Quick Facts: Italy

Number of Dedicated Immigration Detention Centres: 22 (2012)

Number of Criminal Facilities used for immigration detention: 0 (2012)

Number of Ad Hoc Facilities used for immigration detention: 6 (2012)

Number of Transit Detention Facilities: 6 (2012)

Total estimated immigration detention capacity: -

Total capacity of dedicated facilities: 1,901 (in CIEs only) (2012)

Number of immigration detainees: 7,735 (in CIEs only) (2011) 

Number of minors detained: -

Number of asylum seekers detained: -

Maximum length of detention in law: 18 months (2012)

Maximum length of detention in practice: 18 months (2012)

Average length of detention: 150 days (2012)

Number of persons expelled: 6,180 (2011)

Estimated undocumented population: 544,000 (2010)

Number of asylum claims: 34,120 (2011) 

Number of international migrants: 4,570,300 (2011)

International migrants as a percentage of total population: 7.5 percent (2011)

Immigration detainees as a percentage of total international migrant population: 0.2 percent (2011)



Last updated: November 2012

Italy Detention Profile



Detention Policy

Detention Infrastructure

Facts & Figures





The 2011 “Arab Spring” revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East dramatically increased trans-Mediterranean migration, leading to record numbers of deaths of migrants at sea and heightened fears across Europe about irregular migrants and asylum seekers. Italy was arguably the European country most dramatically affected by this regional tumult.


According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were approximately 58,000 irregular boat arrivals in Europe during 2011, a record number. Some 56,000 of these people arrived in Italy, compared to 1,574 in Malta and 1,030 in Greece (UNHCR 2012a). More than 1,500 people drowned or went missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2011, making it the deadliest year on record, with the previous peak occurring in 2007 when some 630 people were reported dead or missing (UNHCR 2012a).


Although the large number of arrivals caused widespread alarm in Italy and Europe about growing migration pressures, some observers sought to allay concerns by arguing that the situation was highly unusual. Following his visit to Italy in September 2012, François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, wrote that “data indicates that these high numbers were an isolated occurrence related to the events of the Arab Spring (OHCHR 2012). Indeed, in 2009, Italy received only some 9,600 boat arrivals; in 2010, 4,350 (ICMC 2012).


The official response to the situation also prompted numerous calls for investigations at the national and regional levels, including an inquiry by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly into the deaths of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya (Migreurop 2011; PACE 2012). In Italy, two non-governmental groups, the Associazione ricreativa culturale italiana and the Associazione studi giuridici sull'immigrazione, filed a complaint in April 2012 with the Public Prosecutor’s Office calling for an investigation into the fate of hundreds of Tunisian migrants who had disappeared while trying to reach Italy in 2011 (La Repubblica 2012a).


In response to the burgeoning migration pressures, the Italian government pursued a number of controversial policies. In February 2011, then Minister of Interior Roberto Maroni, a member of the rightwing Northern League, declared a “state of emergency,” which was renewed until the end of 2012 (Maccanico 2012). The government declared the port of Lampedusa, a critical operations point for Mediterranean emergency activities, an “unsafe” harbour, spurring a sharp rebuke from the international community, who said that it would “undermine the entire rescue at sea system for migrants and asylum seekers and at the same time could make rescue operations much more hazardous and complex” (IOM et al 2011).


Detention and deportation were also front and centre in the government’s response. As the detainee population grew, so did efforts to investigate the well-being of detainees. However, in April 2011, Maroni barred journalists and NGOs from accessing migrant detention centres (Maccanico 2012; Cosentino 2011). Italy also worked with Frontex to launch a joint operation called “Hermes,” which included boosting maritime surveillance assets and deploying experts to various detention centres across the country to screen and debrief newly arriving migrants (Frontex 2011). The UN Special Rapporteur expressed concern that Frontex-supported interviews were conducted without any external supervision (OHCHR 2012).


Italy’s detention and deportation policies have also been the subject of several recent landmark judgements by supranational tribunals: El Dridi in April 2011 and Hirsi in February 2012. In El Dridi, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that Italian legislation criminalising irregular stay did not comply with the EU Return Directive (CJEU 2011). In Hirsi, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that in intercepting and returning a number of Eritreans and Somalis to Libya, Italy violated Articles 3 (prohibition of ill-treatment) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR (prohibition of collective expulsion) (European Court of Human Rights 2012).


Another important legal decision impacting Italy’s treatment of migrants was the Strasbourg court’s 2011 ground-breaking ruling in M.S.S v. Belgium and Greece, which found that Greece was not a safe country to return asylum seekers and that Belgium violated its obligations under the European Convention in sending an asylum applicant back to Greece under the Dublin II Regulation. Following that judgment, several EU countries, including Italy, stopped returning asylum seekers to Greece. However, Italy bypassed the M.S.S judgment by sending third-country nationals to Greece pursuant to a bilateral readmission agreement between those countries. In late 2012, the European Court of Human Rights began deliberations on Sharifi v. Italy and Greece, which involves investigating allegations that potential asylum seekers were turned back on the basis of this readmission agreement without being provided the opportunity to submit asylum applications (PRO ASYL et al 2012).



Detention Policy


Italian legislation explicitly affirms the fundamental rights of undocumented migrants. As stipulated in article 2(1) of the immigration law, a non-citizen “regardless of how he is present at the territory of the State” shall have his fundamental rights recognized, as these are provided in municipal law and international conventions. Also, article 10 of the Italian Constitution provides that the legal status of foreigners is regulated by law in conformity with international norms and treaties. The same article endorses the right to asylum. Article 13 of the Constitution provides that personal liberty is inviolable and that detention shall only be allowed for judicial reasons and in a lawful manner.


