As the decree passed the Senate, Italy's upper house, Matteo Salvini tweeted it was an "historic day." The decree still needs to pass the lower house by the end of November before it is enshrined in law. At the moment, that looks likely, so what will change for migrants if it is passed?
Like all decrees, Italy's new security and immigration decree is composed of many complicated clauses and paragraphs. In short, it is intended to regulate immigration and public security. It has been pushed by Italy's deputy prime minister and Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of the anti-immigration party, La Lega (The Northern League).
Essentially, it will change the laws under which foreign migrants have been staying in the country since 1998. It is set to repeal the right to stay for humanitarian reasons. "Humanitarian protection" is a lower level of asylum status that is based on Italian rather than international law. Up until now, this right has been conceded for up to two years on serious humanitarian grounds and allowed migrants and refugees to access the job market, health services and social welfare.
The new decree will take this catch-all definition 'on humanitarian grounds' away in favor of six new specific categories which applicants will need to fulfill. Has the applicant been smuggled or exploited? Are they subject to domestic violence? Do they need specific medical attention? Was there some kind of calamity in their country of origin or have they contributed in a special way to Italian civil society which would merit a right to stay?
Article two of the law doubles the length of time that migrants can be kept in repatriation centers whilst their cases are looked at. It will allow the authorities to build more centers too. Repatriations are expected to increase with more money being assigned to making sure they happen; three and a half million euros in total up to 2020.
Revoking refugee status
There will be a longer list of crimes that, if committed will lead to a refugee being refused asylum or having their refugee status revoked. The crimes include murder, armed robbery, extortion, violence towards public officials, people found to be practicing genital mutilation, armed theft and burglary, possession of drugs, slavery, sexual violence or kidnapping. Anyone found guilty of terrorist acts or trying to overturn the constitution provides another reason for expulsion under the new law.
The new decree is expected to weaken the SPRAR networks which were set up to protect refugees and asylum seekers in 2002. Only unaccompanied migrants and those who qualify for international protection will come under the future auspices of SPRAR. Everyone else will be sent to 'welcome centers' or CARA (Welcome center for those requesting asylum). Social cooperatives assigned asylum seekers and migrants will be required to report to the authorities every three months with a list of people that they support. The decree is also expected to slash the budget assigned for food and lodging for migrants in CARA centers from 30 euros per person per day to 15 euros.
Anyone who marries an Italian will now have to wait four years instead of the current two before applying for citizenship. In addition, like in Germany, migrants hoping to remain in Italy will be required to pass a B1 language test.
Jubilation and condemnation
Matteo Salvini was pictured looking jubilant as the decree was passed by the Senate with 163 votes to 59. Not everyone was happy though. Roberto Saviano, an anti-Mafia writer who opposes the current Italian government called the decree "criminal" saying it was "self harming, [and] suicidal." He pointed out that it would be impossible to repatriate more than 500,000 migrants without papers who are currently present in the country. "Much better," he said "give them papers and allow them to work and pay taxes to the state." He said the law would only serve to increase the number of "irregular migrants" in the country feeding organized crime networks.
The Democratic Party (PD) leader in the Senate, Andrea Marcucci contests the decree too. He was quoted in the left-leaning daily newspaper, La Repubblica, saying it "creates insecurity, not security and would make 100s of thousands more migrants clandestine in Italy." He concluded: "This is a decree against Italy, against Italians and against security."
Salvini disagrees. In interviews prior to the Senate vote, he said that the decree was not just about immigration but increasing security for everyone in Italy. "It's about strengthening the anti-mafia organizations and anti-racket laws. It will make everything more serious and rigorous. […] It is a decree which will bring more money and power to the police, to mayors; will introduce more surveillance cameras." He added that once the law has passed, he will be looking to reform the justice system too. That way, cases dragging on for years, until they enter proscription, will be a thing of the past.
The decree is scheduled to be put before the lower house on the November 22. With the Five Star Movement and the League holding a majority there too, (along with other right-leaning parties like Forza Italia and Fratelli D’Italia,) it is expected to pass without too many problems and enter law before the end of the year.