Italy’s populist, centre-right government has begun the implementation of its newest piece of legislation, the Salvini Decree, and its effect on the lives of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers is becoming clear.
The Decree was passed into law in late November, reinforcing the anti-migrant rhetoric of Italy’s new government coalition. The law has already condemned thousands to homelessness and lower living standards in Italy, as protections previously put in place during the global refugee crisis are reduced or removed completely. Crucially, the law abolishes Humanitarian Permits, which are stay visas issued to those who were considered vulnerable or faced persecution but did not qualify for refugee status. Hundreds of people under these visas were made homeless after centres were forced to shut down, and Al Jazeera reported that an estimated 18,000 locals will lose their jobs in Italy as a result of the law.
The Humanitarian Permit has been granted to a majority of migrants arriving in Italy in recent years, with an estimated 100,000 people now holding the permit. It allows them to work and live in Italy for two years until they are eligible for residency. The permits were issued to around 25% of asylum seekers in 2017 – far more than the number of recognized refugees. With the Humanitarian Permit, migrant are entitled to integrative accommodation, initial medical care, and help with identification papers through a formal structure. Those who are on the permit will now face reduced protection and often illegality once they expire. Italy’s national statistics office estimates that abolishing this system will make 130,000 migrants illegal by 2020.
The Salvini Decree adds to a number of anti-migrant policies introduced since the election of the new populist centre-right government, leading the UN to release a statement condemning Italy for their “climate of hatred.” They report that 169 racially motivated crimes were recorded during and after the March election, 19 of which were violent. Matteo Salvini is the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and the leader of the anti-immigrant League Party, which gained the largest increase in seats in the 2018 elections. Their policies include restricting the opening hours of ‘ethnic’ shops, pledging to deport 500,000 illegal immigrants, and blocking NGO migrant rescue ships from Italian ports.
Italy has seen a surge in more than 600,000 migrants since 2014; it is without question that they have seen a considerable increase in population. Italy’s geographical location makes it the gateway to Europe for those fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa. But, removing the protections of these people is not a solution. It will only place already vulnerable people at more risk. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) asserted in November that exclusion in Italy will only lead to increased social tension and more insecurity. A Professor of Law and Immigration Policies at a Rome University, Christopher Hein, recently told The Guardian that “once these people have no protection they do not simply pack up and go home.” They only become part of an irregular and undocumented migrant group.
Italy has previously been a leader in refugee protection and praised for its welcoming of asylum seekers. They are signatories to the ICCPR 1966 and the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, and they also maintain a right to asylum in their constitution. To ensure the protection of these people and a commitment to international norms, it is imperative that Italy continues these principles, aiming for protection over exclusion. A step forward would be to sign the Global Migration Compact 2018, of which it pulled out earlier this year. The non-binding pact has been signed by 164 nations and is designed to open legal migration and discourage illegal crossings.
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