On November 29th, 2018, something changed in Italy. The Parliament officially approved the Security and Immigration Decree which, among many directives, erases humanitarian protection from the country’s body of law and downsizes the SPRAR system, that linked together the many centers for protection and integration of immigrants dotted around the peninsula.
According to the far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini those forms of protection were “pointless”, since they covered people who are not eligible for the status of refugee, and only represented extra costs for the State.
The decree will have severe practical consequences on migrants and asylum seekers and Salvini made it his priority to implement all the changes in a very short time: within 48 hours the Ministry of the Interior had already given to the main refugees help centers strict expulsion orders for all those men, women and children who are waiting for their protection requests to be welcomed or — more likely — rejected. Losing their only accommodation, these people are probably going to end up sleeping on the street since the Italian system of forced repatriation still has a long way to go before becoming as efficient as Mr. Salvini would like it to be.
First things first, it’s useful to clarify what we mean by “humanitarian protection”.
Humanitarian protection is one of the three forms of protection a migrant can receive from a foreign State, together with the status of refugee and the subsidiary protection.
The refugee status was introduced in 1951 with the Refugee Convention of Genève and it’s still regulated by Treaty hence signed. A refugee, according to the Convention, is someone who is “unable or unwilling to return to his/her country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”. The 147 countries that ratified the Refugee Convention are obliged to protect refugees that are on their territory providing them with free access to courts, administrative assistance, travel documents, working permits and to help them integrate in the host country.
Not all the asylum seekers are granted the refugee status. The subsidiary protection is therefore a second kind of protection regulated by the European Union. It was established in 2004 and revised in 2011. According to EU Directive 2011/95 a “person eligible for subsidiary protection” is “a third- country national or a stateless person who does not qualify as a refugee but in respect of whom substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if returned to his or her country of origin, or in the case of a stateless person, to his or her country of former habitual residence, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm”, where “serious harm” is described as the risk of: death penalty or execution; torture or degrading treatment; serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life in situations of international or internal arm conflict.
The refugee status and the subsidiary protection are regulated by international treaties with binding force which have been ratified by Italy. Therefore, in this moment, the national yellow-green government can’t do anything to change them without incurring in serious consequences.
On the other hand, the humanitarian protection consists of a special residence permit granted by national governments to foreign people who do not meet the standard requirements for the residence permit or for the refugee status/subsidiary protection, but nonetheless have serious humanitarian reasons for wanting to leave their country. In Italy, this kind of protection exists since 1998 (LD 286/98, Article 5 par. 6) and has been widely used during the last years in response to the increase in migratory flows.
In 2017 Italy received 130.000 asylum applications: 52% of them were rejected, 25% obtained the humanitarian protection (that amounts to 35.000 people!) a mere 8,4% received the refugee status and another 8,4% the subsidiary protection.
With the new Security and Immigration Decree, the Italian government will stop granting residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Furthermore, the permits issued in 2017–2018 won’t be valid anymore, meaning that all the people that obtained this kind of protection during the last two years will now receive an order of expulsion, thus becoming illegal immigrants with no rights whatsoever.
Another controversial measure adopted with the Security Decree is the downsizing of the reception centers.
Up to now, both the refugees and the asylum seekers who applied for international protection could use the services provided by the hotspots, initial rception centers and SPRAR centers.
The first ones (hotspots and initial reception centers like the CARA) are the places migrants are gathered in when they first get to Italy and where they wait to be identified and — theoretically — helped with the application procedures. Salvini’s Decree extended the maximum period of detention in these places from 90 to 180 days, plus 30 possible extra days at the initial hotspots.
After having been identified and having submitted the application, the migrants are moved to a center managed by the SPRAR system. These are located in more than 1800 municipalities and provide basic services, accommodation and activities aimed at integrating the migrants in their new country. In 2016, 46,5% of the migrants hosted in the SPRAR centers were asylum seekers, and 28% benefited from humanitarian protection.
Today, these two categories of people won’t be able to access the center anymore since the humanitarian protection has been cancelled and the asylum seekers won’t be considered as eligible for the services, now open only to those who have already received the refugee status/subsidiary protection or to unaccompanied minors.
During the last weeks hundreds of migrants were expelled from CARA and SPRAR centers because they didn’t meet the new requirements.
Theoretically, these people should be sent back to their country of origin. Practically, this is much more complex and they end up squatting in abandoned buildings or sleeping on pavements.
The repatriation system is slowed down by enormous costs and the lack of effective bilateral agreements with the home countries.
When a person is expelled from a country, he/she can decide to leave in three possible ways: voluntary return, repatriation by private resources or with a forced repatriation managed by the country of expulsion. Although Europe should encourage the first option, most of the irregular migrants are asked to leave the country in a few days through private ways.
Internazionale reports that a coercive repatriation could amount to 8.000 euros per person and the operations employ two police officers for each migrant. Furthermore, these procedures often violate the fundamental human rights. The Security Decree allocated 3,5 millions euros to improve the Return Found.
So, what now? The points of the Decree regarding immigration will only create more illegal immigrants with no rights to work, travel or rent a house. These people will not magically disappear, they’ll face their faith in one way or another. Maybe dealing drugs, maybe stealing, maybe just trying to find a way to feed their children.
It will all come back to bite the whole country.