Many roads lead to Rome

Palazzo Salem
“Palazzo Salem”

Until today, 117.000 migrants have arrived by boat in Italy in 2014. That figure is already twice as high as in 2011, which had been the peak during the time of the ‘Arab spring’, bringing about 66.000 migrants to Italian shores. 2013 only saw a total of 43.000 arrivals.

This extraordinary number is a point of agreement among the various actors involved in migration: Everybody appears to be using the same statistics. Regardless of the reasons of this surge in arrivals (which are the subject of an ongoing discussion), it has put a strain on Italy’s reception system: The CARA, the reception centres for asylum seekers, have reached capacity, prompting the government to react with an emergency measure: It paid single municipalities for the ad hoc provision of reception places; they used tents, sports halls and other temporary accommodation and are still adjusting to the sharply changed conditions. According to Peri, a representative from Associazione Centro Astalli, “it was a big mess”.

In view of this rising pressure, the Italian government has taken on the reform of its reception system over the summer 2014. At the end of July, the Ministry of the Interior concluded an agreement with regional and local authorities. Reception is now coordinated at the regional level, where each region will have a ‘hub’ for first reception, reducing the impact on over-burdened Southern regions.

With the CARAs full in Sicily, busses and charter planes are organised to transport migrants to other parts of the country even before they are registered and identified in order to have their cases processed there. Peri warned us, “At the moment, in Sicily, be prepared to see whatever, it’s really the chaos.”

Currently, institutions are still unable to cope with the new scale, and are often indeed unable to consistently register and identify all arrivals. Services for officially recognised refugees, until December 2013 with only 3.000 places in the SPRAR system clearly underserved, have also been amplified – authorities now provide places for 19.000 recognized refugees.

This number still seems little in comparison with the 117.000 migrants reaching in Italy this year alone. However, only 25.000 of them – not even a quarter – have claimed asylum in Italy. Many hope to avoid registration in Italy in order to be able to travel on to other Central and Northern European countries without risking being sent back under Schengen or Dublin regulations. These people in transit have no legal or social status whatsoever. “They are like ghosts”, says Peri.

“We are victims of Dublin”, say two inhabitants of ‘Palazzo Salem’.  The ‘Peace Palace’ accommodates 1200 Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese and Ethiopians share the former Facolta di Lettere of the University Tor Vergata, just outside the Grande Raccordo Anulare. Everybody living at the Palazzo is registered in Italy, “otherwise, none of us would be here.” So far, in the Italian system, irrespective of whether the outcome was recognition or rejection of status, there was no place in the system for people who had completed the asylum process, says Peri. After being released from the CARA in Southern Italy, they arrived in Rome in what Peri termed a “second disembarkment”. She estimates that at least 2000 people are living in squats in Rome alone.

One of these is ‘Palazzo Salem’, administered by a Council of eight inhabitants, two per country. A delegation of two Council members receives us at the gate, friendly, but clearly tired of answering questions, telling yet another delegations of students or journalists what’s wrong – “and it never changes anything.” Two or three months ago, they organised a big press conference at Palazzo Salem, with over 50 journalists participating. “But the government never comes”, they say.

With the reforms from this summer, it seems that Italy is finally starting to tackle the issue. Peri considers Italy’s reform of its reception system indispensible. Once Italy steps up and does more, says Peri, the country can draw attention to the unfairness of the European Asylum System, including the Dublin Regulation: “You cannot claim help from others with 3000 places in the reception system. It is not credible.”