Despite these constitutional guarantees, the Interior Ministry has appeared to draw distinctions between types of foreigners, presumably with a view to circumscribing the application of these rights to certain groups of non-citizens. As of October 2012, the ministry’s website stated: “Foreigners who entered Italy without a regular entry visa are illegal immigrants. Foreigners who lost the conditions necessary to stay in Italy (i.e. expired and not renewed permit of residence that they held when they entered Italy) are irregular immigrants. According to regulations in force, illegal immigrants must be removed” (EMN 2012b; Interior Ministry Website). 


Although Italian law provides for migration-related detention in some facilities and under certain conditions, a number of experts that the Global Detention Project interviewed for this report said that authorities routinely detain non-citizens outside the framework of the law (Masera 2012; Pretto 2012). They raised particular concerns about detention situations in border zones and “short-term” facilities called “Welcome Centres,” where migrants are often detained for lengthy periods of time in the absence of any legal authority to do so (see the section below, “Detention Infrastructure”).


Evolution of detention-related law. Italy’s detention practices and laws on unauthorized immigration have undergone numerous changes since the 1980s. The country first introduced legislation to restrict immigration in 1986 with the Norme in materia di collocamento e di trattamento dei lavoratori extracomunitari immigrati e contro le immigrazioni clandestine (Norms for the placement and treatment of migrants, migrant workers and against illegal immigration) (Veugelers 1994, p. 39).


In 1989, the country adopted the Legge Martelli (Martelli Law), which established provisions for the recognition of asylum-seekers, legal procedures for the expulsion of irregular migrants, and time limits for when non-citizens must depart Italy after being issued a deportation order (Veugelers 1994, p. 42; HRW 2006, p. 103).


The government of Romano Prodi introduced mandatory detention for irregular migrants in the 1998 Legge Turco-Napolitano (Turco-Napolitano Law). This change in immigration law led to the publication of the Consolidated Immigration Act 286/1998 (Testo unico delle disposizioni concernenti la disciplina dell’immigrazione e norme sulla condizione dello straniero, the "Immigration Act"), which contains provisions against irregular immigration (Art. 12). It also establishes the grounds for issuing an administrative expulsion order, including for overstaying a visa by more than two months and entering Italy by evading border controls (Art. 13). Article 14 of the Immigration Act establishes that irregular migrants (as well as asylum seekers) can be detained at specified facilities for a period "strictly limited to the time necessary to determine the identity and qualification for remaining in Italy, and for determining whether or not they should be deported.”


The 2002 Legge Bossi-Fini (Bossi-Fini Law) made further changes in detention policy. It established plans to expand and strengthen immigration detention (assistance and infrastructure) with the allocation of over 70 million Euros during 2002-2004 (Art. 13). Article 35 of this legislation provides that the Central Directorate of the Immigration and Frontiers Police be the authority responsible for the management of immigration-related issues, with the police authorized to carry out all border control activities, including expulsions (Art. 35). In addition, this law introduced more coercive measures to tackle irregular migration—with the article 11 devoted to “Provisions against irregular immigration”—and set a new maximum length of detention at 30 days (Art. 13), which was later extended in 2011 (see below).


In May 2008 the then-newly elected Berlusconi government declared a “state of emergency” in Italy, citing among other issues the “persistent and extraordinary influx of non-EU citizens” and the presence of Roma and Sinti nomadic communities. The declaration had a significant impact on the country’s migration detention practices. Following the declaration, the government adopted a “Security Package” (Pacchetto Sicurezza) aimed at facilitating expulsions, introduced a law criminalizing unauthorized presence in the country, and renamed its detention centres “Centri di identificazione ed espulsione” (CIE), or “Identification and Expulsion Centres” (Merlino 2009, p. 1). Among the penalties introduced were “mandatory arrest and fast track trial for foreigners who remain in Italy notwithstanding an expulsion order” and fines for illegal entry (WGAD 2009b, p. 15). The military was also commissioned to perform immigration-related police operations across the country; and the status of “illegal migrant” was added to the list of aggravating circumstances (Art. 1(f)) of the Italian penal code (Merlino 2009, p. 7-8).


Also as part of the “Security Package,” in July 2009, the government adopted the “Provisions relating to Public Safety” (Disposizioni in materia di sicurezza pubblica), which amended the 1998 Consolidated Immigration Act. Article 6 of the Immigration Act was amended to introduce for the first time in Italian law the crime of irregular stay in Italy, punishable with imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to 2,000 Euros. Further, when a non-citizen’s permit has expired by more than 60 days, and no request for renewal has been made, the non-citizen can be imprisoned for a period of between six months and one year. The amended legislation also extends the maximum length of detention of irregular immigrants from 60 days to 180 days (Art. 14(5) of the Immigration Act).


Article 14 was amended to include provisions that allow for the imprisonment for up to four years of non-citizens found to have remained in the country in violation of voluntary departure period. This provision led to the above mentioned El Dridi case, in which the EU Court of Justice was asked to assess whether such custodial sentence was compatible with the EU Return Directive. While admitting that criminal law falls under national competence, the court stressed that national legislation may not deprive EU law of its effectiveness. The penalty at stake would risk jeopardising the attainment of a key objective of the Return Directive, namely the establishment of an effective removal policy. While the Court did not outlaw the criminalisation of irregular stay per se, it found that Member States may not provide for a custodial sentence on the sole ground that a person concerned continues to stay irregularly on their territory after the expiry of the voluntary departure period (CJEU 2011). 


