Italy's second-biggest reception centre for asylum seekers closed amid protests

REUTERS/Tony Gentile
REUTERS/Tony Gentile Copyright Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini
Copyright Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini
By Viola Stefanello
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With 48 hours of notice being given, a reception centre housing around 350 asylum seekers was closed yesterday. The migrants will now be moved to other centres scattered around Italy.


Italy's Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini is under fire for a measure that is going to leave 150 migrants on the streets and will see hundreds moved to locations scattered around Italy.

On Tuesday - within 48 hours of notice being given - the military began to close the reception centre in the town of Castelnuovo di Porto, north of Rome. Italy's second-biggest reception centre for migrants, the Castelnuovo CARA was held up as an example of success. Pope Francis even chose it as the location where he washed the feet of 12 migrants on Holy Thursday in 2016. It was home to 40 families, and all the migrants in residence were undergoing social integration programs.

Now, its inhabitants face an uncertain future. While most of them are being put on buses and taken to other centres throughout Italy, around 150 will be left on the streets due to a clause in a security decree, passed in late November 2018, that does not allow migrants who hold a residence permit for humanitarian reasons to live in reception centres.

The story has sparked considerable outrage since many local figures shared their concerns about the way the shutdown was being carried out. "We are worried and concerned. We ask for them not to be treated like beasts," don José Manuel Torres, vicar at the nearby Santa Lucia church, told Italian news agency ANSA.

A message of religious solidarity came from the friars of world-renowned San Francesco d'Assisi Basilica. "Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing," they tweeted, tagging Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte as well as deputy Prime Ministers Salvini and Di Maio.

Hundreds of people participated in a silent march in the countryside near CARA on Tuesday afternoon.

"The citizens' response was extraordinary," said the mayor of Castelnuovo di Porto, Riccardo Travaglini, who told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera it wasn't informed that the centre would be closed.

Travaglini offered to house a 24-year-old from Somalia who was going to end up on the street because she holds a residence permit for humanitarian reasons. "I don't want to leave Italy, I want to fulfil my dream of studying and becoming a cultural mediator," she told the mayor at the gates of CARA.

This wasn't the only protest against the closure — Parliamentarian Rossella Muroni, elected with left-wing Free and Equal party, tried to stop a bus carrying migrants away from the centre by standing in front of the vehicle in what she described as a "spontaneous gesture". The vehicle eventually left for its destination.

"These migrants are being put on buses without even knowing their new destination. I think it's an unacceptable way to carry out such a delicate operation", she told Italian online newspaper Giornalettismo.

"What happened today can be used to set a precedent: Italians are underestimating the effects produced by the security decree that, rather than protecting us, is dangerously undermining civil rights", she added.

Her concerns were echoed by some fellow lawmakers, one of which said the deportations "remind him of Nazi concentration camps", but also by the Italian branch of Doctors Without Borders. "Some of the patients at our centre for victims of torture risk being evacuated. We are outraged by the lack of preparation and by the arbitrariness of this decision, that risks having an impact on the health of such vulnerable people," they tweeted.

Many Italians also took to social media, either to share their disgust about the shutdown or to back it. Actress Valentina Melis posted a picture of a crying migrant at the centre. "I can't withhold tears. I don't understand this nastiness, this hate. Have you always been like this or have you changed recently? Who convinced you that this crying boy is your enemy? Go back to being human, I beg you". However, in the replies to her post some asked her if she every cries for the situation of Italian people.

Salvini, for his part, refused to go back on his decision. "Racist, fascist, Nazi... I respond with facts, with work, with results, with rescued lives, fewer crimes, and saved money," he tweeted.

Then, he doubled down, posting a meme of his face asking: "Do you know why everyone is against Salvini? It's because he closed down the immigration cradle".

"I don't know if that's the only reason, but we certainly touched upon the interests of many and took away a lot of money from those who profited from the clandestine immigration business," he added as a comment. "They may attack me, from Italy and abroad. I'm not afraid, I'm going forward," he concluded.

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