Migrants who embark on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea do so in the hope of being rescued by a humanitarian aid vessel or by coast guards who will bring them to a European country.
Although landings occur in Malta, Cyprus, and Spain, Italy remains the country where most ships come ashore after a rescue. In 2020, the number of migrants arriving by sea in Italy exceeded 34,000, mainly on Lampedusa and Sicily and in the toe of Italy, Calabria.
What happens once they reach the coast? Strict administration procedures follow disembarkation. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated matters.
First Step: The ‘Hotspot’
After disembarkation, migrants are “identified”, mostly in migrant registration centers nicknamed “hotspots”, in a process that has remained unchanged for several years.
“In general, this happens in the Lampedusa hotspot,” says Adelaide Massimi, a legal consultant with ASGI, an Italian association specializing in immigration. Other hotspots are in Pozzallo, Sicily, and Taranto, in the Puglia region.
During this process, migrants are interviewed by police officers. “They are asked their name, their country of origin, the route they took to Italy, and the reason for seeking exile,” Massimi explains.
According to Massimi, this interview is decisive for a migrant’s further administrative procedures. “The police note whether the migrant has come to seek asylum or for economic reasons,” she explains. “If it is simply for economic reasons, it means that the migrant is (here) illegal(ly). If they are an asylum seeker, they can stay legally on the territory (for the duration of their asylum application).”
At the end of this interview, the migrants’ fingerprints are recorded. This automatically brings migrants into the so-called Dublin procedure, named after the regulation that determines which country is responsible for an asylum application. Therefore these migrants will be “dubbed” in Ital. It automatically becomes the country responsible for their asylum application, and they will not be able to apply for asylum in another European country, except in specific cases.
Step Two: Compulsory Quarantine
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants are obliged to observe a mandatory quarantine period. This takes place on board special boats, moored in different parts of Italy. The Italian Red Cross is responsible for carrying out this procedure on board.
These boats are not only used for quarantines of migrants arriving via the Mediterranean. Those who entered Italy illegally via Slovenia, and therefore by land, are also transferred on board the boats.
Minors receive special treatment: they are transferred to centers specifically designed for them on land. According to the health regulations in force, this quarantine is supposed to last 10 days, says Massimi. However, migrants may have to stay longer on the boats if they contact a person infected with the virus. “Some may be in quarantine for a fortnight, three weeks, sometimes even longer,” she says.
Final Step: Reception or Detention Center
At the end of this period, migrants are directed to one of two different places depending on their personal situation. Asylum seekers are sent to reception centres, where they will be able to follow the procedure to apply for refugee status.
However, if they have been assessed as ineligible to apply for protection and are found to have arrived in Italy for other reasons, they are sent to detention centers, from where they must await deportation. In particular, the journey to a detention center is not systematic due to a lack of places, explains Massimi. In many cases, the migrants concerned are given seven days to leave the country by their own means.
The coronavirus pandemic and border closures have halted many deportations in recent months. However, Italy has still been able to return Tunisian nationals to their country of origin. Between August and November 2020, over 1,500 deportations to Tunisia took place, according to ASGI figures.