02 March 2011

Tunisians’ revolt at the deportation centres. Exclusive photos

After two days of riots, last Thursday and Friday, the identification and deportation centre of Gradisca is literally out of service. There’s only one cell left for 100 detainees, and many are forced to eat and sleep rough on the floor, cramped in the corridors and in the dining hall, where they are all locked up the entire day, with just one toilet available. Today we are able to show you the exclusive images of this degradation.

These are photographs taken with a mobile phone by someone who found himself in the right place at the right moment, and who rightly thought to send them over to us. A first news leak that confirms how serious the situation is. The riots have devastated the building, but the other deportation centres are full and therefore it’s impossible to carry out any transfer. The most logical choice would be to release the detainees of Gradisca. In fact the departures were planned for Sunday, but then a counter-order must have arrived from the authorities at the last moment, because finally only six left, out of 13 who had been told to get ready.

It’s apparent that there is no love lost between the police forces and the Ministry. As a matter of fact, the police trade union Ugl has called a sit in, on March 3rd, in front of the police headquarters of Gorizia, in order to discuss about the CIE of Gradisca.

But in Friuli the problems at the deportation centre are not something new.It’s been at least a year and a half now, that things have been going badly. For those who missed it, I suggest you watch the video of the beating by the police against the detainees during the riot. It dates back to September 21st 2009.

It’s good to remember. Especially when there are facts as serious as these ones. Particularly when, as we can unfortunately imagine, nobody was made to pay for these abuses. This time though, the protests of the Tunisians have come out from Gradisca, and the first signs of riots have already broken out all around Italy, as far as Sicily.

For example in Trapani, where the deportation centre stands on the second floor of an old hospice in the heart of the city. It’s probably one of the most cramped facilities in the country. A series of barrack rooms facing a long balcony closed by an iron grid. And nothing else. Not even a courtyard for one hour of yard time. The protest here broke out last February 23rd, when 40 Tunisians coming from Lampedusa started to smash everything they could find within their reach: furniture, various fittings and glass windows.

One week after, the windows are still broken and a cold wind blows into the centre. But at least there weren’t any arrests and the detainees were granted a permit of stay for humanitarian reasons, due to the situation in Tunisia. In Modena instead, the protest took place last Sunday, when the 42 Tunisians, who had been transferred to Modena from Lampedusa, threw the mattresses from the barracks into the courtyard, and then lit them up to the cries of “Freedom!”. A few days earlier, a Tunisian from the deportation centre of Bologna had sown up his lips in sign of protest.

A protest which had a great influence on the social movements of protest of Bologna, who occupied the deportation centre in Via Mattei on Monday 1st March, in solidarity with the detainees.

Last Sunday instead, the Tunisians in Turin set the deportation centre on fire, to such an extent that the fire brigade had to intervene to extinguish the flames. While in Puglia arrests are being made, for those who escaped and put up resistance when caught by the authorities. A trial started yesterday in Brindisi against three Tunisians arrested for last Friday’s riot and escape. And a similar trial will start also in Bari, where last Thursday there had been an attempt to escape, which ended up in a clash between the police and two detainees, both of which were handcuffed.

The previous time the internees of deportation centres had mobilized en masse all around Italy was in August 2009, the day after the security package became effective, which extended the maximum time of reclusion from two months to six. This time though the cause of the riots are the claims made by the Tunisians who landed in the previous weeks at Lampedusa, as at the moment they represent the biggest community in the deportation centres.

The beginning of the riots, two weeks ago, coincided with the ending of the transfers from the island. At the beginning in fact, the Italian authorities were transferring the Tunisians to the deportation centres, in which there were just over 300 people.

But afterwards, when they ran out of places in the deportation centres, they transferred the other 4.000 to the reception centres for asylum seekers. Open facilities by definition, from which many left in a matter of a few days and managed to reach France without any problems. This disparity of treatment, between the ones who travel freely without any documents on a train to Paris and the ones who find themselves locked up for 6 months without having committed any crime, was the spark that set off the riots in the CIE.

translated by Alexandra D'Onofrio