How the new Law on Immigration and Security affects the EUI Refugee Initiative
On December 2018, the Italian Parliament issued a new migration law n. 132, strongly advocated by the Minister of Interior, Matteo Salvini, and supported by the Conte Government. The law introduces many important changes. Here, we focus on the one that affects the situation of our guests more directly: the abolition of the humanitarian protection.
Abolition of the humanitarian protection
The abolition of the humanitarian protection is the most striking novelty introduced by the law. In Italy, so far, an asylum seeker could receive three types of protection: a) refugee status; 2) subsidiary protection; 3) humanitarian protection. While the first two are directly regulated by international and EU norms, the humanitarian protection is provided by Italian law (art. 5(6) Testo Unico Immigrazione), although it gives application to more general duties of protection that Italy has under the European Convention of Human Rights. The first two types of protection are granted to persons who run the concrete risk of being individually persecuted or seriously harmed in their country of origin (for instance because of their political ideas or because indiscriminate violence is occurring in their motherland). The humanitarian protection, however, is a residual status granted to the asylum seekers who do not qualify for the first two protections, but, at the same time, should not be deported for humanitarian reasons.
The above-mentioned legal definition of humanitarian protection was deliberately vague, as it was meant to cover all persons who do not fit into the refugee and subsidiary status definitions, but nonetheless deserve protection. For instance, a person who has suffered psychological or physical violence during their migration journey, a single mother who would face serious problems in her country of origin, or a person that has undergone a valuable integration path and created a deep link with Italy: these people, under the previous legal framework, would have been entitled to a humanitarian protection; today, they risk being returned. Note also that migrants holding a humanitarian permit had the possibility to convert it into a work permit. This meant that for many people the humanitarian protection (like the other two protections) was the stepping-stone of a long-term permanence in Italy.
Consequences of the abolition of the humanitarian protection
On average, about 20% of the asylum seekers qualify for the humanitarian protection (see graph below). This is a very relevant number, and it is worth understanding what is happening to these asylum seekers now that the humanitarian protection has been reformed. We will distinguish between: a) those who were entitled to the humanitarian protection but had not received a decision from the asylum commission yet; and b) those who already had the humanitarian status.
a) Asylum seekers who were eligible for a humanitarian protection but have not been granted the status yet will likely face a rejection and become irregular migrants. The new Law has also introduced two new permits in substitution of the humanitarian protection (for serious health reasons and for environmental catastrophes), but their scope is narrower, they have a very limited duration (1 year and 6 months respectively), and cannot be converted into work permits.
b) A person with the humanitarian status today risks losing his/her permit once it expires because it cannot be renewed. Moreover, the new immigration law provides that people with the humanitarian protection shall not be entitled to the main Italian reception system (SPRAR – Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), which was very important for their path of integration. We will show this further in the next section.
How the new immigration law affects the Italian reception system
Before the entering into force of law 132/2018, people with a humanitarian status, together with refugees and people holding a subsidiary status, could access to the SPRAR system, the second tier of the Italian reception system. The SPRAR provides forced migrants with housing, food, language courses, job-training programs and other activities for up to one year, and it is very important for the socio-economic integration of migrants in Italy. Due to the new law, people holding the humanitarian status (now abolished) do not qualify for the SPRAR anymore and risk to be kicked out of the reception centres. Some ministerial offices (Prefecture) have already intimidated humanitarian protection holders to leave the reception centres. Most of the people holding the humanitarian status are by definition ‘vulnerable’ (art. 21, Directive 2013/33/EU). The new law leaves these people to their own fate, with no further support from one day to the other. Many of them will likely end up homeless, at the margin of our society, and exposed to all sorts of exploitation and activities of organized crime. As if this was not enough, these vulnerable persons are likely to be the target of another relatively new provision, known as ‘daspo urbano’. This is a measure first introduced by the previous government (Decreto Minniti – Orlando, converted into Law n. 46 in 2017) and then reinforced by the present government via the above described new migration law. The ‘daspo urbano’ is an administrative sanction that mayors – in collaboration with the prefect – can impose on people deemed to be a threat to urban security. It denies access to certain areas and results in a fine in case of violation. Irregular migrants living in the streets are an easy target for ‘daspo urbano’. Remarkably, the new law jeopardizes the existence of the SPRAR system itself. These reception centres are facing important cuts to their budgets, as many of their guests were people with the humanitarian status. Cuts in the budget mean staff reduction, and therefore many (Italian) social workers have already lost their jobs. That is why the Tavolo Asilo Nazionale said that the new law on Immigration and Security is a direct attack to the SPRAR system.
