Italian detention centers: A journey of life and death for Tunisians

The migratory journeys of people on the move are often extremely long and full of obstacles. In addition to the difficulties of the journey by sea, there are numerous obstacles to overcome once they reach their destination countries. In recent years, EU member states have gradually stepped up the use of administrative detention as a migration management tool.

In Italy, the Centres de Permanence pour le Rapatriement (CPR) are detention centers for foreign nationals who have arrived or are staying in Italy illegally, with the aim of repatriating them as quickly as possible to their country of origin or to a third country. As this is an administrative detention, the detainees do not even benefit from the rights and guarantees of the criminal justice system[1]. There are currently nine CPRs in operation in Italy[2], with a theoretical capacity of around 1,000 places[3].

Numerous CPR irregularities and violations have been denounced over time: overcrowded cells, insalubrity, lack of recreational activities, cramped spaces, poor hygiene [4]conditions; lack of information and defense, impossibility for detainees to contact their lawyers, absence of the certificate of fitness for life in a restricted community (an essential condition for detention in CPRs), validation and extension hearings that last an average of 5 to 10 minutes [5]. Even health care – exceptionally entrusted to the center’s managing body and not to the national health system – has bent medical and pharmacological intervention to the needs of discipline and security on the premises[6]. The abusive use of psychotropic drugs and tranquilizers is reported in most CPRs; they are used to stun and calm detainees[7].

Over time, in order to cut costs, the management of the CPRs was entrusted to private actors: first companies and cooperatives, then multinationals began to win contracts for millions of euros of Italian public funds with the logic of the most economically advantageous offer [8]. The progressive minimization of costs has contributed to the increasingly degrading treatment of detained migrants.

While the Tunisian presidency is strengthening its ties with the European Union, and with Italy in particular, the fate of Tunisian nationals in Italy remains in the shadows of national discussions and bilateral negotiations. In recent years, Tunisian nationals continue to represent the main nationality retained in Italian CPRs, with around 9,506 Tunisians over the last four years out of a total of 17,767 migrants, representing 53%. In the Under readmission agreements, Tunisian nationals are also the main nationality repatriated from Italy, with around 6,758 people representing 57%[9].

In addition to the violence and violations perpetrated during detention and forced repatriation, there have also been cases of death. Since their opening in Italy, more than 30 deaths have been recorded inside these structures, while the incidence of self-harm is very high[10]. On November 28, 2021, Wissem Ben Abdellatif, a 26-year-old from Kebili, died after being tied up for almost 100 hours in the psychiatric ward of San Camillo Hospital in Rome, following his transfer from the CPR in Ponte Galeria [11].

The signatory organizations:

  • Recall that freedom of movement is a fundamental right, as stipulated in article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 1948, which everyone must be able to enjoy;
  • Emphasize that the situation of irregularity is exacerbated by a security approach that limits safe and regular access to countries, and call into question the entire system of administrative detention of migrants in Italy, of which Tunisians in particular are the main victims;
  • Urge the Italian authorities to respect all international procedures for the protection of migrants, and to guarantee the rights of people moving within Italian territory;
  • Call on the Tunisian authorities to ensure the protection of their fellow citizens abroad;
  • Demand truth and justice for migrants who have suffered violence or died in Italian detention centers.


  1. Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux – FTDES
  2. Avocats sans Frontières – ASF
  3. Ligue Tunisienne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme – LTDH
  4. Association Nachaz
  5. Association Tunisienne de Défense des libertés individuelles
  6. Association Tunisienne pour les Droits et les Libertés
  7. Association Citoyenneté et libertés
  8. Association MADA pour la citoyenneté et le développement
  9. No Peace Without Justice – Tunisie
  10. Organisation Contre la Torture en Tunisie
  11. Coalition Tunisienne Contre la Peine de mort
  12. Sentiers Massarib
  13. Danseurs Citoyens Sud
  14. Association pour la Promotion du Droit à la Différence – ADD
  15. Association Lina Ben Mhenni
  16. EuroMed Rights
  17. Oxfam Tunisie
  1. Intersection Association for Rights and Freedom
  2. Union des Diplômés Chômeurs
  3. Damj Association Tunisienne pour la Justice et L’égalité
  4. Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture – OMCT
  5. Comité de Vigilance pour la Démocratie en Tunisie
  6. Association Beity
  7. Aswat Nissa
  8. Fédération des Tunisiens pour une citoyenneté des deux rives – FTCR
  9. Comité pour le respect des libertés et des droits de l’Homme en Tunisie
  10. ActionAid Italia
  11. A Buon Diritto
  12. LasciateCIEntrare
  13. Med Memoria Mediterranea

[1] Irpimedia, Le conseguenze della nuova fase di privatizzazione dei Cpr, 2023

[2] Milan, Gradisca d’Isonzo, Rome, Palazzo San Gervasio, Macomer, Brindisi-Restinco, Bari-Palese, Trapani-Milo, Caltanissetta-Pian del Lago

[3] Coalizione Italiana Libertà e Diritti civili (CILD), L’affar€ CPR: il profitto sulla pelle delle persone migranti, 2023

[4] Irpimedia, 2023

[5] CILD, Buchi neri. La detenzione senza reato nei CPR, 2021

[6] Ivi

[7] Altraeconomia, Rinchiusi e sedati: l’abuso quotidiano di psicofarmaci nei Cpr italiani, avril 2023

[8] CILD, L’affar€ CPR: il profitto sulla pelle delle persone migranti, 2023

[9] National guarantor of the rights of persons deprived of their liberty

[10] ActionAid, Trattenuti: Una radiografia del Sistema detentivo per stranieri, 2023

[11] Nigrizia, Wissem Ben Abdellatif attende ancora verità e giustizia, 2023