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Reports of Inhumane Conditions and Worrying Lack of Transparency at Milan’s CPR

A group of migrants in Milan's CPR, Source
A group of migrants in Milan’s CPR, Source

In February, a detainee protest concerning harmful living conditions and health risks in a detention centre in Milan was met with violent repression. This latest event, one of a string of similar incidents in Italy’s network of CPRs (Centro di Permanenza per il Rimpatrio), has raised broader concerns about the disregard for human rights across the country’s detention system. 

Protesting Detention Conditions 

According to reports, on the night of 10 February 2024, a group of detainees at a detention centre in Milan–the CPR di Milano–were involved in a fight with armed police agents who entered the facility upon the staff’s request. Detainees had previously been protesting the “undignified sanitary conditions,” the “inedible food” provided by an external catering company, and the lack of available medical care in the facility. 

Amongst detainees’ concerns have been fears about a potential scabies outbreak, or a similar disease, within the facility. Many detainees have reported experiencing itchy red spots on their bodies, yet they have either been denied access to appropriate medication or only offered sedative treatment. Additionally, complaints have arisen regarding the insufficiency, low quality, and foul odour of the food supplied.

According to local activists, detainees launched a protest which involved lying half-naked on the ground of the centre’s internal courtyard in the pouring rain. When police got involved, their heavy-handed suppression led to two detainees, including an eighteen-year-old, sustaining serious injuries. Allegedly, one suffered a broken leg and the other fell unconscious. They were only taken to hospital nine hours after the incident and were discharged shortly thereafter.

This is not the first time that concerns have been raised regarding this CPR–as well as others across Italy. The Milan detention centre has been the subject of relentless criticism from reporters, volunteers, and activists who have condemned rampant neglect and abuse within the facility. Amongst the main areas of concern identified in the past are the CPR’s unsuitable sanitary conditions and inadequate hygiene standards, serious risks for the mental and physical health of detainees, the lack of health care provision, the abuse and misemployment of psychotropic drugs, communications barriers hindering access to legal rights and, more broadly, a pervasive disregard for human rights. In January 2024 alone, 34 detainees had to be urgently transferred to hospital from the centre. 

Monitoring Concerns 

In the aftermath of the events, the Counsellor of Lombardia, accompanied by a doctor, a lawyer, and a volunteer from a local NGO, conducted an official inspection of the centre to shed light on the incident. Describing the visit, he noted that it was a “complicated visit constrained by refusals,” during which he was denied access to parts of the facility, including detainees’ cells; was repeatedly questioned about the legitimacy of his visit; and was not allowed to see detainees’ medical records.  

The Counsellor’s report is alarming, and reveals a substantial lack of transparency and restricted access to information provided by the management of the centre. Martinina Srl, a private for-profit organisation, has been running Milan’s CPR since October 2022, and was investigated for fraud and unlawful activities in December 2023. After repeated reports from detainees, their lawyers, activists, reporters and government representatives about the company’s failure in meeting contractual obligations, the Prefecture of Milan opened a judicial investigation. This confirmed a substantive inconsistency between official documentation and the services provided.

Since 2014, some repatriation facilities in Italy have been privatised or handed over to multinational corporations. Observers have argued that this has often resulted in administrations that prioritise profit over compliance with human rights and legal obligations. Both Rome’s and Turin’s CPRs are run by Ors–the Organisation for Refugees Service–a Swiss company that administers 100 detention centres between Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Germany, and Spain. In 2015, several organisations similarly reported mal-administration in these centres.

Broader Concerns

This latest incident in Milan has raised concerns regarding harmful conditions and health risks associated with immigration detention in Italy more broadly. Indeed, similar concerns have been reported in many other detention facilities in the country, with cases of self-harm and death documented, and reports of protests becoming increasingly frequent. 

According to the NGO Naga, between 2018 and 2022 14 deaths were recorded in detention centres across Italy, with the average age of those who passed away being 33 years old. Information regarding the identity of the deceased and the causes or circumstances of their deaths is unavailable for 4 of those cases. Most recently, in February 2024, a 22 year old from Guinea named Ousmane Sylla committed suicide at the Ponte Galeria CPR in the outskirts of Rome. According to Internazionale, a riot broke out at the centre upon the news of his death, with police intervening with tear gas. On 4 February, a protest at the Gorizia, Gradisca D’Isonzo CPR saw a detainee fall from the roof and end up in hospital in a serious condition.

Despite the widespread concerns regarding detention in Italy, the country continues to move ahead with plans to open a detention facility in Albania–a move which observers decry for placing detention “even further out of sight.”

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