Opened in 1999, right after the adoption of law 40 (the so-called Turco-Napolitano law), the Brindisi - Restinco detention centre was among the first facilities created to detain non-nationals awaiting identification and removal. Initially, the centre had a capacity of about 83 places, a sum that was often exceeded due to overcrowding. Closed during various periods (2007-2008 and 2012-2015), the facility, which is now an ‘Accommodation Centre for Repatriation’ - CPR, can currently hold up to 48 men for 180 days (Law Decree 113/2018).
Located in an isolated site in the middle of the countryside, along the provincial road that connects Brindisi to San Vito dei Normanni, the detention centre sits between Restinco's train station and the barracks of the San Marco battalion. In their 2004 Report on Temporary Stay and Assistance Centres, Doctors Without Borders – Italy explained that, until the end of 2003, migrants held inside Brindisi - Restinco were placed in caravans. Conditions inside included: inadequate healthcare provision (lack of medicines and painkillers, inappropriate administration of psychiatric drugs, lack of psychological support), absence of recreational grounds and activities, lack of information and translation services, lack of contacts with the outside world, and, above all, total lack of training and expertise on immigration issues of staff members.
Initially, women and men were not separated in the detention area where caravans were located. At the time of their visit, Doctors without Borders alleged there was widespread prostitution, that was tolerated by the management as a means to ‘mitigate the effects of forced inactivity and keep the foreigners calmer’ (p. 107). They also reported cases of sexual violence inside the centre. It was only once detainees moved to the purpose-built facility, that they were finally separated in gender-segregated living units. In November 2007, after the publication of the Report by the inquiry commission chaired by Staffan De Mistura, which recommended to overcome the Italian immigration detention system, Brindisi - Restinco was closed for renovation and it reopened in 2008 as a multi-purpose centre. Yet, in August 2009, and despite the opposition of all local actors, an area of the centre was designated, once again, to operate as a detention facility to confine people awaiting identification and removal. Since then, the detention centre has been located in the same area that houses a Centre for the Reception of Asylum Seekers - CARA, with which it shares the building where administrative offices are located. Following riots in May 2012 the Brindisi - Restinco detention centre was closed again for renovation, and it was reopened on September 2015.
In line with the national trend of outsourcing immigration detention centres’ management and service provision to organisations with a humanitarian background, the centre was initially run by the ‘Comunita’ Emmanuel’, a Catholic organisation. In 2003, the management was taken over by the Social Cooperative - Onlus ‘Fiamme D’Argento’, a national organisation composed by retired Carabinieri with a local presence in Brindisi, which at that time had no experience in the field of immigration as much as any of the staff they relied on. It is also worth noting that under their management the rate pro dia/per capita was of 26.70, by far the lowest of all Italian detention centres (see this document, Table 40, page 111). The Brindisi Restinco detention centre remained under the management of ‘Fiamme D’Argento’, later turned into the social cooperative ‘La Fedelissima’, for about ten years, before being taken over, in 2008, after about a year closure, by the Consortium ‘Connecting People’, a key player in the Italian migrant detention and reception market (which also managed Bari Palese’s CPR between 2013 and 2016). Connecting People was in charge of the centre’s management and service provision until 2012, when the facility was closed off as a result of riots undertaken by detainees to protest against the unfairness and inhumanity of their confinement.
Finally, since reopening in 2015, the centre has been managed by the Social Cooperative Auxilium (for an overview see also here). It is worth mentioning that, at the end of April 2019, a European public tender has been issued, for the new assignment of the centre’s management for a period of twelve months renewable. The total estimated bid value, VAT excluded, was €566.576,00. In November 2019, the contract was entrusted to a consortium composed by the HERA group, which is among Italy’s largest multi-utilities corporation, and the AGH Resort Ltd, a local company involved in the market of migrants’ reception centres and that, not long ago, was protagonists of a public inquiry.
