An investigation by the north Italian city of Turin's prosecutor's office into the city's repatriation center found an area set aside for migrants that produced an "overall effect similar to that of sections of a zoo".
In Turin's repatriation center, investigators discovered an area called the "little hospital" that produced an "overall effect similar to that of sections of a zoo" according to the files related to the probe, which led to six people being put under investigation.
Possible charges include forgery, aiding and abetting and kidnapping.
Healthcare manager investigated for manslaughter
One of those under investigation, the healthcare manager of the repatriation center at the time of the alleged crimes, has been charged with manslaughter in a healthcare environment due to the suicide of Moussa Balde.
Balde was a young man originally from Guinea who, in May 2021, took his own life inside the facility, where he was delivered after being attacked in the Italian town of Ventimiglia near the French border.
The other five people placed under investigation are managers and police officials.
Possible charges are connected with the lodging of some migrants in isolation in the "small hospital" for the stated reason of "maintaining order" inside the center.
The reference to the "zoo" was made in a report sent in 2018 to the interior ministry by the ombudsman for detainees' rights. The investigators reportedly shared this information with Claudio Palomba during questioning.
Palomba was Turin prefect between November 2018 and 2021 and is currently prefect of Naples. He was among those initially placed under investigation, but the case against him was shelved.
Prefect Palomba's position
During questioning, Palomba told investigators he did not agree with many aspects of the ombudsman's report.
"The more frequent use of the small hospitals was for health reasons," he told the public prosecutors.
"[In 2020], the police superintendent had spoken to me about [moving migrants to] the small hospital due to reasons of order and security. The issue of the movement was overseen by the state police chief," the prefect continued.
Over the years there have been numerous cases of problems, protests and uprisings inside the center -- which was closed in recent months after several fires -- as well as street demonstrations outside its gates.
Palomba told public prosecutors: "We tried to make the small hospitals more welcoming. The iron bars at the top were to keep these places from being hit by stones thrown [from outside]."