In a photo taken from a video provided by the NGO, rescue operations on the Sea Watch 4, with 353 people aboard headed for Palermo. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/ANSA-SEA WATCH 4
In a photo taken from a video provided by the NGO, rescue operations on the Sea Watch 4, with 353 people aboard headed for Palermo. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/ANSA-SEA WATCH 4

The organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked the Italian parliament to approve some key amendments to draft immigration legislation, including abolishing sanctions on rescue ships, and the elimination of the concept of "safe country of origin".

The organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Italian parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee "should endorse certain key amendments to draft immigration legislation" that "would abolish sanctions on rescue ships, reject the concept of "safe country of origin" and provide a pathway to protection for people who have lost their protected status in the past two years.

"This is the chance for Italy to turn the page on a miserable period in its history," said Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"In this next chapter, Italy should not only restore rights and protections shredded by the previous government, but it should set an example of principled and fair migration policy."

Also read: Italy: New decree on migration ready, Salvini regulations out

'Correct problematic aspects of migratory policy'

In early October 2020, the Italian government adopted a new immigration decree that significantly modified two so-called security decrees, issued in 2018 and 2019, by the previous government.

The parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee is currently examining amendments that would take effect when the decree becomes a law, which could significantly improve protections and rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

HRW recalled that the committee already voted to expand the grounds for granting special -- or complementary -- protection to asylum seekers and to increase safeguards against returns to countries where their safety or rights would be at risk.

As its work continues, the committee should correct some deeply problematic aspects of the previous government's migration and asylum policies that remained in the latest decree, HRW said.

The NGO's requests

According to the humanitarian organization, the commission should vote in favor of amendments to abolish fines on nongovernmental rescue ships.

"The threat of fines under this provision is part of a broader policy to obstruct nongovernmental rescue organizations and risks discouraging other shipmasters from fulfilling their moral and legal obligation to respond to ships in distress at sea," Human Rights Watch said.

Another amendment that HRW is calling for approval on is that of repealing the list of safe countries of origin, adopted by the government in October 2019 with 13 countries on the list.

"While allowed under international refugee law and European Union law, the use of safe country concepts in accelerated procedures raises concerns over hasty and poor-quality decision-making, especially in complex cases, and the potential for expulsions of people who face a risk of human rights violations," HRW said.

Finally, the organization is calling for restoring access to complementary protection. Among the most important measures in the October 2020 decree is to reinstate in Italian law the residency permit on humanitarian grounds (now called "special protection").

"The measure is not retroactive, however, and will only be available to individuals with pending asylum applications," HRW said.

"The Constitutional Affairs Committee should amend the decree to create a system allowing people to apply for special protection if in the period from October 2018 to October 2020 their humanitarian permit expired and they were unable to renew or convert it, and those whose asylum application was rejected at first instance but who may have a claim to receive special protection."


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