Following the El Dridi ruling, the Consolidated Immigration Act was amended by the Law 129/2011, adopted in August 2011, which transposes the Returns Directive into Italian legislation.


Grounds for detention. In line with Article 14(1) of the Consolidated Immigration Act, when immediate expulsion or refusal of entry is not possible, a person may be detained at the nearest CIE. The situations that justify administrative custody include the need to provide relief to the immigrant, ascertain his identity or nationality, acquire travel documents, or arrange a suitable means of transport.


Another set of circumstances permitting detention relates to the risk that the person concerned may escape the voluntary execution of the expulsion order. As laid down in article 13(4bis), the Prefect may determine that there is a risk of absconding when the person concerned: (1) does not have valid passport or equivalent document; (2) does not have documents proving accommodation; (3) has previously made false declarations with respect to his or her identify; (4) has breached reporting obligations during the voluntary departure period; (5) has not left during that period or re-entered despite the ban on re-entry. This broad definition of the risk of absconding has raised criticism by scholars (Masera 2011; Natale 2011). 


Length of detention. Following the 2011 amendment to the Consolidated Immigration Act, which transposed the EU Return Directive, the maximum period of detention was extended from six to 18 months. A number of other countries also extended their maximum detention stays as a result of this directive, including Spain and Greece (Flynn & Cannon 2010).


Pursuant to article 14(5), the initial period of detention is 30 days. If there are difficulties in establishing a person’s identity and nationality, or with the acquisition of travel documents, the magistrate (giudice di pace) may extend the term by 30 days. After that time, where the grounds for detention in article 14(1) persist, detention may be extended for a further period of sixty days. The maximum total period of detention is not to exceed six months. However, when removal cannot be enforced due to the lack of cooperation by the third-country national or because of delays in obtaining the necessary documentation from third countries, detention may be extended by additional twelve months. 


Thus, like in Greece, the justification for applying the upper time limit of detention is not only based on the conduct of the person concerned but also on circumstances not dependent on the detainee, like delays by authorities in the country of return.


Procedural guarantees. Upon arrest of a non-citizen who appears to have violated immigration law, the police are to notify the competent magistrate (giudice di pace) within 48 hours of the apprehension. Following a “validation hearing” in the presence of a lawyer, the magistrate shall issue a detention order within 48 hours.


Some legal experts have argued that these validation hearings are deeply flawed. According to a lawyer cited in a 2012 report: "Validation hearings often have a casual atmosphere. … The judge makes two or three questions, the chancellor writes, lawyers say something, and there it is. It was really a mere formality. So many fellow lawyers barely participate in validation hearings, leaving the decision on what to do to the Giudice di Pace. So, there is a reduced defence." He added: "Validation hearings only last three minutes and all that these Giudici di Pace do is always to ask the same three questions. If someone tries to tell his life story they don't even listen. They just don't care" (Iyengar et al. 2012).


Each subsequent extension of detention has to be endorsed by the magistrate (article 14(3)-(5) of the Consolidated Immigration Act), which can considered an official review of the necessity of detention. The presence of the detainee is not required at these extension proceedings (Iyengar et al. 2012). Additionally, the Consolidated Immigration Act (Article 14) provides the right to appeal a detention order or an order extending detention. According to one source, in many cases the appeals are done inside CIEs and statistics on the number of appeals are not available. Magistrates are in charge of deciding of appeals (Pretto 2012).


Some observers have argued that this involvement of magistrates in overseeing immigration detention, which has been the procedure since 2004, limits judicial control over this measure. As non-professional judges, magistrates may not have the adequate legal competence and specialized knowledge of migrants’ rights to competently undertake this task (Crépeau 2012; Vassallo Palaeologo 2011; FRA 2010; Iyengar et al. 2012).


Detention orders along with information on the existing remedies shall be communicated to the person concerned in a language he or she knows, or, if that is not possible, in English, French, or Spanish (Article 13(7) of the Consolidated Immigration Act).


Finally, if a detainee lacks financial means, the magistrate is to nominate a lawyer to represent the person in validation and extension hearings. According to some experts, while access to free legal aid in Italy is laudable, in practice assigned attorneys may not have enough time to prepare the case as they are usually appointed in the morning of the hearing. As a detainee at the Turin CIE told investigators, “I only saw my staff attorney [avvocato d’ufficio] at the hearing together with the judge, that’s it. They didn’t tell me anything. That lawyer has never called me back again and I do not have his phone number so I cannot contact him” (Iyengar et al. 2012).


Minors and other vulnerable groups. Except for reasons related to public order or national security, Italian legislation does not allow expulsion of minors, pregnant women, or women who have given birth during the preceding six months (Art. 19(2) of the Consolidated Immigration Act). Consequently, persons belonging to these categories are generally not detained (Vassallo Palaeologo 2011). However, detention of children accompanied by parents is not explicitly prohibited. Minors can be detained with their parents only for family unity purposes and if requested by the parents or decided by the Juvenile Judge. In practice, few children are detained; usually they are separated from detained parents and placed in a child care facility (PICUM 2012; European Commission 2011a).


