Letters from the CIE


Barbed wire, soldiers, search dogs and torchlights in the night. Even in Italy there is an internal frontline, just like in Eastern Europe. But the battle against migrants is taking place through the Identification and Expulsion Centers.
Letters from CIE is part of a bigger visual project about the Identification and Expulsion Centers in Italy.
Italy, and other European countries, are at the center of serious violations of human rights with the detention and forced deportation of thousands of migrants. The Identification and Expulsion Centers (CIEs) are deplorable examples of the contradictions of the Italian and European laws on migration.
It is extremely hard to explain the existence of CIEs. These are not regular prisons and detainees are not regular prisoners. Although foreign nationals are detained within CIEs under the status of “guests,” their stay in these poorly built structures corresponds to a de facto detention, as they are deprived of their freedom and subjected to a regime of abuse and coercion.
Despite not being actually labeled as prisons, the Centers very often resemble prisons, with distinctive features, from their impenetrable nature to barbed wire fences, barking dogs and militarized personnel; making them off limits to Italian civil society, journalists and families of the detainees, who are left alone and in deep distress. The typology of the individuals detained varies, and the length of the detention can extend up to eighteen months. Often the detainees are migrants who have been living in Italy for many years, along with their families, and whose children were born in the country. After losing their job, they cannot renew their residence permit, and if stopped by the police, they are detained in the CIEs and repatriated to their country of origin. The number of families divided by this mechanism is horribly high. Potential asylum seekers are also detained when they fail to ask for political asylum or if they make a mistake in their applications. On the other side of the spectrum, former prison inmates after serving a sentence are also sent to the Centers for what is in essence an illegal extension of their sentence.
It was very difficult to work on this project since journalists and activists could not access the Centers until two years ago. When I was finally granted access, I was under strict and constant supervision. It felt as if I had just stepped into a non-country, a painful limbo where human rights are suspended and violence rules. The CIEs disoriented me. The people held are lost in confusion, pain and fear. At the same time, it is very hard for the lawyers to work for the detained because Italian law on migration doesn’t give them juridical tools to defend the migrants and avoid their expulsion.

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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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After a system of gates the male sector is organized with several blocks along a main space used by the police as a “safety zone” in order to control the prisoners. During the night all blocks are closed till the next morning. Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Lassad Jelassi is living in Italy since 25 years. After 4 months in Ponte Galeria he won the recourse again his detention and now he is waiting for the political asylum status.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome. Male room.
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Letters from CIE
Male room, Bari Palese.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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A migrant shows how detainees prepare coffee or tea, heating water through electric wires in a cutted plastic bottle. Bari Palese.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Letters from CIE
Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Bari Palese.
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Hamza arrived from Tunisia, trying to go to France to undergo a surgery in his left eye nearly blind. Stopped by police in Italy, he is now held in the Center waiting to be expelled.
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Letter of Bashir, 8 years old, to his father M. M and his family are living in Italy since 10 years. After he lost his job, M could not renew the residence permit. Two days after our meeting he was deported to Algeria. (For security reasons, M. asked don't to use his full name).
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Female room, Ponte Galeria, Rome
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Female dining hall of Ponte Galeria.
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Female dining hall, Ponte Galeria.
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Checkerboard realized with bottle caps. One of the devastating effects of the detention in the CIEs is the alienation and inactivity, mainly caused by inability to understand the reasons of the detention. Bari Palese.
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Medical room, Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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While men often react to their detention’s conditions with riots and the destruction of the blocks, setting fire to everything or producing injuries to themselves, the women react to making most beautiful the places where they live.
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Ponte Galeria, female room.
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Female dining hall of Ponte Galeria;
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Common space, female sector, Ponte Galeria
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Female room, Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Bari Palese.
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Ponte Galeria, Rome.
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Male sector, Bari Palese;
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Bari Palese, male sector.
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