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Rights at risk at port frontiers

Interview to Francesca Cucchi, Venice Cir manager

11 settembre 2008

Let’s interview Francesca Cucchi, manager of Venice Cir, a service which operates at the port and airport frontier pass of this city.
This interview is part of an in-depth path that Melting Pot far-back started on migrant treatment ways at Venice port. People arrive here after a trip where often they loose their life. Many of them come from war zones or particularly problematic territories and are in need of international protection.
But also when the migrants manage to reach the Venice port frontier – like the Ancona one or like other Italian ports – they often suffer an “ex-Dublin convention” reject towards Greece from frontier police. These procedures frequently don’t take into account the scarce protection that Greece guarantees in respect to fundamental rights like asking asylum.
Besides, it may happen that enough attention isn’t dedicate – when, for example, services like Cir aren’t directly called to intervene – to subjective situation of individual people that are intercepted by police and then sent towards the last passing country, to their need of international protection, to their vulnerability (many of them are unaccompanied minors).

Q. In the last period we heard of migrants that arrive on Italian ports hidden on ships that leave from Greece. We would like to ask you first who are these people that risk their life to do trips so dangerous, and what happen when they are intercepted.

A. We are talking of people coming from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and, lately, also from Somalia and Sudan. We are talking then of people that come principally from war zones. There are singles, family units and several unaccompanied minors.
When they are intercepted from frontier police, whose contacts us, we do a conversation with them. We are 2 legal operators and a cultural mediator and when it’s necessary also a mother tongue interpreter.
We talk with them, we listen their stories and inform them about Italian and international law about asylum and immigration.

Q. What kind of stories do they usually tell?

A. They tell really particular stories often relating to people forced to escape from their country for war situarions. We are talking of people that often have a very hard story on their back.

Q. From what country do the ships that took them to Italy leave? And what kind of trip will they usually face?

A. The ships leave from Greece. And people can cross Adriatic Sea on board truck, hidden inside ferries or also as passengers.

Q. When we hear about those stories of corpse finding of people hidden inside truck containers we are in many cases talking about potential asylum seekers?

A. Yes, these are people who reach Italy also for asking political asylum. They don’t ask it in Greece because, as we all know, the situation there is not safe for asylum seekers.
Cir pointed out several times that there aren’t possibilities in that country for seekers and Acnur lately pronounced itself with documents regarding the Greek situation, denouncing the lack of interpreters and legal informations. Besides this fact it’s been reaffirmed several times how in Greece the recognition of asylum is very low.
In 2007 it’s been calculated, for example, that there had not been Iraqi asylum seekers recognized as refugees.

Q. Therefore, when we hear that frontier police rejected the intercepted migrants from Venice port towards Greece, these returns put in danger the life of people or at least the possibility of safeguarding their rights?

A. If they are political asylum seekers surely becomes a problem for them the recognition of international protection.

Q. According to which legal procedures the readmittances towards Greece are put to use?

A. We are talking of readmittances because the person is not admitted on Italian territory and is sent back to Greece. It’s not a reject or an expulsion. It’s a readmittance measure, or at least the police defines it in this way.

Q. People that have been readmitted in this manner, have had before a personal evaluation of their own situation or are readmitted without the possibility to understand who they are and what are their needs?

A. We work only with frontier police permission; it’s the frontier police that contacts us and this doesn’t give us the possibility to understand what precisely, actually happens.

Q. In Italy a recent sentence of Puglia Tar declared illegitimate the return of asylum seekers to Greece, and Norway suspended the Dublin Convention with reference to readmittances toward this country.
What do you think in regard to Italy, that instead goes along to send back to Greece the migrants, including asylum seekers, like a few days ago at Brindisi port?

A. With regard to Tar sentence it’s better to highlight how it blocks the return to Greece for a seeker through Dublin unit. This means that the person did an asylum request and for the Dublin Convention was disposed his transfer to Greece.
With regard to the port situation, instead, there’s not a Dublin unit measure. Cir is always worried of eventual returns to Greece because there the asylum right is not guaranteed.

Q. Which are exactly the difficulties of who operates at frontier pass, especially in ports, with the mandate of safeguarding people fundamental rights? How Cir work could become more effective in this sense?

A. The service at frontier pass allows to give complete informations in origin language to the potential asylum seeker. When Cir intervenes it’s possible to highlight the personal situation of migrants…

Q. …But you’re not allowed to go on board

A. No, the access is not allowed

Q. So you manage to intercept only the people that are secretly able to disembark or that are disembarked, but there are surely several other people that you cannot intercept to give them assistance...

A. Sure

Q. How could one solve this situation?

A. It’s difficult to solve a situation like this.
Obviously the best solution would be an interview with all the migrants that reach the frontier.

Q. Venice port taught us, with the tragedies that happened inside it, that often also asylum seekers do these trips where they found the death. So there’s a more generic problem about asylum, the problem to arrange people admittance channels.

A. Yes. And to Venice port one could add also the problem of Greece of which we spoke before. These people come from there and cross the Adriatic Sea because Greece doesn’t safeguard their rights.

Q. Regarding people you manage to intercept, what happens after and which results one might obtain? What’s the percentage of positive results that these requests of international protection receive?

A. When the asylum request is formalized, the competent commission is the one of Gorizia and, when the procedure begins, the number of recognitions of international protection is quite high.

Q. The main knot remains succeding in give assistance to all the people that arrive to the port and see that they don’t meet only the frontier police.
We remember the story of that Iraqi boy that probably could have done asylum request, he was rejected from police at Venice port towards Greece, he secretly re-embarked inside a truck because there he didn’t have any chance, and died suffocated during the trip.
Therefore also Cir asks to have the possibility to meet all the migrants that reach the port to overcome this fundamental problem.

A. Exactly. Especially on the basis of the fact that Greece, that should be a safe country, it’s not that much.

Translated by Alessia Bertin

- [ Audio ]

See also:

- Oltre Dublino. Migranti afghani deportati in Grecia

- Stato competente per l’esame della domanda di asilo: annullato un respingimento verso la Grecia

- Le frontiere della morte. Cosa accade al porto di Venezia?

- Migrazioni tra Venezia e l’Europa. Ricordando i morti della Bazzera di Mestre.

- Morte al porto di Venezia - nota di Beppe Caccia al Sindaco Cacciari.

- Morte al porto di Venezia - Comunicato delle Associazioni.