Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, a professor of immigration and asylum law in European Union, has told Aljazeera news network that Gambians and other Africans in Italy who are considered to be economic migrants have “almost no chance” of getting asylum.
This comment comes on the hills of allegations made by rights activists that some arrivals from Africa are quickly deemed economic migrants and issued refusal-of-entry documents without due process
The Arab channel reported that nearly 30 men and one woman from Africa have crowded inside the small room of local Catholic charity in Catania, nervously listening to a lawyer explain the complex and sometimes arbitrary procedures for asylum processing in Europe.
“Sudan, Eritrea — they get help. Nigeria — half and half,” Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, a professor of immigration and asylum law, told the group. “Countries like The Gambia and Burkina Faso have almost no chance.”
As Europe’s border control agency, Frontex, seeks to implement faster methods in Italy and Greece to allow refugees from places like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea to receive asylum and move to other EU countries, there is a simultaneous effort to keep out so-called economic migrants.
Yet the criteria to classify them and the process to return them are far from clear, leading to fears of discriminatory rejections and expulsions.
According to local activists and lawyers, police authorities in Sicily have begun to summarily classify some new arrivals as economic migrants on the basis of their country of origin, issuing them refusal-of-entry documents almost as soon as they arrive, without allowing them to exercise their international right to request asylum.
The group of Africans Vassallo Paleologo was advising were handed refusal-of-entry documents a day after arrival and told they had seven days to leave the country or they would be considered residing there illegally and would be subject to detention and expulsion.
Then they were kicked out of a gymnasium used as a temporary reception center and left in the rain.
“There is a discriminatory vision happening, where some nationalities can ask for it and others can’t,” said Vassallo Paleologo.
The change is both an indication of the overwhelmed reception system and a sign of an increased effort to identify and expel those who come from countries with low refugee protection rates within the EU.
For arrivals by sea to Italy in the first half of 2015, at least 90 percent of Syrians and Eritreans received some form of asylum in Italy while more than 70 percent of Nigerians and Malians were rejected on their first claim.
However, Gambians, Senegalese and Bangladeshis also reportedly had low first instance acceptance rates.
During the identification process, the would-be asylum seekers said they were fingerprinted and asked to give their names, birth dates and countries of origin.
A man who said he was fleeing political persecution in The Gambia and asked not to be identified said he saw his interviewer tick a box that indicated he left his country because of economic reasons.
Vassallo Paleologo said since the end of August, he has noticed an increase in cases where specific nationalities, especially Gambians, Moroccans and Malians, were promptly denied the opportunity to apply for asylum. He has kept track of hundreds of cases in Sicily and estimates the number may have reached thousands. In some instances, minors were classified as adults and issued refusal-of-entry documents.
“Last year people with these characteristics were taken directly to reception centers, and [Italy] had to give them food to eat, a place to sleep, pay for them” while they processed their asylum claims, he said. “But this way, if you tell them they have to leave the country in seven days, you don’t have to guarantee anything for these people. You can leave them on the street.”
He worried that if this trend continues, those financially unable to return to their countries would be detained in centers for identification and expulsion or, because Italy has been forced to close many of these centers because of substandard conditions, they would end up working in the black market until the EU can afford to detain and deport them.
“They’ll work without any guarantees, without a contract, and this also is useful for the European Union, which wants to exploit workers for a low cost,” he said.
An unnamed Gambian man expressed his frustrations to Aljazeera.
“Everybody gets in his mind that Europe is the better place to live,” said one asylum seeker.
“I left The Gambia to come here to Italy because I think Africa is not safe. If it’s not sickness, it’s war. If it’s not war, some people are unemployed. We are not working … How can you live?”
Other asylum seekers from the same group of boats were separated and taken on different buses, likely to reception centers in northern Italy.
Those remaining were simply handed refusal-of-entry papers and ordered to leave the country by the end of the week through the Rome airport, even they had no travel documents and no means of doing so. Police authorities did not provide any assistance.
The Standard has earlier reported the statistical information of the Luxembourg-based European statistical information directorate which stated that at least 10,510 Gambian migrants have sought asylum in Europe between January and June of 2015, out of which only 2510 have been granted asylum under various categories which were the Geneva Convention Status, Humanitarian Status, Subsidiary Protection Status and Temporary Protection Status.
Meanwhile, the information from the Euro Stats also informed that twenty-one thousand three hundred and thirty Gambians have sought asylum in the European Union countries between 2008 to 2014.
This surpasses the population of the entire Central Baddibou electoral constituency by 1, 226 as of 2013 which was at 20, 104, according to 2013 Population and Housing Census Preliminary Results.
And Italy is the biggest recipient of Gambian migrants in 2015 according to the Euro Stats records with 6930 people, followed by Germany 2515; Switzerland 765; Sweden 135; France 115; and Spain 50.
Click the link below for the full story as was published on Aljazeera