The architecture of the site reflects its oppressive qualities. Walls about five-meters high surround the centre, which is also guarded by armed forces and monitored through CCTV cameras. Inside there are two macro-areas, one dedicated to the detention centre (CPR) and one for the asylum seekers’ reception centre (CARA). The detention centre itself looks like a ‘cage’, as Erminia Rizzi and Yasmine Accardo explain, indeed there are:
‘high walls and narrow corridors and then the blocks (where detainees are housed) surrounded by bars as well as by plexiglass, and closed up by a mesh. Asphyxia is the word that one thinks of while getting in and coming across the cement, the hot, the wall of the police.’
Detainees are housed in three blocks – A, B, and C (respectively with 20, 14 and 14 places), which are separated from one another and from the rest of the facility by a metal gate closed by a chained padlock. According to the June 2016 Report by the National Ombudsman of his visit, each block has an outdoor courtyard, which is surrounded by concrete walls and covered by a metal mesh placed about 8 meters high. Courtyards are not equipped with covers for rain or sun, nor for sport or recreational activities. There are also no designated green or walking areas, and overall the building, which is constructed primarily in concrete and iron, is predominantly grey in colour.
Each block contains three dormitories as well as a common area (defined in the tender specification as the ‘wellbeing space’), which is where detainees eat, watch TV, charge mobile phones, and where in general they spend the majority of their days struggling to kill time. The décor of this area is very poor, with some concrete benches and tables bolted to the floor and flaked off walls. Even detainees’ beds are made of concrete with an iron canopy, and mattresses are of foam with fireproof blankets and sheets (similar to the other detention facilities). Beyond beds and mattresses, no room décor (e.g., tables, nightstands and chairs) is provided in the dormitories, which therefore come off as very demeaning in appearance (see here the photo of a dormitory after a riot). Overall, as journalists commented about a visit made with some activists from the human rights campaign LasciateCIEntrare, ‘There is a sense of abandonment that we have never seen even in prison.’
Similar to other Italian detention centres, Brindisi Restinco is also a heavily militarised and hyper-monitored environment (CCTVs cameras are scattered in every area of the centre). Those within describe feelings of conﬁnement, isolation, and oppression which, together, generate a sense of being over-controlled. Remarkably, as the above-mentioned media report highlight, neither recreational activities nor multi-faith prayer rooms are provided, and people thus struggle with idleness and isolation. There is a football pitch, however it is only available on alternative team rosters. Thus, the primary activity on offer is an Italian language course, which is delivered in the common areas of each block and is limited to seven students (see Ombudsman’s 2018 Report). However, as the National Ombudsman notes in his last Report, ‘Alongside the structural problems due to the lack of space, the police officers in charge of the security aspects of the Centre have a hostile behaviour, and tend to deny authorisation for any activity, for safety reasons’ (p.5). In that same visit, the Ombudsman found a police baton in the room used for the detainees’ visits.
To cope with and survive in such a hostile environment, detained men play card, chat, speak at the phones (which are without camera), and often organise improvised prayer spaces using towels or other personal items. Reports, such as that by the National Ombudsman on his visit in June 2016 suggest the living conditions inside the centre are degrading; the centre includes dirty cushions and torn foam mattresses, some of them way beyond their expiry date. There is a lack of daily light inside the dormitories and squalid toilets full of mould. For this reason, the Ombudsman recommended immediate refurbishment of detainees’ living spaces in order to increase the liveability of a centre that, at first sight, appears as ‘highly containing and dilapidated’.
The Brindisi - Restinco detention centre used to hold migrants who had just landed on the Italian shores, who faced expulsion by Italian authorities. Yet, over time, the population changed, becoming primarily made up of illegalised people with long-term residence in Italy. Currently the population of detainees is heterogeneous, including migrants lacking documentation, people with criminal records, and asylum seekers. Nationalities, like in other detention facilities, also vary substantially.
Degrading living conditions and serious violations of fundamental rights have long been denounced inside the Brindisi – Restinco detention centre. Notably, human rights actors have reported difficulties in getting access to this site and, even when they managed to obtain permission, they could not take their mobile phones inside (reason why it is hard to get photographs of this detention centre). No Borders activists too have suffered repression from the police for going outside the centre and trying to communicate with and offer solidarity to those detained inside.
[the above is constantly updated]