Detention of unaccompanied children is prohibited under Italian law (Article 26(6) of the Legislative Decree 25/2008), as it is in many European countries, including in Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Unaccompanied minors must be accommodated in dedicated facilities for minors managed by the social services departments of the municipality or, if they apply for asylum, in special facilities for minors within the System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR, Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati). However, the lack of spare places in child-specific facilities or shortcomings in the identification process may result in the accommodation of a child in a centre for adults or even placement in detention (France Terre d’Asile 2012; UNHCR 2012d). The law does not explicitly protect children from removal at the border, thus they may be denied access to the territory or detained at the border, as in France (European Commission 2011a).


Asylum seekers. If a non-citizen applies for international protection while already in detention following an expulsion order, he/she remains in the detention facility, as the legislation does not provide for the possibility to be moved from a CIE to an Asylum Seekers Reception Centre (CARA, Centro Accoglienza Richiedenti Asilo). However, the person’s application is given priority and the maximum length of detention is 30 days (articles 21 and 28 of the Legislative Decree 25/2008; European Parliament 2012).


Also subject to detention are asylum seekers who have been convicted for one of the crimes laid down in article 380(1)-(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, crimes related to drugs, sexual freedom, aiding and abetting irregular migration, crimes relating to the recruitment for prostitution purposes or recruitment of minors to be used in illegal activities; or international crimes set out in article 1F of the Geneva Refugee Convention (article 21 of the Legislative Decree 25/2008; EMN 2012).


Non-custodial measures. So-called alternatives to detention were introduced in the 2011 amendment to the Consolidated Immigration Act, transposing the EU Return Directive. Article 14(1bis) provides for three kinds of non-custodial measures: a) relinquishing passport or other equivalent document; b) an obligation to live in a previously identified location; and/or c) reporting obligations. However, these measures may be applied only with respect to migrants who have their passport or other equivalent document (PICUM 2012).


Criminalization. As in some other European countries—including Germany and Switzerland—Italian immigration legislation penalizes irregular entry and stay. The crime of irregular stay was introduced to the Italian legislation by the 2009 amendment. As provided in Article 6(3), if a foreigner, at the request of law enforcement officers, fails without reasonable justification to show documents certifying his/her stay on Italian territory, he/she can be punished with imprisonment for up to one year and fined up to 2,000 Euros. Additionally, Article 10bis provides that entry or stay in contravention to the Consolidated Immigration Act shall be punished with a fine between 5,000 and 10,000 Euros.


The Praesidium Project. In 2006, a group of stakeholders, including the Italian Interior Ministry, launched a multi-agency program to address mixed migration flows arriving on the island of Lampedusa, which was called the Praesidium Project (Strengthening Reception Capacity to Handle Migrants Reaching the Island of Lampedusa, or Potenziamento dell’accoglienza rispetto ai flussi migratori che interessano l’isola di Lampedusa) (ICMC 2012). 


Funded jointly by the Italian government and the EU, the project brings together the Italian government, UNHCR, IOM, the Italian Red Cross and, since 2008, Save the Children Italy. UNHCR helps identify asylum applicants and aids the processing of claims; IOM provides information to the immigrants about Italian legislation on migration matters and assists immigrants who opt to voluntarily return to their countries of origin; the Red Cross provides general humanitarian assistance to detainees and Save the Children Italy takes charge of unaccompanied minors (CPT 2007a, p. 10; ICMC 2012; UNHCR 2010).


The program, which has been lauded by the CPT, has been extended to other parts of Italy (CPT 2007a, p. 10; Croce Rossa, “Progetto PRAESIDIUM”). Mobile units were created in 2007 as part of phase II of the Praesidium Project, “to follow up on Lampedusa activities and monitor landings in Sicily” (UNHCR, “PRAESIDIUM”). As of 2012, the project was in phase VI and covered Sicily, Puglia, Calabria, Campania, and Marche (France Terre d’Asile 2012; ICMC 2012). 


Push-backs and other interdiction practices. For several years, Italy has engaged in the controversial practice of “push-backs” (respingimento), forcibly redirecting boats at sea en route to Italy back to Libya (not a signatory country to the UN Refugee Convention). Observers have argued that this practice aggravates the growing humanitarian crisis of deaths at sea due to sinking migrant smuggling vessels. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has called for a convention between Italy, Malta, and Libya to address the increasing rates of irregular migration across the Mediterranean and ensure that people are not sent back to places “where their lives or freedom would be jeopardized” (UN News Service 2009c).

Italy has defended push-backs, claiming that when the identities of migrants are clear and transportation is readily available, there is no need to impose administrative detention, and the police can immediately escort a migrant to the border without judicial validation (Government of Italy 2007, n. xvi). Non-citizens who are interdicted before arriving in Italy are, the government claims, better off as they can still enter Italy through the official process, while those who have been expelled from the country are banned from re-entering Italy for 10 years (Government of Italy 2007, p. 21). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “once the Italian government has expelled foreigners back to Libya, it also pays for charter flights for Libya to send the people home.” Some fifty charter flights transported 5,668 people between August 2003 and December 2004 (HRW 2006, p. 112).


As noted earlier, the European Court found in the Hirsi case that Italian push-back activities violated the prohibition of inhuman treatment (article 3 of the ECHR), the prohibition of collective expulsion (article 4 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR) and the right to an effective remedy (article 13 of the ECHR).


