Barbed wried walls surrounding a detention centre with two people in the distance looking over

Italy: Abuse of migration-related detention in punitive conditions deprives people of liberty and dignity

  • Asylum seekers and migrants detained unlawfully in violation of their right to liberty
  • Punitive conditions fall below international law and standards
  • Italian law and practice not in line with international obligations and breach the rights to asylum and access to justice
  • Amnesty International’s concerns are all the more pressing in light of Italy’s decision to build detention centres on Albanian territory

In Italy, migrants and people seeking asylum are being unlawfully deprived of their liberty in detention centres that fall below international standards, Amnesty International said today in its new public statement, “Liberty and Dignity: Amnesty International’s observations on the administrative detention of migrant and asylum-seeking people in Italy.’

“Detention should be exceptional and a measure of last resort. However, in the centres we visited we encountered racialized people who should never have been detained. People with severe mental health problems. People seeking asylum because of their sexual orientation or political activism but coming from countries the Italian government has arbitrarily designated as ‘safe’. People with caregiving responsibilities or escaping gender-based violence or labour exploitation. These needless detention orders throw people’s lives, health and families into disarray,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Europe, Dinushika Dissanayake.

In 2023, the Italian government adopted measures aimed at expanding the use of migration-related detention. They included plans for the construction of new detention centres, the lengthening of maximum detention time for repatriation to 18 months, and the application of ‘border procedures’ to people seeking asylum from ‘safe countries’, resulting in the automatic detention of people on the basis of their nationality, in contradiction of international law which requires an individual assessment.

In light of these developments and of consistent reports of sub-standard conditions of detention and treatment, Amnesty International visited two detention centres, Ponte Galeria (Rome) and Pian del Lago (Caltanissetta) in April 2024. At the centres, delegates met with people from Tunisia, Iran, Georgia, Morocco, Peru, Egypt, Gambia and China, among others. Amnesty International’s public statement details the findings of the visits and highlights information gathered through meetings with authorities, lawyers and representatives of civil society organizations.

“The failure of the Italian authorities to set up an effective system of alternatives to detention, combined with an inadequate legal process overseen by non-professional judges, is leading to an abuse of detention. Italy’s laws and practices are not compatible with international law and standards and result in violations not only of the right to liberty, but also of the rights to asylum, to effective recourse and to legal assistance,” said Dinushika Dissanayake.

Amnesty International also found that conditions within the centres were not in line with applicable international law and standards. Migration-related administrative detention must not have a punitive character and should not impose prison-like conditions. Despite this, the centres visited by Amnesty International appeared extremely restrictive, bare and inadequate from a health and safety point of view.

People could not move freely even within the structures and required authorization and accompaniment from police. The furniture and bedding were extremely basic, with foam mattresses placed on concrete beds. Bathrooms were in poor conditions and sometimes lacking doors. Light switches were turned on and off by guards and windows were hermetically closed. Personal smartphones were prohibited.

“People are forced to spend all their time in fenced spaces, in conditions that are in many ways worse than in prison, and are denied even a modicum of autonomy. Despite lengthy detention periods, there is an almost total absence of activities, which, combined with a lack of information about their future, leads to enormous psychological harm among the people detained,” said Dinushika Dissanayake.

These conditions violate people’s right to dignity and must be improved by the Italian authorities. Plans to build new centres in Italy, combined with the introduction of mandatory border procedures under the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum and the upcoming implementation of the Italy-Albania agreement, make action ever more urgent to prevent further violations of international law that will affect an increasing number of people.

“Migration-related detention should be used only in the most exceptional circumstances. When necessary and proportionate, alternative and less coercive measures should always be considered first. People seeking international protection should not be detained,” said Dinushika Dissanayake.

“In the exceptional cases for which detention is deemed necessary and proportionate, rigorous and regular assessments of people’s suitability for detention must be conducted by the Italian authorities. The government must also ensure that conditions in detention centres respect human dignity, providing appropriate, safe accommodation and opportunities for individuals to be in contact with the outside world and to use their time in meaningful ways. A major departure from the current punitive approach to migration control policies is badly needed.”


Amnesty International visited Italy from 8 to 13 April 2024 to gather information on the respect and protection of human rights in migration detention centres. Delegates visited the CPRs of Ponte Galeria (Rome) and Pian del Lago (Caltanissetta), where they were able to speak with public security officials and operators employed at the facilities, and to carry out private interviews with people in detention.

On 11 June, Amnesty International sent a letter to the Italian Ministers of Interior, Justice and Health, detailing the findings of its research and offering an opportunity to reply. On 24 June, the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration and the Department for Public Security of the Ministry of Interior provided separate replies, their contents are reflected in the public statement.