EU Watch

Ombudsman Reports Concerns About Detention Practices in Italy

In making his annual report to the Italian Parliament, the National Ombudsman has highlighted problem areas including migrants arbitrarily being denied rights in detention, overcrowding in prisons, and high suicide rates.

by Chiara Liberati

The 2018 report of the ombudsman revealed that there a need to look out for the rights of people in detention or who have otherwise been deprived of their liberty. This is especially true for people who have temporarily and arbitrarily lost their right to move freely. During 2018 the ombudsman visited hundreds of detention facilities including, adult prisons, juvenile detention centres, police holding cells, secure psychiatric wards, residential facilities for people who require care, migrant detention centres, hotspots, and even a ship.

The Ombudsman, Mauro Palma, also monitored thirty-four forced repatriation flights, in particular to Tunisia, Nigeria and Egypt. According to the data provided by the Ombudsman, a total of 6,398 people were repatriated. Repatriation, however, risks breaching the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits deporting people to countries where they may be at risk of inhuman or degrading treatment, or torture.

Many issues surrounding the detention of young migrants

During his presentation on the report, the Ombudsman stressed that “it is not possible to look positively at the reduction of the pressure of migration on our country without looking into the number of deaths at sea. And we continue to turn a blind eye on the conditions suffered by migrants in their country of origin.”

The report also paid particular attention to unaccompanied foreign minors. Even though the number of unaccompanied minors arriving in Italy in 2018 decreased drastically, in line with much lower overall number of migrants, 3,536 new child migrants still entered Italy.

In this context, two critical issues were found. One concerning how to verify the age of minors and the other concerning the decision on their date of birth, which is always set on 1 January of the year if the day and month cannot be determined.

Also, minors that are detained in hotspots are often neglected, which risks undermining their protection, especially when, as in the case of the ship Diciotti, they are detained for a prolonged time on board ships that are not allowed to come into port.

Deprivation of liberty and migration

Another issue the report deals with is the relationship between deprivation of liberty and migratory processes. It also looks at the objective of these measures and how effective they are. 2018 saw many cases of ships not being allowed to come into port, which deprived many migrants of their liberty by default. This happened not only with Diciotti, but with Sea-Watch3, and again with Mare Jonio.

According to Mauro Palma “we need to ask ourselves what is the ethical-political basis of this restriction and whether extending the time limit for immigration detention is in fact a disincentive message for potential migrants. Such a configuration would be grave, because the liberty of a person can never become a symbol and message of a political will”.

Prison overcrowding

The report also raises concerns about overcrowding in Italian prisons, the lack of access to alternative measures to detention, and the increase in the suicide rate among prisoners.

In Italy there are more than 60,000 prisoners, with only 46,904 places available. Prison facilities are also often not suitable or fully accessible.

The number of suicides in prison is worrying: in 2018 they were 64, including an 18 year-old man.

The Ombudsman noted that the increase in the number of prisoners is not due to more people being imprisoned, but rather due to fewer people being released.

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