Italy: A Moroccan migrant dies of asphyxiation in the fire of a detention center

A 38-year-old Moroccan citizen died in the Restinco detention center in Brindisi, southern Italy, after inhaling smoke. The fire had been started a few minutes earlier by another migrant, to protest against the living conditions in the structure.

A Moroccan migrant died of asphyxiation following a fire at the Restinco reception and repatriation center (CPR), in Brindisi, in the Puglia region. The fire was started on a mattress by another exile around 1:30 p.m. on Monday December 19, in protest at living conditions in the structure, Italian news agency AGI reported. “Intoxicated”, the 38-year-old victim “was surprised in his sleep” and “did not have the strength to get up” to extricate himself from his room.

That day, the firefighters had already intervened earlier in the morning to control other outbreaks of fire, of lesser magnitude.

An investigation is underway to reconstruct the chronology of events, but two people – a Tunisian and a Georgian – have already been arrested. “Both are accused of having caused the death of the Moroccan national”, indicates the daily Italy24. “After interrogation, they were locked up in the prison in Brindisi.” A Gambian citizen, who lit another fire that day, as well as an Egyptian and a Cape Verdean, who resisted the police, were also arrested.

The Brindisi CPR is located in the Puglia region, in the south of Italy. Credit: Global Detention Migrants / DR

Restinco’s CPR, which can accommodate 38 people, is regularly singled out. Last year, several associations and civil society organizations demonstrated in the streets of Brindisi to denounce the detention conditions at the centre.

Following the death of the Moroccan citizen, around thirty associations asked the day after the tragedy for a meeting with the prefect of Brindisi, in order to “verify that the conditions of detention comply with the provisions of the regulations”.

“Dilapidation” and “isolation”

According to the Ministry of the Interior, Italy had nine CPRs in June 2020, distributed throughout its territory. In these structures, third-country nationals without a legal residence permit are detained while awaiting the execution of deportation measures, or who have already received a deportation order.

Migrants transferred to these centers, baptized before 2017 “Centres for Identification and Expulsion” (CIE), can stay there for 30 to 180 days, “in the event of serious difficulties in the procedures for verifying the identity of a stranger”.

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While the ministry clearly states that “foreigners must be detained in such a way as to ensure the necessary assistance and full respect for their dignity”, various reports from observers depict a completely different reality. A recent study by the National Defender of the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty denounces the “outdatedness of these structures” closed for migrants, as well as “the systematic non-application of the rules, the absence of protocols between the governing bodies and administrations of the centers, the total isolation of these structures from the territory, and the absence of any activity dedicated to the admitted”.

After the tragedy of December 19, the Anpi of Brindisi, an organization of anti-fascist veterans, again deplored “the absurd living conditions” of the CPR, which it equates to “real concentration camps”. “We repeat: these centers must close immediately. Life must be guaranteed for all. Dignity must be restored to all.”

In the CRAs in France, equivalent to the Italian CPRs, the same causes produce the same effects. On November 15, detainees locked up in the Perpignan CRA set fire to mattresses to denounce their living conditions. No injuries were reported that day. A year earlier, in the Rouen-Oissel administrative detention center (CRA), a man had taken his own life.

Italy: A Moroccan migrant dies of asphyxiation in the fire of a detention center