Refugees at the Sicilian port of Augusta in Italy, 2017 | Photo: REUTERS / Antonio Parrinello
Refugees at the Sicilian port of Augusta in Italy, 2017 | Photo: REUTERS / Antonio Parrinello

With the adoption of a "security decree" tightening migration policy in Italy, thousands of migrants are likely to lose their humanitarian protection permits, which allowed them to stay in Italy legally. Thousands of people now risk once again becoming homeless, undocumented and unemployed.

In late-November, Italy adopted the so-called "Salvini Decree," named after Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also the head of the anti-immigrant League party. The "security decree" abolishes humanitarian protection permits, which had been granted to vulnerable people, families or single women with children, and people who had suffered trauma during their journey to Italy.

The consequences are serious, say NGOs helping migrants. Since 2008, more than 120,000 people have benefited from the status, 40,000 of whom were granted it in the past two years, according to Marine de Haas, head of French NGO The Cimade. The humanitarian protection permits were valid for two years and renewable.

What will happen now that they have been abolished? "It is at the moment they renew their humanitarian permits that the migrants will lose their legal status," de Haas said. Newcomers will no longer be able to apply. "By losing this legal status, many will lose their housing", as well as access to the labor market, de Hass said.

In recent years and until August, the permits had been granted to about 25 percent of applicants. Following firm instructions from Salvini and the anticipated abolishment of humanitarian permits, 17 percent of applications were approved in September, 13 percent in October and only 5 percent in November.

Expelling people from shelters

One direct consequence of migrants losing their status is that they can be expelled from shelters. Indeed, on November 30, 24 migrants were kicked out of their emergency accommodation facility in Isola Capo Rizzuto at the request prefecture of Crotone. "People with this humanitarian status lose the right to go to shelters,” de Haas said. “They go back to being illegal.”

Salvini doesn’t consider these people 'refugees’ and thinks they must be expelled, Eleonora Camilli, an Italian journalist who writes about immigration, told InfoMigrants.

To stay in Italy legally, migrants need to convert their humanitarian permits to other residence permits (such as work-related residence), a particularly complex procedure. "They can also apply for asylum, but given the political context, few cases are likely to succeed," Camilli said.

'We denounce the hypocrisy of this policy'

Both the Cimade and Camilli are skeptical about the results of the new migration policy. "The people who are not legal are not going to be all returned [to their countries of origin]," Camilli said. "Italy does not always have repatriation agreements with third countries." Italy has bilateral agreements with 24 non-European countries to repatriate migrants, but many of those nations refuse to recognize the migrants as their citizens and decline to re-accept them. As a result, only 6,514 people were returned to their home countries from Italy in 2017 and there is no guarantee that even that many will go back this year.

NGOs fear an increase in the number of undocumented people on Italian soil. Many migrants who have already been there for months or even years will likely remain in Italy without papers. "We denounce the hypocrisy of this policy, which makes migrants invisible, which pushes them to go back into hiding, which puts them in a seriously precarious position," de Haas said.

French associations, like Tous Migrants (All Migrants), fear a spike in departures for the countries neighboring Italy. "We are expecting arrivals soon via the Alps," said Michel Rousseau, spokesman for the group, which is based in Briançon near the Italian border.

The Cimade’s Rafael Flichman concurs: "People with a humanitarian permit that expires in a few days or months may decide to leave and take the road to France."

In total, between current permits that won’t be renewed and those that will no longer be granted, "100,000 additional illegal [migrants] is a low estimate," said Valeria Carlini, spokeswoman for the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR).


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