The Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre, located near Gorizia, first opened its doors in March 2006, although its construction started well before (on the history of the centre see here). Then, its official capacity was for 248 places. However, frequent riots progressively reduced its size (see here, page 12). After being closed from November 2013, the detention centre in Gradisca d’Isonzo re-opened on December 16 2019 with room for 150 people. From 2008 until 2013 the facility was managed by the Connecting People Consortium, located in Trapani. Yet, since its re-opening, the centre has been managed by the social cooperative Edeco Onlus based in Padova.
Located in the former 'Polonio' barracks, next to the Reception Center for Asylum Seekers (CARA), the Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre resemble a prison. Known since 2006 as ‘the Italian Guantanamo’, the institution appears to have further hardened its security regime. Thus, the Public Prosecutor of Gorizia, Massimo Marchesiello, described, “an innovative CCTV surveillance system has been introduced, counting on nearly 200 cameras. As for the personnel, 50 soldiers and about thirty police units will be dealing with the facility security”.
According to Galadriel Ravelli (2019), Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre has always been marked by violence. For instance, in September 2007, a little more than a year after it opened, a group of detainees climbed onto the roof of the facility trying to escape. To discourage them and to repress their protest, the police threw tear gas; several migrants ended up being harmed, while an 8-month old baby in the adjacent centre for asylum seekers (CARA) with her mother was nearly suffocated.
In their 2013 Report on immigration detention centres in Italy, Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU) described their visit in Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre as follow:
The strong atmosphere of tension between detainees and managing authority staff, dominated by a constant and frankly obsessive climate of suspicion, appears particularly serious. Security measures are especially restrictive and have resulted in a deep sense of malaise among the detainees. Despite detention times being dramatically longer than in most other centres, there is a severe lack of recreational activities, a complete lack of NGO staff, and no legal aid. These last aspects contribute to making living conditions inside the CIE especially oppressive.
This harsh regime did not take too long to take its toll. Indeed, on the night between the 12 and 13 August 2013, a Moroccan man named Abdelmajid El Kodra, known as Majid, suffered a serious head injury while he was trying to escape. As Galadriel Ravelli recalls, in the days before Majid’s injury, a revolt had broken out inside the facility as a consequence of the authorities’s refusal to permit the celebration at the end of Ramadan (the Bairam) on the night between the 8 and 9 of August. To escape the tear gas fired by the police to disperse their protest, detainees climbed the centre’s roof as usual. The use of mobile phones inside the centre had been prohibited by the Prefecture of Gorizia in 2011, after an earlier riot, and the centre was under a tight security regime. In the face of these conditions, climbing on the roof was the only way for detainees to communicate with activists and people outside about their life inside.
It was from this same roof that Majid fell: taken to the hospital he died after eight months of coma on Aprile 30, 2014. His body was returned to his family in Morocco, in the province of Taounate, and buried near the house where he had been born 34 years earlier, and from where he left to reach Europe. Details about Majid and his experience in Italy can be seen in Ottavia Salvador’s documentary.
In 2014 a complaint made to the Public Prosecutor's Office in Gorizia by the Tenda per la Pace e i Diritti, the Campaign LasciateCIEntrare, the Melting Pot Project, and several other activists and members of the civil society denounced what happened at the Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre from August to November 2013, the violence and inhumane conditions endured by detainees and what happened to Majid. However, the outcome of the investigation on Majid’s death remains unknown. Conversely, over time, several detainees have been accused of damaging the facility (see here).
Following extensive complaints by activists, lawyers, doctors, journalists, commissions, MPS and, above all, those held within this facility, Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre was finall shut down at the end of 2013. Unfortunately, however, this painful chapter of Italy’s story is not yet over.
The Gradisca d’Isonzo detention centre re-opened in December 2019 with tightened security measures. Since then protests and escapes have been taking place on the part of detainees, many of whom have been transferred there from the Bari Palese detention centre, after a riot culminated in the fire of the majority of detainees’ living units (see our page on Bari Palese). These acts of resistance, such as in the past, have been violently repressed by police. And tragically, again like in the past, this harsh regime has already made its victims.
Indeed, a 20-year old man died on Saturday, January 18 2020, in the hospital of Gorizia. Early reports suggest that Vakhtang Enukidze had been seriously injured during an episode of violence within the Gradisca detention centre a few days before. While an investigation is currently underway, early reports from activists reveal considerable police brutality (see here). In response, on January 19, solidarity groups organised a demonstration in front of the centre in solidarity with the detainees inside (see here). This latest tragedy demonstrates, once again, the importance of joint efforts to ensure that what happens in detention is not hidden from scrutiny, that detainees' experiences are heard, and that human rights defenders are given information and support.