OPEN EUROPE: Protection of migrants and their prolonged detention in hotspots

Practice Aim

To offer a worthy welcome together with guidance and inclusion services in dedicated facilities to the most vulnerable people among migrant population.

Target Groups

Unaccompanied Children, women travelling alone or pregnant women, people who have suffered physical or mental trauma, sick or disabled people.

The initiative is promoted by Oxfam Italia in partnership with Borderline Sicilia, AccoglieRete, Diaconia Valdese and Doctors for Human Rights (MEDU).


OpenEurope is Oxfam’s protection response to the massive rejections of migrants and their prolonged detention in hotspots violate international asylum law and have created in recent months a real emergency on Sicilian territory. OpenEurope works with people out of the system, i.e. the most vulnerable among the disadvantaged, to guarantee their access to rights through adequate legal assistance and respond to their basic needs.

Target VG and type of host community

Migrants in highly vulnerable conditions and potential asylum seekers who, having arrived in Sicily, have been excluded from the system of protection and reception, without access to adequate services and deprived on protection of their human rights.
The most vulnerable people, such as unaccompanied minors, women travelling alone or pregnant women, people who have suffered physical or mental trauma, sick or disabled people, are also offered a worthy welcome together with guidance and inclusion services in dedicated facilities.

Application setting: context

Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese and Borderline Sicily are advocating for hotspot procedure to be specified in municipal and national legislation so that all migrants, as required by law:

  • receive information about their rights, including their right to apply for international protection, in a form and language which they understand;
  • identification and registration procedures to be conducted in full respect of human rights;
  • qualified operators and mediators belonging to civil society organisations to be present at ships’ landing sites and in centres where the first identification operations take place. Operators should be independent, not financed by the Ministry of the Interior, in order to offer support, facilitate and monitor procedures and ensure that the rights of migrants are respected;
  • no migrant should be rejected or expelled unless their case has been assessed individually, since no law gives law enforcement staff the competence to distinguish applicants for international protection and so-called economic migrants;
  • no migrant should be detained in reception centres for identification purposes only;
  • the number of reception centres on the territory should match the number of arrivals, thus avoiding the systematic situations of overcrowding; the living conditions within the centres should respect the dignity and privacy of the individual, especially if in vulnerable conditions;
  • no migrant should be forced to undergo identification and photo-signalling procedures by coercive measures;
  • special protected routes should be made available for vulnerable groups , such as unaccompanied minors, women travelling alone or pregnant, persons who have suffered physical or psychological trauma, sick or disabled.


  • To ensure a broader respect of the fundamental human rights of migrant women, men and children, which are currently violated during the identification and registration procedures following landings
  • To guarantee migrants’ access to rights through adequate legal assistance and respond to their basic needs
  • To offer legal assistance to appeal against the decree of refusal of entry and to provide support for any application for international protection.
  • To carry out a protection response with a legal focus
  • To advocate and campaign in order to positively influence policy makers, as well as to consolidate the basis for an increasing pressure at European level


Oxfam’s humanitarian intervention combines protection activities in the field with advocacy and communication activities at national and international level, in order to spread knowledge of migrants’ rights among European citizens and institutions, raise awareness among those involved in migration management and positively influence migration policies.
Mobile teams (social and legal operators and linguistic mediators) provide information on rights (including on international protection) and reception facilities, material support through the distribution of differentiated sanitary kits for men and women, of clothes, footwear, undergarments, packaged food, water, local and international phone cards, as well as guidance and inclusion services in dedicated facilities for the most vulnerable.
Using the expertise of OpenEurope partners, the programme has also organised multi-disciplinary training meetings aimed at employees of the reception system hosting minors and adults. The aim of the training was to improve the assistance that asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors receive in reception centres by strengthening the knowledge of operators and mediators in the legal field, cultural mediation, early recognition of severe trauma of people who have survived violence, inhuman and degrading treatment.


