, a country the premier and Piantedosi visited in early September, where there are detention camps far from urban areas and surrounded by barbed wire (“easily set apart and controlled,” the premier said on Friday), where migrants sleep in tents or containers.

Another issue is that of the CPRs, the actual repatriation centers, which, according to the mantra introduced long ago by Minniti and taken up by the Cutro Decree, should be “one per region.” Here, mainly those whose asylum applications have been rejected or long-term “irregulars” are supposed to be detained, for a maximum of 18 months.

The problem for the government is that these two paths of administrative detention of migrants should both result in the repatriation of those whose applications were rejected. But neither the number of people detained nor the time they spend behind bars are actually relevant factors: “Prolonging detention is mainly a symbolic measure. In 2011, then-Interior Minister Maroni did the same thing by raising the maximum detention time to 18 months, but the percentage of repatriations didn’t change,” says Mauro Palma, National Guarantor of Persons Deprived of Liberty. The proportion is always hovering around 50 percent, because a person is either deported in the first few weeks or they aren’t deported at all. Looking at the last decade, for example, the peak was reached in 2017, with 59 percent of people transiting through the CPRs deported to their countries of origin, and the minimum in 2018, with the figure at 43 percent. The maximum detention was actually greater in 2018, at 180 days, while it was 90 days in 2017.

The Prime Minister said she would summon the ambassadors of the main countries of departure of migrants to cooperate and take them back. Is that going to solve things?

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