1 March: after a revolt that has gone on for days, the detention centre in Gradisca is in a state of collapse: one single cell left for the 100 detainees, people eating and sleeping in the corridors and in the canteen, one bathroom for everyone. You can see some pictures here. The detainees’ revolt almost completely destroyed the building, but the detainees couldn’t be transferred, as the other detention centres were packed full. Revolts and riots are not new to this detention centre; things have been worsening over the last couple of years. In September 2009, a similar revolt was brutally repressed by the police.
The revolts are spreading to the rest of Italy, from North to South: in Trapani’s detention centre in Sardinia the riots started on 23 February, when a group of Tunisians detainess started smashing up their dormitory in protest at conditions. A week later everything was still in pieces, but at least there were no arrests and the detainees were allowed to apply for humanitarian leave because of the situation in Tunisia. Trapani’s detention centre is based in an old building that was once a care home. It’s a bunch of dormitories facing a corridor locked up by iron bars. Nothing else, not even a yard. A few days later a similar revolt exploded in Modena, when 42 Tunisians just transferred there from Lampedusa started throwing mattresses out of their dormitories and burning them. Activist groups in Bologna occupied the centre on 1 March in solidarity with the detainees. And Turin was in flames too, where it got so big that the Fire Brigade had to be called. 30 Tunisian detainees went on hunger strike for 5 days, and only finished yesterday because one of them felt seriously unwell and started to vomit blood. In several centres in Puglia (Southern Italy) some detainees have managed to escape, unfortunately only to be arrested: a trial has just started in Brindisi against 3 Tunisians arrested for attempting to escape, and another similar one will soon start in Bari where a group of detainees clashed with the police and then tried to escape.
The last few years have seen a wave of revolts in detention centres: the first time in the summer of 2009, just after the introduction of the new ‘security package’ that extended detention time for “illegal” inmigrants from 2 to 6 months. And then last summer: see my previous posts. This time the “leaders” of the revolts have mainly been the Tunisians recently transferred all over Italy from Lampedusa in Sicily. Right now they represent the biggest community in Italian detention centres. The revolts started at the end of the transferrals, when the 300 and more Tunisians were randomly transferred to either detention centres or “welcome centres” for asylum seekers (which aren’t classed as prisons). The latter just left straight away and many managed to get to France, while the rest ended up locked up in detention centres.