02 May 2011

Let us enter! Journalists expelled from the Centres of Identification and Deportation (CIE)

In Italy now, there isn’t just an emergency for the landings, but also emergency for information. Apart from deporting the Tunisians detained in the centres of identification and deportation in half of Italy, the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, has in fact decided to expel journalists as well. Thanks to a ministerial circular letter issued on the 1st April, which didn’t create much fuss but in fact bans all the press from entering into the CIEs. We’ve gone back 10 years. When no journalist could enter in the deportation centres, which were then called CPT (Centres of Temporary Permanence), if not accompanied by a parliamentary delegation.

This was when Fabrizio Gatti (for the Corriere della Sera) pretended to be a Romanian beggar, in 2000, in order to see the deportation centre in Milan. A little joke that cost him in 2004, a conviction at first instance of 20 days on probation for having declared a false identity, and full acquittal on appeal.

He was more fortunate five years later, in July 2005, when he repeated the same stratagem in order to have access to the reception centre at Lampedusa, pretending to be a Kurd castaway. The Agrigento court acquitted him in December 2010, in the name of freedom of the press.

In fact, censorship seemed to be a thing of the past.

In the name of transparency, in 2006 the Prodi government had constituted, at the Ministry of the Interior, a commission of enquiry on the conditions of the deportation centres. The conclusions of Staffan De Mistura, who was at the head of this commission, caused the closure of the centres of Ragusa, Brindisi and Crotone in 2007. At the same time the Italian Ministry of Interior gave journalists access to the CIEs, with a ministerial circular letter. Thanks to this letter I had the possibility to visit the deportation centres of Trapani, Caltanissetta, Turin, Modena, Gradisca, Rome and Crotone between 2008 and 2011. These visits ended up in articles on the front pages of the newspapers and in parliamentary interrogations.

In particular I remember the enquiry regarding the fights in the CIEs of Gradisca and Turin, which even earned me a courtesy visit from two police officers at home, as I recount in “Il mare di mezzo” (“The sea in between”, 2010).

I was planning to do the same round this year. I already paid a visit to the CIE in Modena, where the story of Kabbour came out from, and the one in Turin, where I met the Tunisian young men from Djerba and the ones who created the Guantanamo Italia group on facebook.

But this morning I was reminded twice on the phone that this won’t be possible. The head of the Trapani prefecture was categorical. Instructions form the Ministry. Using the same words that had been used by the Prefecture of Brindisi. The circular letter from the Ministry dated the 1st April. Access denied to journalists and to all humanitarian associations except the ones who have already signed the protocols with the Prefectures and the governmental organizations such as the United Nations and OIM.

For now on our only means of communicating is by mobile phones. They are the only connection between the inside and the outside. But it’s always harder. Since the detainees in Milan, Modena and Gradisca are not allowed to use their phones any longer. And the list of centres that don’t allow the use of mobile phones could become longer. Anyway by now the emergency seems to justify anything. But one way of breaking the wall of silence will be found by any means. Now I renew the invitation I sent to friends and relatives of detainees in the CIE. Invitation which is also extended to police officers and social workers who operate inside the CIE. If anyone has anything to say, I urge him to come forward: gabriele_delgrande@yahoo.it

translated by Alexandra D'Onofrio