Maritime border control has been carried out in the framework of cooperation between Italy and Libya, based on the 2008 Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation and several technical protocols (Amnesty International 2012). In April 2012 Italy signed another agreement with Libya “to curtail the flow of migrants.” The agreement sets out measures to be taken to prevent undocumented migrants from leaving Libya, like reinforcement of Libyan borders; training of Libyan police and border personnel by Italy; and the provision of Italian assistance in strengthening controls of Libya’s borders and coastal patrols. Amnesty International Italy noted that some of the migrants effected by this agreement are in need of humanitarian protection and yet are stuck in a country where the rule of law is absent and detention conditions inhumane (Amnesty International Italy 2012; PICUM 2012).


Readmission agreements. Italy has engaged in an array of bilateral agreements of various sorts relating to management of migration flows. It has approximately twenty readmission agreements for return of irregular migrants and around forty police agreements for joint actions to combat the exploitation of irregular migration and human trafficking. In terms of regular migration, Italy signed agreements on the regulation and management of labour migration flows with several nearby countries, including Moldova, Morocco, Egypt, Albania, and Tunisia (EMN 2012b; ICMC 2012).


Independent monitoring of detention centres. In the framework of the “state of emergency” announced by the Interior Ministry in 2011, the government published a circular banning journalists and organisations not affiliated with the ministry from entering the CIEs, with the exception of UNHCR, IOM, the Italian Red Cross, Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, Save the Children, and Caritas (Cosentina 2011). These restrictions spurred a civil society campaign LasciateCIEentrare (Open Access Now). In December 2011, the ban was revoked due to “the significant decrease of the flows from Northern Africa” and “the implementation of the comprehensive system of reception and care” (MEDU 2012; Vassallo Palaeologo 2011).


However, civil society organizations continue to face enormous challenges in gaining access to detention facilities, which was highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants during his 2012 visit to the country (OHCHR 2012).   



Detention Infrastructure


Italy operates several types of secure detention facilities, Centri di Accoglienza (CDA, or “Welcome Centre”); Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione (CIE, or “Identification and Expulsion Centres”); and transit zone facilities located at various ports of entry. Italy also operates a network of non-secure reception centres for asylum seekers called Centri Accoglienza Richiedenti Asilo (CARA, or “Asylum Seekers Reception Centre) as well as Centri di Prima Assistenza (CPA, “First Aid Centres”), which provide services for undocumented migrants (ASGI 2009).


Welcome Centres. Non-citizens who are taken into custody for not having appropriate authorization to be in Italy can initially held at the Centri di Accoglienza (CDA, or “Welcome Centre”). These can include migrants apprehended at sea, after landing, or in transit across Italian territory. Regulated by law n. 563/1995, CDAs are intended to perform the function of pre-admittance detention, determining the identity of and providing first aid to irregular migrants while they remain in the facilities pending the initial determination of his/her legal position. 


Observers contend that practices at CDAs can vary from region to region, facility to facility. In particular, sources who spoke with the Global Detention Project said that there does not appear to be a standard practice with respect to the amount of time people are held at these facilities. The website of the Ministry of the Interior stated (as of October 2012) that confinement at CDAs is “strictly limited to the time necessary to determine the identity and qualification for remaining in Italy, and for determining whether or not they should be deported.” In some CDAs this short-term detention limit appears to be adhered to. As a representative of an international organization (who asked to remain anonymous) told the GDP, in certain areas of Italy, migrants are held at CDAs for “the time strictly necessary for identification procedures [and] depending on the number of migrants, from 3-4 hours to 2 days” (Undisclosed source 2012). Another source also said that confinement periods can depend on how many migrants are at a given facility at any one time, and claimed that while at some facilities confinement typically lasts only 5-15 hours, at others—particularly the one on the island of Lampedusa—it can last up to a week or even longer if during a period of crisis (Pretto 2012).


Part of the difficulty in assessing practices at CDAs is that they do not appear to have clear cut regulations in law. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), detention at the CDAs is not clearly regulated in law (MSF 2010). As a result, there is no official time limit for how long people can be held at these centres, and  judicial authorization is not required to confine someone at them (ICMC 2012; MSF 2010). While in theory detention exceeding 48 hours requires a judicial order (Undisclosed source 2012), it is unclear if this systematically adhered to at the CDAs. There have also been allegations that some of these facilities are understaffed and overcrowded (MSF 2010).


The ambiguous standards at CDAs make it challenging to confidently characterize them. The Global Detention Project generally does not include in its dataset of detention centres those facilities that are used for periods of less than two to three days. However, in some countries, the GDP has found that short-term facilities are frequently used for longer periods of time, even when they are not legally mandated to do so. In such instances, the GDP includes the facility in its dataset despite coding it “short-term.” This is the case with the CDAs. Although they seem to be officially mandated only for very short-term confinement, the GDP has included them in its data—coding them as “short-term” dedicated migrant detention centres—because of their apparent lack of an official time limit and on the basis of the observations provided by credible observers.


According to the website of the Ministry of Interior, there were five CDAs in operation: in Agrigento, Lampedusa (381 places); Cagliari, Elmas (220 places); Caltanissetta, Contrada Pian del Lago (360 places); Lecce-Otranto (30 places); and Ragusa Pozzallo (172 places) (Ministry of Interior 2012; Undisclosed source 2012).


In addition to these facilities, four non-secure asylum reception centres have sections that are used as secure CDAs. According to the Interior Ministry’s webpage, these are located in Bari Palese, Area aeroportuale (744 places); Brindisi, Restinco (128 places); Crotone, località Sant’Anna (875 places); and Foggia, Borgo Mezzanone (856 places) (Ministry of Interior 2012). There does not appear to be any available information detailing how many spaces in these facilities are used for secure confinement (Undisclosed source 2012). Because these facilities include both secure and non-secure areas, they are coded as “mixed regime” in GDP data and receive a double typology coding, “reception centre” and “migrant detention centre.”


