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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: Russia-Ukraine War

Russia's Dependence On China Is Deep And Wide — It May Also Be Irreversible

Russia is digging itself into a hole as it becomes increasingly dependent on China, as a result of international sanctions and isolation. This shifting dynamic, analysts argue, is bound to have ripple effects around the world

Photo of ​China's Xi Jinping giving a speech while Russia's Vladimir Putin is sitting down, as they meet in Moscow on March 21

China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin meeting in Moscow on March 21

Vazhnyye Istorii


Russian President Vladimir Putin has scored a "huge own goal" with the war in Ukraine, according to CIA Director William Burns.

He was referring to Russia's losses at the front, international sanctions, the expansion of NATO and Russia's growing dependence on China — something that has escalated in recent years and may well become one of the enduring challenges Putin's government has created for Russia.

The risks associated with this final point, the deepening dependence on China, are substantial — and breaking free from it will prove to be a formidable task.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Russia's evolving relationship with China has become a focal point in international geopolitics and economics. This transformation has been catalyzed by a combination of factors, including Western sanctions, Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and China's meteoric rise in the global economy since the early 2000s.

The shift in Russia's economic alignment toward China began in earnest in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict and the resulting Western sanctions. Prior to this, Russia had maintained strong trade ties with Europe, particularly in energy exports. But as sanctions took hold, Russia turned to China as an alternative trading partner and a source of investment.

These hopes for increased commerce between the two countries come as Moscow seeks continued support for its war on Ukraine. China's top diplomat Wang Yi is currently visiting Russia for security talks, which Russian media say could pave the way for Vladimir Putin visiting Beijing soon.

Yet despite attempts to gain diplomatic punch from such a visit, Putin would arrive in the Chinese capital weaker and more beholden to China than ever.

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