01 November 2011

3,592 Tunisians expelled, will peace return to the CIEs?

Last week, the final charter to Tunis took off from Palermo. On board were the usual 60 Tunisians collected from different Centres for Identification and Expulsion (CIEs) throughout Italy, along with the convoy of 120 police officers. In the same hours, from Bari, the charter flights carrying the 99 Egyptians who had landed only a few hours earlier on the coast of Calabria and had been expelled in record time ware taking off. Since the beginning of the year there have been 3,592 forced repatriations to Tunisia and 965 to Egypt. This makes 4,557 people deported notwithstanding immigration laws. In other words, after a period of detention, often not validated by the justice of the peace, and without the possibility of meeting with a lawyer or talk to UNHCR, IOM and Save the Children officials, who work at the border to guarantee the rights of those who arrive in Italy without a passport. The state of exception has become the norm. In the name of greater efficiency in the existing bilateral agreements with Tunisia and Egypt. And for the Interior Minister, the result is twice fold. On the one hand, a number of expulsions that up to one year ago would have been unimaginable. On the other hand, a substantial change of the population inside the CIEs (centres for identification and expulsion), where the disappearance of the Tunisians has given way to a sort of truce between prisoners and police after eight very hot months of unrest, riots and daring escapes.

Yes, because since last February, it was the Tunisians who were the protagonists of the most important riots inside the CIEs. On one hand, they constituted the majority of prisoners without documents. And secondly, having just arrived in our country, they had very high expectations for the future, and a great determination to return to freedom and build that future they had dreamed of for years, made of a simple job and redemption for the family they had left back home. The mass deportations, however, have had the effect desired by Maroni, and - also due to bad weather- departures for Lampedusa have stopped for now. For over a month and a half there have been no landings. And with the block of arrivals, CIEs have filled up once more with the poor of our cities.

On one side you have ex-prisoners transferred to CIEs at the end of their sentence. On the other, homeless and prostitutes subject to police raids in working-class neighbourhoods. And in the middle all the people randomly stopped for routine i.d. checks. Be it the ticket inspector on the tram, a checkpoint at the highway exit, or the railway police in train stations. Some have been living in Italy for a lifetime.
On the outside they have wives and children waiting for them. Others, in so many years, have never been able to rebuild their lives. Doomed to a life as an outcast because they lack that piece of paper that allows them to sign an employment contract or rent a home. And reduced to rags from street life.

The truth is that among a population so diverse it is unlikely that a bond of solidarity and revolt within the detention centres can take root. Mistrust and misunderstanding prevails. Not to mention the fact that many former prisoners arrive with ongoing psychotropic drug addictions, and that many others follow suit. Rivotril, Valium, Serenase. Just ask. The diligent doctors employed by CIEs shamelessly distribute these to anyone who asks. Doses are not a problem, there are plenty in stock. If you think about it, having half the detainees doped up helps keep things quiet inside the cells so renovation work can continue to be carried out in the sections devastated by the young Tunisians in the past months.

Escape attempts continue, but compared to before they are just isolated events of no great significance. Their punishment, however, continues to be exemplary: arrest in flagrante delicto. The charges are always the same: injuring and resisting a public officer.

This is what happened on the evening of October 28, in Turin, when a Senegalese man ended up in jail after being admitted to the Martini hospital following an illness in the CIE; after the visit, he tried to break free and escape from the two officers escorting him. They stopped him after a violent scuffle. The two agents had to be hospitalized, one with a sprained neck and the other with a dislocated shoulder. The inmate, on the other hand, was handcuffed and sent straight to the Vallette prison, with no communication of his prognosis.

And a fight broke out as well in the centre for identification and expulsion of Bologna, in Via Mattei, where last Sunday, October 30, fifteen prisoners were able to break through the gate of the cage that separates the cells from the football pitches. In the clashes that broke out between the fugitives and the police divisions that intervened to stop the escape, three officers and three prisoners were wounded. After their wounds were dressed, the three inmates were arrested for assaulting and resisting a public officer. However, during the clashes one of the inmates - a young Tunisian of 26 – managed to escape by climbing the perimeter wall and jumping from a height of over five meters. Of his whereabouts we know nothing. But a free man is always good news.

translated by Camilla Gamba