Identification and Expulsion Centres. According to the website of the Ministry of Interior (as of October 2012), Italy had 13 long-term detention centres, the CIEs (Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione), with a total capacity of 1,901. These were located in Bari-Palese (96 places); Bologna, Caserma Chiarini (95 places); Brindisi, Loc. Restinco (83 places); Caltanissetta, Contrada Pian del Lago (96 places); Catanzaro, Lamezia Terme (80 places); Crotone, S. Anna (124 places); Gorizia, Gradisca d’Isonzo (248 places); Milano, Via Corelli (132 places); Modena, Località Sant’Anna (60 places); Roma, Ponte Galeria (360 places); Torino, Corso Brunelleschi (180 places); Trapani, Serraino Vulpitta (43 places); and Trapani, loc Milo (204 places) (Ministry of Interior webpage).


In April 2011, the country opened three new reception centres—in Kinisia (Trapani), Palazzo San Gervasio (Potenza), and Santa Maria Capua Vetere in Campania—which were transformed into temporary detention facilities (TCIEs) to be used until the end of 2011. Following its visit to the facility in Santa Maria Capua Vetere in May 2011, the parliament’s human rights commission found the conditions “particularly critical.” With a total capacity of roughly 1,000, the facility consisted at the time of 25 tents placed on a courtyard surrounded by a double fence. At the time of the visit, the mattresses were laid on the ground and the tents lacked any protection from the sun. In the beginning of June a fire destroyed part of the facility, and as a result it was closed (Commissione Straordinaria Per La Tutela e La Promozione Dei Diritti Umani 2012; Vassallo Palaeologo 2011). However, in March 2012 the Ministry of Interior revealed plans to make the facilities in Santa Maria and Palazzo San Gervasio permanent (MEDU 2012; Meltinpot 2012).


Transit zones. Italy has several detention facilities at ports of entry into the country, which are operated by the border police. In contrast to other European countries like France, which has specific regulations governing operations at its transit facilities (zones d’attente), Italy’s border centres operate without a specific legal framework and in some cases lack basic features required to operate as detention centres (Masera 2012b; ARCI 2012). 


Because they do not have specific operating rules or regulations, migrants can be detained at these facilities for lengthy periods of time without recourse to lawyers, legal guarantees, or asylum procedures (Masera 2012; Pretto 2012). Dr. Luca Masera of the University of Brescia, who has investigated operations at transit facilities in Italy, highlighted this precarious situation in an interview with the GDP, saying: “On some days, there could be a police officer on duty who allows the detainees to call a lawyer. The next day there could be a different officer who prevents detainees from doing so” (Masera 2012).


Depending on which facility a person is detained at and what the situation is like at that moment, migrants can be held at border facilities for periods ranging from a few hours to several weeks. At the port on the island of Lampedusa, for example, border police—sometimes with support from the Italian military—confine migrants for several weeks during periods of large migration influxes (Masera 2012). In the transit facility at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, migrants—including women and children—reportedly can spend days sleeping on the floor or chairs as there is not adequate infrastructure in place to operate the facility for detention purposes. They are confined in waiting areas, which is separated by tape from other areas of the waiting area and is replete with iron benches and airport toilets. Mothers with children are accommodated in a 30m2 room without windows. Non-nationals appear to be held at the facility until their removal by the company that brought them to Italy (ARCI 2012).


Because these centres appear to have no legal provision providing for immigration detention operations and are not apparently identified in any relevant legal provision, the Global Detention Project categorizes them as “Ad Hoc-Transit Facilities.”


As of November 2012, the Global Detention Project was able to confirm that transit facilities were in operation at the following locations: the Ancona and Trieste border crossing points, the airports in Rome (Fiumicino) and Milano (Malpensa), as well as at the ports of Empedocles (Sicily) (Pretto 2012) and on the island of Lampedusa (Masera 2012).


Authority and management of the detention facilities. Both the CDAs and the CIAs fall under the authority of the Interior Ministry’s Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration. While the overall authority for both types of centres is centralized, the CDAs and CIEs have separate management structures. The management of the CDAs remains at the national level, with the Central Directorate of Civil Services for Immigration and Asylum (Direzione Centrale dei servizi per l’immigrazione e l’asilo), which also facilitates the verification process to determine whether detained immigrants can remain in Italy (Interior Minitry website). Some CDAs contract out the provision of services to non-governmental groups (CDU 2006).


CIEs are managed at the local level, by the prefectures, including the questura (the local police) and the local magistrate, who play an administrative role in determining identification and subsequent deportation measures, if required. Local prefectures have service contracts with a variety of private entities, including non-governmental groups, for the provision of basic needs and services within facilities (Interior Ministry “I Centri dell’immigrazione”).


Guidelines on the management of the CIEs and CDAs, called the Bianco Directive, were developed in 2000 for the provision of food, clothing, and sanitary needs. The guidelines also stipulate that each detainee be officially registered and that the managing organization submit a weekly registration report to the Department of Civil Rights and Immigration (Government of Italy 2007, p. 13; Interior Ministry website). In addition, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention claims that organizations contracted to manage centres are required to provide legal advice to detainees. However, according to the WGAD this legal advice varies in quality, and “the ex-officio lawyers” are not always “very engaged and effective” (WGAD 2009, p. 19).


