The exterior of the immigration office at Naples police station | Photo: Cesare Abbate / Archive ANSA
The exterior of the immigration office at Naples police station | Photo: Cesare Abbate / Archive ANSA

Italian immigration offices were left without lingusitic mediators to assist migrants, due to the expiry of some working agreements. The Interior Ministry has promised the problem would be solved and contracts renewed.

On June 30, a letter arrived at all Italy's police offices and border police zone hotspots announcing that from the following day there would no longer be linguistic and cultural mediation services provided by CIES Onlus and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which for years have through European projects been assisting immigration offices in the country.

The situation led to significant issues especially amid an increase in demand due to the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.The agreement with CIES Onlus, the statement said, "has been drawn up but, since the registration procedures at the Audits Court is still underway, the employment of cultural mediators has been postponed until the aforementioned procedure has been completed."

The IOM accord is instead in the process of being renewed, "and thus the employment of cultural mediators, in addition to being reduced in number for economic reasons, will be possible only after the completion of the renewal procedures."

Problems for immigration offices

The Italian interior ministry has confirmed that the contract with CIES, which for the past 20 years has been assisting the interior ministry with mediators present at disembarkation of rescue boats and reception centers, has been signed and the issue will soon be resolved.

However, no one has said when.The fact is that since July 1 some 300-350 mediators have stayed home and immigration offices --which were already struggling due to staff taking summer holidays and illnesses linked to COVID, have been left without this key resource as well.

There has also been a surge in demand for these services due to the arrival of Ukrainians fleeing their home country at war.

Concern expressed by police unions

Two police unions have written to Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese to request an immediate resumption of the service. Public security, said the secretary of the SIULP union Fabio Lauri, "cannot afford to do without any of the available resources --and especially not the translators and interpreters making it possible to carry out the necessary functions of the immigration office, already overly burdened by both ordinary and extra work."

His words were echoed by the SAP police union, which urged the minister to "act to complete the contractual procedure as soon as possible."

'Indispensable'

CIES representative Elisabetta Melandri told ANSA that, "we had already told mediators that there could be problems, but let's not be overly dramatic. The contract has been signed and it is a matter of very little time."

However, not everyone is as relaxed about it."We began in 2018," said Ismael Ali Mouktar from Terni. "We were among the first IOM mediators, always with short-term contracts of nine months or six months, and then at a certain point on June 30 at 6pm in the evening, they tell us that talks with the ministry did not go well and that starting the next day we would no longer be working."

These mediators help across the entire country, from Ventimiglia along the French border to the island of Lampedusa, in the most delicate of situations."Some of the police stations manage to cover those gaps, while others like Naples are having problems," Mouktar said.

Collective contract?

"There we had 13 mediators that spoke different languages and the rate of arrivals is 300 migrants per day, 200 of whom are Ukrainians."

The mediator R.I. in Alessandria has also been at home since July 1 and said that "since the North Africa emergency [most of the people arriving by sea in Italy leave from countries in North Africa], cultural mediators have been indispensable for immigration offices and prefects' offices."

Meanwhile, a group of mediators, following the temporary postponement of the contract renewal, are getting ready to speak in unison to the ministry, demanding the immediate resumption of ervices and recognition of their profession at the national level which would enable them to have access to a collective contract.

 

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