The Italian CPRs: modern lagers for migrants before our eyes?

The CPRs, which stands for Centri di Permanenza per il Rimpatrio (Permanence Centres for Repatriation), are employed to identify and deport from the Italian territory the irregular migrants. On paper, they might seem completely adequate to their goal, but many organizations argue that the time of detention is too long and the conditions faced inside these facilities are inhumane.  

On November 17, the Italian Internal Affairs Minister Luciana Lamorgese, during an audition in the Parliament affirmed that the currently available places in the CPRs are not enough for the number of migrants present in the Italian territory and that there is a ‘’bottleneck’’. However, no words were spent about the fact that this kind of administrative detention deals with innocents that are put in risky and undocumented conditions, due to the factual prohibition for the press and institutional figures to enter them. Despite the legislation protecting the right to enter and to guarantee communication from the inside to the outside, CPRs are grey zones difficult to monitor.  

When these structures were created in 1998 with the Turco-Napolitano law, the reclusion time was limited to 30 days, a period doubled with the Bossi-Fini law in 2002. Since then, the permanence on Italian soil of irregular migrants has been progressively criminalized, for example through the introduction of the crime of clandestinity in 2009. With the infamous ‘’Decreti Sicurezza’’ of Matteo Salvini, maximum permanence in CPRs was extended to 180 days. On the 5th of October 2020, the Decreti Sicurezza underwent several changes, without however being completely annulled. Regarding the CPRs, the new maximum is now 90 days, with an extension of 30 days in case the migrant comes from a country with which Italy has repatriation agreements.

Periodically, some tragic incidents in the CPRs, like fires, riots, suicides, and other deaths of inmates, spot light on the squalid conditions of these centres. Most recently, some activists have organized sit-ins in front of the CPR in via Corelli in Milan, one of the newest structures. Activists from ‘’Mai più lager-no CPR’’ contest that there has been almost no actual discontinuity of approach, compared to the mandate of the highly criticised Salvini. 

The visits in four of the structures made by the Garante Nazionale in 2018 signalled the absence of common spaces for the consumption of meals and recreational activities. In the same year, the Human Rights and Migration Clinic had denounced the inadequacy of the Turin CPR regarding the number of medical personnel and the overcrowding of inmates, which could only lead to a worsening of their health and safety. More practices against fundamental rights have been observed, like the unjustified confiscation of cell phones, limitations on the right of defence, difficulty in accessing information and to request the right of asylum. 

This type of administrative detention, de facto carceral, grants them even fewer rights and more arbitrary choices to those who detain them than if they were formally incarcerated.  

In 2018, only 43% of detained people were repatriated: a very low number compared to the cost in both economic and especially human terms. Besides that, oftentimes the detainees can get out because of the irregularity or illegitimacy of the detention practices (i.e. for legal error), while others for the expiry of time limits. 

While the official function of the CPRs is often overlooked, they actually take the shape of places where detention, together with the deliberate imposition of degrading procedures, determines the creation of a racial hierarchy in Italian society, by putting the migrants under the constant threat of internment and expulsion, if they were to lose or not gain the residence permit.  

In this sense the CPRs assume the features of a ‘’total institution’’, as described in the book ‘’Aylums’’ (1961) by Erving Goffman

‘’A total institution may be defined as a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life. Prisons serve as a clear example, providing we appreciate that what is prison-like about prisons is found in institutions whose members have broken no laws.’’

In CPRs, power is imposed over people not because they are criminals, but just because they exist; more specifically, they exist in a place where they should not be. Therefore, even if the living conditions inside the centres were perfect, they would still be total institutions, because of the forced detainment in a space isolated from the outside world. Its most disruptive effects are on society and mentality: it creates a fracture between ‘’us’’ and ‘’them’’, reinforcing the idea that if they are detained it is because they must be dangerous.

There has been indignation for the refugee camp in Moria, on the Greek island of Lesvos; the public opinion expresses contempt for violations of human rights that are far way in space and history, but still, we fail to realize when the same happens in the ‘’western lands of democracy’’, blinded by the beautiful claims codified in our constitutions and European treaties. This should, however, be regarded not as a point of arrival, but as a start towards their factual implementation and the improvement of our certainly not perfect society.


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