The ddl 840/2018, better known as Salvini’s decree on immigration and security, has become law after approval by the Chamber of Deputies. One of the biggest changes and challenges that has come out of this decree is the removal of humanitarian protection, a lower level of asylum status provided for by Italian rather than international law – given to 25 percent of Italy’s asylum seekers last year, according to the AFP. It will also make it harder to obtain Italian citizenship and provides for the revocation of ‘acquired’ citizenship, as well as changing the rules around hosting asylum seekers in reception centres.
As an organisation that works with socially and economically disadvantaged people, female victims of violence, and also provides accommodation – at the ‘third level’, i.e. for people who have already lived in Italy for some time and whose long-term integration we support -, we feel compelled to investigate and fully understand the implications of this legislation. As such, we held a public meeting on 30th November, in collaboration with the social enterprise Xenia who have been hosting asylum seekers for two years and with whom we share our work space. We were joined by Barbara Cattelan and Enrica Origlia, lawyers with ASGI (an association that studies migration legislation), who sought to analyse and interpret how the new laws will work in practice, and Monica Cerutti, the representative for Equal Opportunities in Piemonte.
So, what has changed for asylum seekers?
For anyone submitting an application now, the chances of receiving protection are greatly reduced. There is no direct long-term replacement for humanitarian protection, but some much more limited forms of protection have been introduced.
There are permits for so-called ‘special cases’, which include victims of trafficking, slavery or serious exploitation and victims of domestic violence also fall into this category. These cases remain largely unchanged, as such protection was already provided for under Article 18 of the constitution. There are also three motivations for short-term permits: medical, ‘natural disaster in country of origin’, or for ‘acts of civic value’. These, however, no longer afford the option to convert the permit into a visa for work or study, which was previously possible for those with humanitarian protection. So when such a permit expires, the permit-holder will be left with no legal option to stay in Italy, they will become ‘illegal’ overnight.
Another controversial element of the new law is the presence of an amendment about the establishment of a list of ‘safe’ countries of origin, which makes it much more difficult for anyone from a country on the list to be granted any form of protection. Alongside this list, there is the new concept of ‘safe zones’ within countries, which means an asylum request can be rejected in cases where it is possible to repatriate foreign citizens to one of these zones in their country of origin, even when they come from an unsafe area.
Repatriation of people whose applications are refused or whose permits have expired is not easy, though, so in practice the result of this legal change is likely to be a rise in the number of “illegal” migrants. Italy’s national statistics office estimates that the decree will make 130,000 migrants illegal by 2020. And where can these people go? The decree has also changed the rules about who can access reception centres. The SPRAR [asylum-seeker reception centres] centres, which host up to 1,986 people in Piemonte, will no longer host people asylum seekers awaiting a decision. They will accommodate only refugees (i.e. people who have been granted asylum), unaccompanied minors and those with ‘special protection’ as explained above. According to Mario Morcone, the director of CIR, the Italian Refugee Council, “The dismantling of Sprar will create new forms of marginalisation, a drift of social exclusion that will inevitably make the people who arrive in Italy more fragile, increasing the risk of conflict and making them permeable to paths of radicalisation.” Cerutti expressed a similar concern: “According to our data, in Piemonte alone there are currently 5,000 people, among those hosted in CAS (emergency reception centres), who are at risk of becoming irregular. Some of them risk ending up involved in organised crime.”
As if that weren’t difficult enough for asylum seekers, the new law will also likely remove access to vital services, such as the health system, the ability to rent a house, and the ability to get a driving license, because they will no longer be able to register with the local authority as residents. Although the law does not state the necessity of ‘residency’ to access such services, in practice many entities consider it a prerequisite.
Not only will this legal change affect ‘illegal’ migrants and those awaiting a decision, but also refugees and legal immigrants who wish to apply for Italian citizenship. The wait for all citizenship applications via naturalisation or marriage will double from two years to four.
Furthermore, the change will create two different ‘grades’ of citizenship, which we can refer to as ‘natural’ or ‘acquired’, and therefore two grades of citizen – immigrants, often the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and those born Italians – through new provisions for the revocation of ‘acquired’ citizenship. Such citizenship can now be revoked based on criminal offences linked to terrorism or in cases of ‘resistance towards a public official’. From our perspective this equates to the application of a ‘potential terrorist’ label to anyone, even those who have gained Italian citizenship, who comes from a non-European country, a de facto message to ‘real’ Italians to beware of foreigners.
The negative consequences of this legal change are already becoming apparent – here you can read about some cases of people being evicted from reception centres less than a week after its approval.
Facts and references taken from: