At 11pm last night in the Ponte Galeria CIE (immigration detention centre) in Rome a riot broke out in the men's section, with mattresses being burnt and two huge fires started. Some of the detainees managed to make it on to the roof, while others broke through three or four doors and reached the outer fence. Riot police quickly arrived at the detention centre in large numbers and gunshots were heard around 1:20am.
The riot itself is believed to have caused around €200,000 worth of damage, with the water and electrical systems put out of order and extensive fire damage to the infirmary. Four people are also believed to have escaped during the disturbance. Once the police had regained control, the male detainees were locked in the dining area, where 17 people identified, via CCTV, as having taken part in the disturbance, were arrested. They are due in court for summary trial today. Around sixty of the remaining inmates were also moved to other detention centres.
We reported earlier on this month about the aftermath of the handover of control of the Ponte Galeria detention centre by the Red Cross to a private company Auxilium. Since then conditions have deteriorated and there have been a number of hunger strikes, disturbances, incidences of self-harm and increasing levels of brutalisation of the detainees. The policy has become one of cost-cutting, mass forced medication with tranquillisers in the food and drink, with the inmates, many of whom already have existing medical and health problems or suffer from alcohol and drug addictions, with little or nothing to do but lie around in a drug-induced stupor all day. The women's section of the prison is particularly badly affected by the mass forced medication, with a resulting epidemic of depression amongst the female detainees.
Many of these detainees have already languished in the system for months or even years. Now they have even less chance of a 'fair' hearing as the internal regime is mirroring the rise of anti-foreigner sentiment in wider society. All forms of resistance are met with excessive force, detainees are beaten so hard that most of their teeth are broken, people swallow razor blades to try and escape the misery, even if it is via a trip to hospital.
Aullium's response is to deny even this form of respite (they claim the detainees might escape). Instead, they have seized anything that might be used as a method of self-harm; lighter and matches have been confiscated - they might be used to start fires, and items like shampoo, soap and aftershave are only available in small quantities from the Auxillium shop (though, bizarrely, the shop continues to sell matches!) - less chance that they are used to self-harm and it maximises Auxilliun's profits if they try to stockpile them for such an attempt. There is method in their madness.
This morning, from 8.30, there is due to be a protest in the square in front the Court in Rome where the Ponte Galeria detainees are likely to appear.
For more information, check out the Italian language sites/blogs: Radio Onda Rossa, Noinonsiamocomplici & Macerie.