Letters from the Identification and Expulsion Centers in Italy

Mario Badagliacca

Barbed wire, soldiers, search dogs and torchlights in the night. Even in Italy there is an internal frontline, just like in Eastern Europe. But the battle against migrants is taking place through the Identification and Expulsion Centers. Letters from the CIE is part of a bigger visual project about the Identification and Expulsion Centers in Italy, places affected by serious human rights violations.

The multimedia video tells of the daily life in the CIEs through the personal story of Lassaad Jelassi, who, with his voice, takes the audience inside the places of Ponte Galeria, in Rome, where he was detained for four months.

It is extremely hard to explain the existence of CIEs. These are not regular prisons and detainees are not regular prisoners. Although foreign nationals are detained at CIEs under the status of “guests,” their stay in these poorly built structures corresponds to a de facto detention, as they are deprived of their freedom and subjected to a regime of abuse and coercion.  

Despite not being actually labeled as prisons, the Centers very often resemble prisons, with distinctive features, from their impenetrable nature to barbed wire fences, barking dogs and militarized personnel; making them off limits to Italian civil society, journalists and families of the detainees, who are left alone and in deep distress. The typology of the individuals detained varies, and the length of the detention can extend up to several months (up to 18 months until 2014). 

Often, detainees are migrants who have been living in Italy for many years, along with their families, and whose children were born in the country. After losing their job, they cannot renew their residence permit, and if stopped by the police, they are detained in the CIEs and repatriated to their country of origin. The number of families divided by this mechanism is horribly high. 

It was very difficult to work on this project since, until 3 years ago, journalists and activists could not access the Centers. When I was finally granted access, I was under strict and constant supervision. It felt as if I had just stepped into a non-country, a painful limbo where human rights are suspended and violence rules. The CIEs disoriented me. The people held there are lost in confusion, pain and fear. At the same time, it is very hard for lawyers to assist detainees, because Italian law on migration doesn’t give them the legal tools to defend migrants and avoid their deportation.