How the Law on Immigration and Security affects the EUI Refugee Initiative
The EUI Refugee Initiative (EUIRI) is a volunteer initiative established through an agreement between the Caritas of Florence and the EUI in 2016 (recently renewed). EUIRI consists in an enhanced reception programme for six asylum seekers under the first-tier of the Italian reception system (Centro di Accoglienza Straordinaria – CAS). The EUIRI does not operate under the SPRAR regime and it deals only with asylum seekers, i.e. people whose status is yet to be determined. As such, EUIRI is not directly affected by the new migration law, so why should we care? There are four main reasons why the new law bears important consequences for our guests, and therefore for our project. First, the asylum seekers hosted at the EUI often receive a humanitarian protection: this was the case for four out of five of our former guests. Of these four, the ones who are currently in a SPRAR centre face the concrete risk of losing their right to integration programmes as a result of the new Law. Second, the abolition of the humanitarian protection means that our guests have fewer chances to obtain a residence permit in Italy. Despite the fact that most of our guests are hard-working young men, who put a lot of effort in advancing their studies and finding a stable occupation, the law does not offer asylum seekers any recognition for these efforts. The possibility that they will face a deportation is concrete. In that case, obviously, we will stand by them, appeal in court the decision denying their asylum request and fight for their rights. Another novelty of the law regards the asylum seekers’ registration of residence. Now all our guests have an Italian national identity card, but the new law provides explicitly that asylum seekers are no longer entitled to it. Without a national identity card, asylum seekers cannot register their residence and access many services that municipalities offer. For instance, prevention programs in terms of public health (such as vaccination campaigns) or enrolment in employment centres; but the national identity card is required also to open a bank account or to enrol in schools. Finally, many of our former guests hold the humanitarian protection and live independently outside of the SPRAR. For them, a countdown started: they need to find a stable job to convert their humanitarian permit into a work permit. Otherwise, as soon as the first permit expires they will become irregular. For those who cannot make it, a deportation threat is looming, together with the risk of being consequently subject to a ‘daspo urbano’. In fact, in Italy today it is commonplace to consider irregular migrants as a threat to security by default.
The EUI Refugee Initiative started in spring 2016, answering to a humanitarian call with a small but concrete response. The thousands of desperate people landing on the Italian costs fleeing war and hunger, and asking for a safe harbour, did not leave the EUI researchers and staff indifferent. We have decided then to get together and organize a grassroots first reception program, which could benefit from the many practical and human resources that the EUI offers. Despite its humanitarian essence, our project, as many others in Italy, is today confronted with a mutated political scenario that is very hostile towards the asylum seekers we host and directly attacks other solidarity initiatives like ours. One of the main objectives of the EUI Refugee Initiative is to support the asylum seekers as they try to move forward with their lives and access the Italian job market. We believe that this can initiate a virtuous circle, allowing migrants to work and live in Italy and not at the margin of our society. While we do not have any influence on the outcome of the asylum seekers’ requests, we believe in the importance of granting long-term residence and access to integration services, particularly to those who invest all their energy in living and working in Italy. The current legal situation, on the contrary, jeopardises the efforts of our guests and, with them, those of the EUI community, which supports them. That is why we decided that it was time to take a clear stand and to publicly denounce what we are experiencing. The new law is critically affecting our guests and their future in Italy and for this reason, we strongly condemn it.
Signatures, in their personal capacity and as EUI Refugee Initiative volunteers:
Marta Baggiani, Serena Belligoli, Stefania Bocchi, Jasper Chalcraft, Ana Rosa Del Castillo, Giulia Gianassi, Caterina Francesca Guidi, Julia Hiltrop, Enise Seyda Kapusuz, Susanne Lassalle, Elena Maggi, Eleonora Milazzo, Machteld Nijsten, Virginia Passalacqua, Maria Patrin, Camilla Salvi, John Trajer, Uladzimir Valodzin