The corpo militare of the Italian Red Cross (Croce Rossa) served for many years as a principal private contractor for a number of the expulsion centres—including those in Turin, Milan, Bari and Rome—in partnership with the local prefecture in each region. It also assisted in the operations of the secure welcome centre in Bari and Foggia (Croce Rossa, “Strutture per I migranti”). The government reportedly chose the Red Cross because of its ability to address the humanitarian needs of the detainee population (CDU 2006, p. 84). Among the services the Red Cross provided were food, health care, accommodation, psycho-social counseling, cultural-linguistic assistance, and facility maintenance (Interior Ministry, “I Centri dell’immigrazione”).


For many years, the Red Cross was the only private organization working inside detention centres while other rights-based groups were frequently denied access to the facilities (HRW 2006). However, various high-profile incidents at centres, including deaths and fires, led the government to broaden the number of organizations involved in the facilities beyond the Red Cross, which claimed to be understaffed (Statewatch 2000). In the early 2000s, following the adoption of the Bianco Directive the monopoly position of the Red Cross was weakened as other organizations were contracted to provide services (Mazza 2012).


As of 2012, the Red Cross co-managed only the CIEs in Turin and Milan and the CDAs in Lecce Otranto and Ragusa Pozzalo. Among the other charities and cooperative organizations providing services in detention centres were: Consorzio Connecting People (the CIEs in Trapani Milo, Gorizia and Brindisi and CARAs/CDAs in Brindisi and Foggia), Le Misericordie d’Italia (the CIEs in Crotone, Bologna and Modena and CARA/CDA in Crotone), Cooperativa Albatros (CIE and CDA in Caltanissetta), Auxilium (CIE in Rome and CARA/CDA in Bari), Cooperativa Malgrado Tutto (CIE in Catanzaro); Operatori emergenza radio (CIE in Bari-Palese) and Cooperativa Insieme (CIE in Trapani Serraino Vulpitta) (FaiNotizia 2012; Mazza 2012; ASGI 2011).


Conditions of detention. The Italian government and the Italian Red Cross have repeatedly been criticized by human rights organizations, the media, and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) for conditions at immigration detention facilities across the country, and in particular at the facility on Lampedusa (HRW 2006; CPT 2007a). In 2006, a commission was established to assess immigration detention facilities, the “De Mistura Commission.” The commission’s 2007 report contains a detailed assessment of each centre, as well as recommendations for improving the physical environment and management procedures (WGAD 2009, p. 19; De Mistura Commission 2007).


There is little information available on the demographics of the detainee population in Italy. Both the 2007 De Mistura Commission report and the 2006 Comitato Diritti Umani report indicate that men and women are provided separate areas in detention facilities.


NGO and media outlets have reported that minors (both accompanied and unaccompanied) are often detained at immigration detention facilities, particularly on the island of Lampedusa (AI 2006). In January 2009, a coalition of Italian and international NGOs published an appeal highlighting the “alarming conditions” in the centre at Lampedusa and the often prolonged detention of minors at CDAs prior to being transferred to “appropriate reception structures” (AI Italia et al 2009).


The detention conditions at the Lampedusa Contrada Imbriacola facility have attracted significant media attention. With a capacity of 850, it was conceived as a temporary centre for stay up to 48hours. In 2011, when arrivals from Tunisia and Libya peaked, there were at times between 1,000 and 2,000 persons confined in the facility (PACE 2011). At the end of August 2011, reported journalist Fabrizio Gatti, more than 200 minors were detained on Lampedusa in inadequate conditions and in a situation of serious overcrowding (Gatti 2011). According to data collected by the Save of Children, almost 2,600 unaccompanied minors landed in Lampedusa between January and September 2011, of whom 40 percent were transferred between July and September 2011 to temporary shelters (Strutture di Accoglienza Temporanea) on the mainland (Save the Children 2011).


A report by the MSF, published in May 2011, claimed that there were substandard conditions at the Lampedusa facility, inadequate separation of men and women, lack of access to information about the migrants’ rights, and inadequate health care. In March 2011 around 3,000 migrants slept on the docks in Lampedusa for several days, sharing only 16 chemical toilets and having access to only 1.5 litres of water per person per day (MSF 2011; AI 2011). Following its visit in May 2011, PACE called on the Italian authorities to promptly increase Lampedusa’s reception capacities and ensure the rapid transfer of new arrivals to the mainland (PACE 2011).


On 20 September 2011, during a revolt at the Contrada Imbriacola facility, a fire broke out that prompted authorities to close the centre and declare the Lampedusa port an unsafe harbour (European Parliament 2012; Squires 2011).


The CIE in Trapani contrada Milo is the newest detention facility in Italy. Opened in July 2011 it can host up to 200 persons. It is composed of five buildings and offers accommodation in 6-person rooms (European Parliament 2012). A delegation of journalists which succeed to enter the centre in May 2012 reported poor living conditions such as the lack of bed sheets, doors in bathrooms or a recreational area (TM News 2012). 

The Ponte Galeria CIE in Rome, with a capacity of 354 and an average detainee population of 240, is the biggest detention centre in Italy. In 2011 and early 2012, detainees, angered by the poor conditions at the facility, engaged in several hunger strikes and riots. According to one NGO, the Rome facility fails to provide decent conditions respecting human dignity. Of particular concern was the lack of access to recreational activities, inadequate sanitary facilities and inadequate health care assistance (MEDU 2012). The group noted that conditions of detention in Ponte Galeria in Rome were comparable to those in the CIEs in Bologna and Turin (MEDU 2012).


