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EU Hotspots: A fast way to end up on the streets

Hotspots: Pozzallo's reception centre

Harbour of Pozzallo. Decisions about refugees being allowed to file an asylum application are made at the reception centre on the right.

The reception centre at the harbour of Pozzallo has been converted to a Hotspot some weeks ago. Pozzallo is one of the first places where this totally new concept is implemented. But how exactly do Hotspots work and how will the new procedures affect refugees? How are EU asylum measures put into practice exactly?

The European Commission describes Hotspots as a new concept for controlling exceptional influxes of refugees at Europes external borders. At the moment, they are build up in southern Italy and Greece. In these Hotspots, a fast track procedure is supposed to deal with the question if a refugee has the right to apply for asylum at all.

The European Commission also suggests that people entitled to international protection can be relocated to other EU member states where their asylum application will be processed. For the remaining refugees, a return to their country of origin is scheduled – a scheme that is operatively supervised by Frontex. A detailed definition of this return procedure is not available at the moment.

The new Hotspot concept gives governments operative support in registering and identifying refugees using big EU agencies: the fast track procedure includes the identification of refugees, taking fingerprints. In addition, initial investigations against alleged people smugglers will be launched at Hotspots.

Pozzallo’s Hotspot

Similar to our last visit, the reception centre at the harbour of Pozzallo is heavily guarded. We were denied access to the facilities. At the moment, only employees of the Hotspot and members of the organisation “Doctors Without Borders” are allowed to enter the camp – where not only a doctor-patient confidentiality but a general non-disclosure obligation is in place.

For this reason, we aim to reconstruct internal processes and procedures with the help of reports of the organisation Borderline Sicily, journalists and local residents. Our inquires showed that the fast track procedure mainly consists of two simple questions:

  1. From which country did you enter Italy?
  2. Do you want to work in Italy?

Answering these questions can have severe consequences. Is the country of origin categorised as safe, there the possibility to apply for asylum is lost. But also entering the EU from an unsafe country of origin is no warranty for a proper asylum procedure. If a refugee testifies the willingness to work, the authorities can block an official asylum procedure by categorising the person as an economic refugee.

Neither back nor forth

Due to sealing-off of the Hotspots, where the asylum procedures are initiated from now on, the support of refugees is nearly impossible. Legal aid is ruled out by this measure and once a filing of an asylum application has been denied in the Hotspots, it is almost impossible to fight this decision in legal ways.

What possibilities do refugees have after their right of applying for asylum has been denied? We received information that people who have been denied the right to file an asylum application have to sign a declaration (which is written in Italian) stating that they have to leave Italy within seven days.

So far, we only can imagine what that means for the refugees. Due to the complete registration procedure, filing an asylum application in any other EU member state is impossible. Also, a return to their country of origin is for the most refugees not accomplishable. Instead, the refugees will end up homeless on the streets, without any claims, forced into illegality.

Text: Tobi, Hanne and Anna

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