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Mediterranean Migrants Stay In 'Reception Centers' While Awaiting Asylum


The next question is, what happens to survivors who make it across the Mediterranean and who end up on the Italian coast? Carlotta Sami is the spokesperson for southern Europe for the U.N. High Commissioner For Refugees, and she says migrants are housed in reception centers while they await asylum hearings. Sami says the U.N. would like to see the process changed for clear-cut cases.

CARLOTTA SAMI: This is something we are asking to create kind of a fast-track procedure for Syrians and Eritreans, for example, because those are two groups that would receive the refugee status almost immediately. But they have to claim for it and they have to wait for a period that goes from eight months to 12 months.

SIEGEL: So Syrians and Eritreans, you're saying, who account for so many of the migrants might spend, you're saying, between eight months and a year in a reception center in...

SAMI: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...Very likely in Italy waiting to see what's going to become of their claim for asylum?

SAMI: Yes, exactly. But in reality, what is happening is they usually do not stay in Italy. They usually try to reach Germany or Sweden or the Netherlands or Norway, and they usually apply for asylum there.

SIEGEL: What about people coming up from Senegal or the Gambia in West Africa who might be trying to avoid the terrible poverty of their lives back home?

SAMI: Yeah.

SIEGEL: What are their chances?

SAMI: Of course some people do not receive any kind of protection status, and these person have the possibility to appeal the decision.

SIEGEL: And how long might an appeal take?

SAMI: It might take even a year and a year and a half.

SIEGEL: What you're describing is for somebody who ultimately may be turned down and sent back home still two to two and a half years in some kind of reception center or holding status in Europe while awaiting the case to be settled.

SAMI: Yes. This is what is happening.

SIEGEL: If in fact anyone from Syria or Eritrea - 90 percent of those people are likely to be given asylum somewhere in Europe. Could the Europeans set up shop somewhere a lot closer to home and try to process applications for asylum rather than depending on the illicit trade across the Mediterranean to smuggle people into Europe?

SAMI: Yes. This is exactly what we are advocating. We have to provide them with legal alternatives to arrive to Europe. We are asking for specific quotas to be distributed among the 28 members of the European Union to provide different kind of, you know, legal routes.

SIEGEL: Ms. Sami, one question - I want to hear what you say in response to critics in Europe who argue that anything positive that Europe does, including sending out craft to rescue people at sea, only encourages more traffic across the Mediterranean. Would any positive steps that Europe might take to make it easier to find asylum within the EU simply multiply the number of people who would be applying for asylum?

SAMI: Well, this is a big, wrong argument. If you speak in terms of refugees, you can be sure that they will try to escape, and they will try to reach Europe with any kind of mean. I mean with the traffickers putting themselves and their sons and daughters at risk. This is a reality.

SIEGEL: Well, Ms. Sami, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

SAMI: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Carlotta Sami speaking to us from Rome where she spokesperson for the southern European sector of the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.