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Migrant Lives

Why Are Survivors Of Italy's Shipwreck Being Held In Squalid Conditions?

After a visit to a holding facility, a group of lawyers and human rights activists have charged the Italian government is mistreating nearly 100 survivors of the tragic shipwreck 10 days ago.

Photo of a bed on the floor at the Center.

One of the beds at the Center for Asylum Seekers

Giuseppe Legato

CROTONE — At least 70 people: that's the death toll of the shipwreck 10 days ago of the Turkish boat that crashed near the southern Italian coast of Calabria. Sixteen were children.

But there is now also the fate of the 98 survivors to consider. And human rights lawyers have discovered that they are being housed in the former Reception Center for Asylum Seekers of Crotone. Some in Italy may remember that several years ago this same facility was discovered to be part of an investigation of misappropriation of European funds by the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta . Investigators then found poor conditions in the center, including the serving of spoiled food to the migrants it housed.

Now the facility is back at the center of the storm because of the conditions of the survivors of the Feb. 26 shipwreck, which occurred on the coast near the city of Crotone.

“They are being held arbitrarily in two sheds that are inadequate not only for those who escaped a terrible shipwreck, but for any human being," says Alessandra Sciurba, professor at the University of Palermo and coordinator of the Migration and Rights Legal Clinic. "It must be closed."

Sciurba pointed out the paradox of the outpouring from Italians over the deaths, and the conditions of the survivors . “On one side there is a country that is moved by this tragedy, on the other side there are people who are denied their rights.”

Together with Franco Mari, a parliamentarian from the Italian Left party, she visited the facility last Saturday, which she says: “could only be used as a space for a flock of sheep.”

Inhumane conditions

Sciurba says she was not expecting such a sight: "It is a situation that perhaps can be accepted in emergency situation for the first four hours. After that is illegal.”

Sciurba and and Mari described the conditions: There are about 40 beds with foam mattresses without sheets, another 50 or 60 people sleep on iron benches; women and men share the same bathroom. The survivors have only been given flip-flops instead of shoes. And there is no heating.

Moreover, says Sciurba: “they can’t go out when they want, they can’t visit the remains of their relatives who died at sea unless escorted by the police force, they can’t share mourning with the ones who have arrived from all over the world.

Photo of two beds.

Two beds at the Center.

La Stampa

Rebound of responsibility

It is not clear under what legal rationale the migrants are being held.

“If it were a hotspot it would require validation by a judge, and instead there isn't any,” explains lawyer Lidia Vicchio.

A pool of lawyers and academics from Asgi, an association that focuses on legal aspects of immigration , has been working to assess the situation in recent days.

By law, survivors of such a situation should not be in this facility.

Vicchio’s note is a bold indictment of the institutions: “From direct observation at the former Center, we have noted the total absence of clear and precise indications from the (national) government and the (local) prefecture."

It is unclear who should be in charge and who should ensure support for the families of the victims of the shipwreck. The management of this situation has been dumped completely on the local administration and on the local and non-local associations that were present.”

By law, survivors of such a situation should not be in this facility, “but in the Emergency Reception Centers established by the Ministry of the Interior in 2015, where people’s stay is limited to the definition of their legal position.” Once this step is completed, they are to be transferred to Reception and Integration System facilities.

Photo of the only bathroom of the Center

The only bathroom of the Center

La Stampa

"Not an option, but the law"

The transfer — the lawyer argues — “is not an option, but the law,” and “to this day, guests are held, without any distinction of gender, including minors, in a single room.”

Yet, open spots in the region's Reception and Integration System facilities “were and are available... as early as March 1, as many as 44 immediately available places had been tracked down that could, and can, accommodate these survivors.”

In addition, not only should refugees be identified and housed in appropriate centers, but they should also be “informed on the procedure for international protection and the relocation program to other EU member states is ensured.” This has not yet been done either.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

After Abbas: Here Are The Three Frontrunners To Be The Next Palestinian Leader

Israel and the West have often asked: Where is the Palestinian Mandela? The divided regimes between Gaza and the West Bank continues to make it difficult to imagine the future Palestinian leader. Still, these three names are worth considering.

Abbas is 88, and has been the leading Palestinian political figure since 2005

Thaer Ganaim/APA Images via ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Updated Dec. 5, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

Israel has set two goals for its Gaza war: destroying Hamas and releasing hostages.

But it has no answer to, nor is even asking the question: What comes next?

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the return of the current Palestinian Authority to govern post-war Gaza. That stance seems opposed to the U.S. Administration’s call to revitalize the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assume power in the coastal enclave.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here .

But neither Israel nor the U.S. put a detailed plan for a governing body in post-war Gaza, let alone offering a vision for a bonafide Palestinian state that would also encompass the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers much of the occupied West Bank, was created in1994 as part of the Oslo Accords peace agreement. It’s now led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat in 2005. Over the past few years, the question of who would succeed Abbas, now 88 years old, has largely dominated internal Palestinian politics.

But that question has gained new urgency — and was fundamentally altered — with the war in Gaza.

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