An investigation undertaken by the International University College of Turin found that the Turin CIE provides insufficient activities for detainees, lack of hygienic products and ventilation, inadequate medical consultations. Immigration detainees complained also about disrespectful behaviour by personnel. Some detainees had previously spent time in criminal prisons told investigators that the prisons provided better conditions, had more clear-cut rules, and better trained staff. During 2011, there were 156 incidents of self-harm in Turin (Iyengar et al 2012).



Facts & Figures


According to the website of the Ministry of Interior (as of October 2012), Italy operated 9 CDAs (secure “welcome centres”) and 13 CIEs (secure “identification and expulsion centres”). The country reported a total immigration detention capacity of 1,901 in CIEs and 1,163 in CDAs (not including those located in CARAs) (Interior Ministry Website, "I Centri dell’immigrazione").


Compared to 2009, the country’s detention capacity has grown significantly.  As of September 2009, Italy operated 10 CDAs and 10 CIEs. The total immigration detention capacity in the CIEs was 1,160 (GDP 2009 profile).


The daily cost of detention in the CIEs is 45 Euros per person, including food, accommodation, and health care (EMN 2012b). While the average detention period in CIEs is 150 days (EMN 2012b), the overall maximum length of detention in CIEs is now 18 months, which requires magistrate approval after each 30 or 60 day detention interval expires (the Consolidated Immigration Act, Art. 14(5)).


In 2011, 7,735 immigrants were detained in CIEs, of whom 3,880 were deported from the country. This resulted in a 50 percent deportation, although there were significant regional differences. The rate was from 68 percent in Modena and 30 percent in Brindisi (MENU 2012b). As of 20 December 2011, there were 1,050 immigration detainees in Italian CIEs, 103 in Bari, 71 in Bologna, 34 in Brindisi, 45 in Catanzaro, 66 in Gorizia, 117 in Milano, 60 in Modena, 203 in Roma, 134 in Torino, 37 in Trapani Serraino Vulpitta and 180 in Trapani-Milo; there were no detainees in Caltanissetta and Crotone (Commissione Straordinaria Per La Tutela e La Promozione Dei Diritti Umani 2012).


According to the 2007 De Mistura Commission report, some 25,000 non-citizens were detained in immigration detention centres between 2005-2006 (De Mistura Commission 2007, p. 12). 6,800 of these, nearly 31 percent, were from the Roma community. Moroccans, Nigerians, Palestinians, and Tunisians also made up a significant portion of the detainee population during this period.


Following the unrest in North Africa in 2011, the number of asylum applications increased dramatically from 10,050 in 2010 to 34,120 in 2011 (UNHCR 2012c). In 2011, positive decisions were taken in 7,485 cases, of which refugee status, subsidiary status, and protection on humanitarian grounds were granted to 1,870, 2,265, and 3,350 persons, respectively (EUROSTAT). Top five countries of origin of persons accorded protection included Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria (EMN 2012a). UNHCR reports that in January 2012 there were a total of 13,525 asylum seekers in Italy (UNHCR 2012).


In 2011, Italy hosted 4,570,300 recognised international migrants, amounting to 7.5 percent of the total population. Out of this number, 1,334,800 were citizens of another EU Member State (EUROSTAT). 


At the end of 2011, 7,750 unaccompanied, non-asylum-seeking children were present in Italy, 1,094 of whom were Afghan nationals.


The number of asylum applications submitted by unaccompanied minors increased dramatically, from 306 in 2010 to 827 in 2011, the largest nationality group being Afghan (125 children) (UNHCR 2012d; France Terre d’Asile 2012).


According to one source, there were 541,000 irregular migrants in Italy in 2005, 650,000 in 2006, and 349,000 in 2007, and 651,000 in 2008 (Clandestino Research Project, 2009). Much of the decrease during 2006-2007 was due to the fact that in 2006 nearly a half a million undocumented non-citizens were granted work permits allowing them to remain in Italy (Blangiardo 2008). In line with estimates developed by the Research Centre Idos, the number of irregular migrants decreased to 560,000 in 2009 and 544,000 in 2010 (EMN 2012b).


In 2011, 29,505 irregular migrants were issued an expulsion order, of which 6,180 were forcibly returned. The top five countries of origin of returnees were Tunisia, Egypt, Albania, Morocco, and Algeria (EMN 2012a).


The numbers of irregular arrivals drastically decreased during the period 1998-2005, even as the “immigration problem” gained increasing public attention and Italy introduced stricter immigration controls. In 1999, 49,999 undocumented individuals were registered as having arrived on Italian territory; by 2005, the number of arrivals had decreased some 50 percent, to 22,939 (Government of Italy 2007, p. 13-14).


In 2007, approximately 20,000 undocumented migrants arrived to Italy by sea, of which 12,000 disembarked at Lampedusa. Fifty percent of those who arrived by sea applied for asylum, and 57 percent of these asylum seekers received some form of protection (UNHCR “PRAESIDIUM”). In 2008, arrivals by sea increased to some 36,000 people, of which 75 per cent applied for asylum, and roughly half of those received refugee status or protection on other humanitarian grounds (UN Service 2009a).


Between 2008 and 2011 the boat arrivals dropped dramatically due to cooperation with Libya in the framework of the 2008 Treaty on Friendship, Partnership and Co-operation. In 2009 with around 9,600 arrivals, Italy reported a 90 percent drop comparing to 2008. In 2010 there was a further decrease of around 80 percent, as only 4,350 persons reached Italy (ICMC 2012).