On October 5, Italy has announced the amendment of some parts of the two “Security Decrees”, introduced between 2018 and 2019 by former Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party. The new provisions on migration proposed are still far from a structural reform that treats migration as a natural phenomenon rather than a temporary crisis, yet they represent a positive step towards a more human national asylum system.
The first and foremost change is the reintroduction of the residence permit for humanitarian reasons, provided for by the Italian Consolidated Immigration Act of 1998. Under the new name "special protection", this permit lasts for two years and will be granted to migrants who have “serious reasons, in particular of humanitarian nature or resulting from constitutional or international obligations of the Italian State”. According to Matteo Villa of the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) more than 37,000 migrants became undocumented since 2018 because humanitarian permits were abolished with Salvini’s Security Decrees.
As for the rescue at sea, the principle remains that the Minister of the Interior can prohibit non-military ships from entering and passing through Italian waters. However, if the ships have carried out their search and rescue operations in accordance with international agreements and in coordination with the competent authorities and their flag state, this paragraph does not apply. If a violation occurs, a magistrate must intervene to ascertain it and the crew may face fines ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 Euros. Such fines are lighter if compared with the ones imposed by the Security Decrees, which amounted to up to one million Euros, but they may also face the risk of imprisonment of up to two years.
The new provisions also allow the convertibility of residence permits issued for other reasons into work permits, that was no longer possible according to the Security Decrees. To the categories of convertible permits already provided, the new decree adds those of special protection, calamity, elective residence, acquisition of citizenship or statelessness, sporting activity, artistic work, religious reasons and assistance to minors. Therefore, the new decree makes easier for those who hold other permits to obtain a regular working visa and, consequently, harder to exploit migrants with illegal jobs without a contract, without social security and in inhumane conditions.
Current legislation prescribes a ban on expulsion and refoulement to states where the asylum seeker risks being exposed to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. The new decree adds the risk of violation of the right to respect for their private and family life, enshrined also in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, meaning that anyone who has built a stable life in Italy cannot be repatriated, except for reasons of national security. In case of repatriation, the new decree reduces the maximum stay in expulsion centres, the so-called CPR, from 180 to 90 days.
Focusing on the integration of both the applicants and the holders of international protection, the new decree aims at restoring the so-called SPRAR system (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), a virtuous example that the Security Decrees reduced and obstructed, so that only unaccompanied minors and beneficiaries of international protection could access it. With the new decree the SPRAR system will return to be accessible to all migrants, with services like health, psychological and legal assistance, cultural mediation and Italian language courses for applicants for international protection, and initiatives like trainings and job orientation for the holders of protection.
Another major change introduced by the new provisions will affect the citizenship law. The Security Decrees extended from two to four years the time required for obtaining it, while the amendment reduces it to three years, but it does not improve the law any further.
The new provisions have been welcomed rather favourably as a positive step forward, yet some issues remain controversial. First of all, the risk of imprisonment of search and rescue boats, as saving lives in distress should not be considered a crime under any circumstances. The new decree fails to take a clear stance against the criminalization of NGOs, choosing to reduce rather than eliminate the infamous fines on the ships carrying out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. The second main weakness concerns the citizenship law, that treats the Italian citizenship as an award for those who deserve it rather than a right, and still considers those who have acquired the Italian nationality as second-class citizens with a revocable citizenship.
Altogether, the amendments proposed reverse many of the worst migration policies imposed by the Security Decrees and are an important sign of discontinuity with the previous anti-immigrants government. However, Italy is still far from a comprehensive and brave reform of its asylum system, that manages migration as a human and natural phenomenon and evaluates hospitality as a duty and no longer as an option.