In November 2017, the beneficiaries assisted by the program in Sicily were 2,345 (2,157 males and 188 females): 1,495 migrants have received legal information, guidance to basic services and material support; 75 asylum seekers excluded from the protection system received legal assistance and gained access to the international protection procedure; 219 migrants victims of torture, detention, inhuman and degrading treatments received psychological support and medical treatment; 20 vulnerable migrants were hosted in the temporary shelter in Pachino; 536 unaccompanied foreign minors have received legal assistance. The program also raised public awareness through the elaboration and dissemination of 3 (three) specific advocacy papers on migration policies with significant media coverage, at national and international level.
More specifically, Oxfam has set up a mobile team of workers who can move through the Eastern provinces of Sicily with the aim of providing basic material support and legal guidance, guaranteeing a minimum standard of security, by answering their basic needs.
Borderline Sicily has provided legal assistance, by managing to assist in practical legal appeals against the rejections through a network of lawyers, and at the same time denouncing the high workload left to the lawyers involved and the lack of services provided to migrants in the region.

Difficulties or constrains for its implementation

  • “We cannot accept vulnerable people being left on the street. This project was born out of the urgency to deal with an emergency concerning the protection of human right that is not addressed by the institutions today, but also to raise awareness of a social problem that must be tackled promptly and as inclusive as possible among public opinion and political decision-makers” says Roberto Barbieri, Director General of Oxfam Italia.
  • Massimo Gnone, the Waldensian Diaconia migrants’ contact person, adds: “We want to support people fleeing war and violence so that they can exercise their right to asylum by accessing the reception measures provided by Italian law. This legal and humanitarian accompaniment benefits local communities and the entire population, reducing the presence of undocumented migrants who wander the territory without any assistance and are easily exploited by criminal organizations”.
  • Paola Ottaviano, lawyer contact person of Borderline Sicilia, says: “No administrative practice dictated by a political decision can be in contrast and in violation of national and international rules, such as those relating to the right of asylum. The exercise of such rules cannot be arbitrarily denied through superficial and hasty procedures put in place by the Italian police and Frontex upon arrival and at hotspots as it has happened in recent months”.


  • Mobile teams composed of social and legal workers and cultural mediators are able to intervene quickly in places where the presence of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers excluded from the reception and protection system is reported.
  • This legal and humanitarian support benefits both, local communities and the whole population, reducing the presence of undocumented migrants who wander the territory without any assistance and are easily exploited by criminal organizations or enter the business.
  • Evidence of the work carried out can be used to help improve the overall performance and to maximize the efforts to guarantee the fulfilment of the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable migrants.
  • Networking and partnership work represent the strengths of OpenEurope and aim at reinforcing the link between practices and policies.
  • Supports autonomy by guaranteeing housing and reception for the most vulnerable cases, by making its reception centres and cultural-linguistic mediators available.


“The Open Europe project will not solve everyone’s problems – admits the executive secretary of the Waldensian Diaconia, Gianluca Barbanotti – but sometimes it is important to be present and that is to be where the contradictions of the reception system appear with vivid concreteness when they manifest themselves to people who are looking for a better future.

Year and length (duration)

Since May 2016

CRITERIA actors or stakeholder are using to assess them as a “good practice”

  • Speed/timing of intervention: People who are marginalized are reached by mobile teams with first contact activities on the road and receive immediate assistance through: legal information to make them aware of their rights and obligations according to the Italian and European legal framework and allow them to make informed choices for their future; orientation towards the basic and specialized services available in the territory according to a holistic approach based on the mapping carried out in the different provinces. In addition to the help received directly from Oxfam’s mobile teams, migrants can also benefit from support from partner organisations in various sectors.
  • Field work and evidences collected through programme activities are linked with the advocacy to raise concerns about national and local policies on migration and put forward alternative solutions.
  • In addition to the emergency situation that Italy is cyclically facing on migration, resilience and integration are two other significant axes of work to enable positive, lasting and sustainable social change.
  • OpenEurope has the operational capacity to cover several provinces of the vast Sicilian territory, being able to effectively respond to emergency situations in Catania, Caltanissetta, Messina, Ragusa and Syracuse, when necessary. Since August 2017, OpenEurope is widening its engagement by scaling up on a national dimension with the start-up of legal information and the provision of basic services in Ventimiglia, Italian border town with France. Therefore, building on the partnership approach and the coordination actions already developed is key for the future effectiveness of the program.