The Italian Ministry of Interior formally claims that the duty of providing legal information on current legislation on immigration and asylum in support of third-country nationals arriving in Italy and taken to the Lampedusa hotspot is delegated to UNHCR and thus fulfilled. This is a duty resting on the public administration and very often disregarded.
In the “hotspots” — according to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) applicable to Italian hotspots, a document describing the operation of hotspots — national authorities, namely police personnel and healthcare personnel, work in unprecedented cooperation with European agencies (EASO, Frontex, Europol) and international organisations (such as the International Organisation for Migration or IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in order to ensure procedural management of activities. The SOPs also provide for “a UNHCR Team dedicated to supporting authorities in the identification of persons with specific needs and to providing information on current legislation on immigration and asylum and the relocation programme”.
As is well known, the Lampedusa hotspot is characterised by systematic violations of the rights of foreign nationals held there. The findings of the monitoring and legal protection activities confirm the systematic nature of these violations, which have repeatedly been noted in connection with the hotspot approach, whose main characteristic is the creation of practical obstacles to accessing the procedure for requesting international protection.
One of the first obstacles is the failure to comply with the duty imposed by legislation as a legal obligation incumbent on the public administration to inform migrants of their legal status and rights, which undermines the right to asylum and subjects migrants to unlawful removal procedures.
Only after being provided with clear information and adequate time to fully understand and reconstruct their often traumatic experiences can migrants become aware of their need to seek international protection and of the fact that they are vulnerable individuals and as such protected against refoulement. However, at the Lampedusa centre, people receive information on immigration and asylum legislation only in paper form, which can be discriminatory against those who, for various reasons, are unable to understand this information in writing. Migrants will receive further information only after completion of the pre-identification procedures, i.e. after the interview aimed at compiling the so-called personal information sheet, at which point they are expected by public authorities to express their wish to apply for international protection. They watch explanatory videos on two monitors but these videos are virtually inaudible, especially when there are many people watching them. These methods of providing information do not guarantee the individual’s information rights enshrined in Article 3 of Legislative Decree No. 142 of 2015 and do not allow adequate understanding of the complex and relevant procedures to which people will be subjected or the acquisition of effective information about the opportunity of seeking protection.
In the light of the above and of the rights that should be guaranteed, the question arises as to who should guarantee this institutional duty and who are the people or bodies actually in charge.
On 14 November 2022 a Freedom of Information Act request was sent to the Ministry of the Interior, the Prefecture of Agrigento and the UNHCR, asking for more details on protocols adopted and the proxy or institutional mandate given by the Ministry of the Interior and/or Prefecture of Agrigento to the Agency with regard to the activity of providing legal information on current legislation on immigration and asylum in support of foreign citizens arriving in Italy, in accordance with the legislation in force.
On 24 November 2022, the Ministry of the Interior, Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, replied to the request by highlighting that the UNHCR operates inside the Lampedusa hotspot under its institutional mandate as set out in Article 35 of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and Article II of the 1967 Protocol which requires Member States to cooperate with the Agency in the performance of its tasks and, more specifically, to assist the UNHRC in its role of supervising the application of that Convention. In its reply the Ministry formally confirms that it has fulfilled the duty imposed on the public administration to provide legal information on current legislation on immigration and asylum in support of foreign nationals arriving in Italy by delegating this task to the Agency, so, at present, this obligation is exclusively and entirely performed by the UNHCR through its activities.
Bearing in mind the constant transfer of responsibility for the fulfilment of this institutional obligation and the absence of systematic access to accurate legal information, and moved by the wish to launch an informed public debate among all those actively involved in the management of arrivals, we sent a letter to the Agency, and for information to the Ministry of the Interior and the Prefecture of Agrigento, asking for confirmation that the Agency is performing the institutional duty of ensuring that foreign nationals in the Lampedusa hotspot have access to legal information, as is claimed by the Ministry of Interior.
So far, there has been no reply from the Agency responsible for guaranteeing this fundamental right.
 for more details see https://inlimine.asgi.it/report-lampedusa-2022-le-criticita/ and https://inlimine.asgi.it/report-ombre-in-frontiera-limiti-e-ostacoli-allaccesso-ai-diritti-ai-confini-italiani/
 Article 10-ter of Legislative Decree 286/98 provides that foreign nationals rescued at sea and taken to the hotspots for first assistance needs, identification and fingerprinting are to be provided with accurate information on the international protection procedure, the relocation programme in other Member States of the European Union and the opportunity of entering the assisted voluntary return programme.
 Article 3 expressly stipulates that information on the international protection procedure must be provided by the police or at reception centres with the help of an interpreter or cultural mediator. This information obligation is also expressly provided for in Articles 10 and 10-bis of Legislative Decree 25/08, whereby information shall be given also at border crossing points. The authorities which first come into contact with third-country nationals present on the territory, at the border or in the transit zones of the Member States are required to provide information on how and where to submit the relevant application. Moreover, according to Article 8(1) of Directive 32/2013/EU, authorities are also required to provide information on the right to asylum in order to ensure that third-country nationals or stateless persons held in detention centres or at border crossing points, including transit zones at external borders and consequently also hotspots, have access to the international protection procedure.
 for more details see https://inlimine.asgi.it/il-ruolo-di-unhcr-nellhotspot-di-lampedusa-i-riscontri-della-pubblica-amministrazio ne/.