Being part of the European Commission's European Agenda on Migration, the “hotspot” approach is generally described as providing “operational solutions for emergency situations”, through a single place to swiftly process asylum applications, enforce return decisions and prosecute smuggling organisations through a platform of cooperation among the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex, Europol and Eurojust. Even though there is no precise definition of the “hotspot” approach, it is clear that it has become a fundamental feature of the relocation procedures conducted from Italy and Greece until September 2017, in the framework of Council Decisions 2015/1523 and 2015/1601 of 14 and 22 September 2015 respectively. “Hotspots” managed by the competent authority have not required new reception facilities, operating instead from already existing ones.
By the end of 2019, four hotspots were operating in: Apulia (Taranto) and Sicily (Lampedusa, Pozzallo, and Messina). As of 31 December 2019, the hotspots hosted a total of 78 persons, all in Sicily (see Place of Detention).
In 2018, 13,777 persons entered the hotspots, mainly originating from Tunisia (5,638), Eritrea (2,472) and Sudan (759).
Frontex helps with the identification, registration and fingerprinting of recently arrived people, enforcement of return decisions and collection of information on smuggling routes, while EASO helps with the registration of asylum claims and has assisted in ad hoc relocation procedures following disembarkation operations. UNHCR officers present in the “hotspot”, together with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) should monitor the situation. Save the Children is no longer present. IOM and UNHCR have contracts with the Ministry of Interior for entire areas of competence such as legal information, identification of vulnerable persons and childcare. As highlighted in a recent report by ASGI and other organisations, due to contractual terms such as the express obligation of confidentiality, these actors do not make public any information on critical issues that may arise in the implementation of the hotspot approach.
The Consolidated Act on Immigration (TUI), as amended by L 46/2017, provides that foreigners apprehended for irregular crossing of the internal or external border or arrived in Italy after rescue at sea are directed to appropriate “crisis points” and at first reception centres. There, they will be identified, registered and informed about the asylum procedure, the relocation programme and voluntary return. Decree Law 113/2018 has subsequently introduced the possibility of detention of persons whose nationality cannot be determined, for up to 30 days in suitable facilities set up in hotspots for identification reasons (see Grounds for Detention).
The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) adopted in February 2016 and applying at hotpots also state that “where necessary, the use of force proportionate to overcoming objection, with full respect for the physical integrity and dignity of the person, is appropriate…” The law also provides that the repeated refusal to undergo fingerprinting constitutes a risk of absconding and legitimises detention in pre-removal detention centres (CPR) (see Grounds for Detention).
The same law also introduced a Border Procedure automatically applicable in case a person makes the application for international protection directly at the border or in transit areas – both to be identified and indicated by decree of the Ministry of Interior – after being apprehended for evading or attempting to evade controls. The border procedure will also apply to asylum seekers who come from a designated safe country of origin. In this case, the entire procedure can be carried out directly at the border or in the transit area.
Revealing the purpose of facilitating the application of an accelerated procedure to the people present in the hotspots, the Moi Decree issued on 5 August 2019 and published on 7 September 2019, identified among the transit and border areas, those ones close to hotspots: Taranto, Messina and Agrigento (Lampedusa hotspot).
Persons arriving at hotspots are classified as asylum seekers or economic migrants depending on a summary assessment, mainly carried out either by using questionnaires (foglio notizie) filled in by migrants at disembarkation, or by orally asking questions relating to the reason why they have come to Italy. People are often classified just solely on the basis of their nationality. Migrants coming from countries informally considered as safe e.g. Tunisia are classified as economic migrants, prevented from accessing the asylum procedure (see Registration) and handed removal decisions.
According to the SOPs, all hotspots should guarantee inter alia “provision of information in a comprehensible language on current legislation on immigration and asylum”, as well as provision of accurate information on the functioning of the asylum procedure. In practice, however, concerns with regard to access to information persisted in 2019.
As of April 2019, as part of the monitoring project in Lampedusa, ASGI found that a different type of "foglio notizie" was released to some foreign citizens. It was detailed to exclude all the reasons that would prevent the expulsion, completed before printing, and delivered to the persons not in the identification phase but immediately after their transfer from the hotspot, at their arrival in Porto Empedocle. In addition, migrants were asked to sign a paper called “Scheda informativa”, through which they declared they were not interested in seeking international protection. The declaration was only written in Italian language. After signing these documents they were notified with deferred refoulement orders and transferred to the CPR Trapani-Milo and Caltanissetta-Pian del Lago. As recorded by ASGI some of these persons had already asked asylum or expressed their intention to seek asylum before the transfers and before signing the scheda informative. Some of them had sent, through ASGI, a certificated e-mail to the Questura of Agrigento, expressing their will to seek asylum.
ASGI monitored the procedure applied to some of these third country nationals, who, only in some cases, obtained the non-validation of their detention orders in CPR. In these cases, the Magistrates considered their request for asylum had not been instrumental in avoiding detention and expulsion orders because it was presented during their stay in the hotspot, therefore before these measures had been applied to them. (See Judicial review of Detention)
In 2019, accordng to ASGI experience in In Limine project, EASO personnel was present only at Messina hotspot.
 ASGI et al., Scenari di frontiera: il caso Lampedusa, October 2018, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/2UoWKDu. For an overview of critiques in previous years, see AIDA, Country Report Italy, 2017 Update, March 2018, 24-26.
 Article 10-ter TUI, inserted by Decree Law 13/2017.
 Article 6(3-bis) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 113/2018.
 Article 10-ter(3) TUI, inserted by Decree Law 13/2017.
 Article 28-bis(1-ter) Procedure Decree, as amended by Decree Law 113/2018.
 Moi Decree 5 August 2019, Article 2
 See ASGI, In Limine report Ombre in Frontiera, March 2020. available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3bYpTJF.
 See the foglio notizie at: https://cutt.ly/Kyv9KMr.
 See scheda informativa at: https://cutt.ly/Wyv9LQt.
 Article 10 (2) TUI Consolidated Act on Immigration.
 See ASGI, In Limine, La determinazione della condizione giuridica in hotspot, 29 April 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/Iyv9XmV.
 See ASGI, In Limine, Esiti delle procedure attuate a Lampedusa per la determinazione della condizione giuridica dei cittadini stranieri, 29 mei 2019, available in Italian at: https://cutt.ly/Eyv9ChD.