Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has rebuffed critics of his security and migration decree. The new law has been strongly criticized by organizations in the refugee sector.
The decree, which was passed by the parliament in November, includes greater restrictions on granting permits for humanitarian protection and thus allows for fewer asylum request acceptances. NGOs working with migrants have expressed concern that more migrants are being forced to leave Italy's reception system because of the decree.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has now replied to this criticism. He said: "The new law changes absolutely nothing about who enters and leaves the centers. I have read in newspapers that children, pregnant women and the elderly have left. Nonsense."
More asylum applications rejected
Official figures, however, show an increase in asylum application rejections. In November, 7,716 asylum requests were examined in Italy. 80 percent were rejected. In October, the rejection rate was only 74 percent.
The percentage of people granted humanitarian protection decreased significantly, while the percentage of people who received refugee status or subsidiary protection increased slightly.
The number of people who received humanitarian protection was 1,105 in October (13 percent) and only 356 in November (5 percent). Refugee status was granted to 720 people in November - 9 percent of all applicants (compared to 8 percent in October), while subsidiary protection was granted to 470 people - 6 percent (compared to 5 percent in October).
Before Salvini introduced the decree over the summer, there had been a 28 percent acceptance rate.
Does the decree leave vulnerable people homeless?
The main new elements of the law are an abolition of humanitarian stay permits (replaced by special permits for specific categories) and the restricting of access to the SPRAR system for those who have been granted asylum.
Several Italian mayors and members of the opposition have criticized these changes. They are concerned that migrants could end up in the streets since they no longer have access to the national migrant reception system.
Maurizio Martina, who is currently running to become the secretary of the opposition Democratic Party (PD), said that the decree "may result in 100,000 undocumented migrants in the streets in the next two years."
Various associations have in recent weeks spoken out about incidents where vulnerable people were forced to leave the centers.
'The law simply sets rules'
The interior minister has defended the decree, saying that "the law simply sets rules."
"Only those granted refugee status have the right to reception facilities and services," Salvini said. "It is also cost cutting, since before some five billion euros were spent every year to support fake refugees."
In order to harmonize positions, the ministry will issue circular to provide unambiguous instructions. The regulations are reportedly supposed to be applied "cum grano salis" (meaning: with a grain of salt) to avoid - especially with winter fast approaching - turning weak people out into the streets.