Status Quo of Italian Immigration Laws

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This article has been written by Dakshita Sharma Katare, Sushant University, Gurugram and curated by Shruti Chaudhary, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

During early October 2020, the Italian government decided to adopt a new immigration decree. It aimed at modifying the previous two security decrees which were brought in by the previous government and issued in the years 2018 and 2019. In the present times, the Constitutional Affairs Committee is trying to bring amendments which have the potential to improvise the rights of migrants and asylum seekers as well as protect them.

These amendments aim at sanctioning on-rescue vessels, rejecting the concept of “safe country of origin” and providing an avenue for the protection of those people who have been at a loss of protected status since the past two years.

Background

Decreto Salvini – Legge 113/2018 or the Salvini Decree Law was brought in 2018 to change the law on Italian Citizenship. It majorly changed the then existing rules on applications for Italian Citizenship by increasing the application fee along with processing and decision-making time and was brought keeping in mind the then proposed Brexit (Britain’s exit from European Union). It made amends in the prevailing law by bringing a provision for revoking the citizenship of a foreigner or stateless person who was convicted by the court for any criminal offence.

In 2019, the Italian Government brought yet another Salvini Decree Law namely Asylum and Immigration Law. This law was made to help the government in deporting anyone who would be considered socially dangerous and who did not have a genuine reason to get an asylum application approved. The Salvini Bill was passed in the Parliament in November 2018 and was strongly opposed due to its complexity and subjectivity. It was estimated that this decree could lead to the deportation of around 48000 refugees from Italy which stirred up the human rights organizations globally.

The New Decree

Due to heavy opposition to the previous decree laws, a new decree was brought in October 2020 with significant amendments. Let us try and understand each and every provision under the new decree law and see whether really it will prove beneficial or not.

To Abolish the Fines on Nongovernmental Rescue Ships

The June 2019 decree which got converted into law in October 2019 provided the interior minister the power to deny the permission of entering or staying in Italian waters to any ship under suspicion of violating Italian immigration laws. This also included rescue ships which carry people to a safe port of disembarkation, in compliance with international law. In addition to this, a provision to impose a fine of €150,000 (US$177,500) to €1 million ($1,183,275) on shipmasters of the violating vessels along with their immediate seizure on the grounds of entering Italian waters without authorization was added.

The 2020 decree retains the Interior Minister’s authority but reduces the fines to a maximum of €50,000 ($59,000). It also provides exemption to the ships that have performed rescue operations on the conditions laid out by the authority. This includes those shipmasters who comply with “the indications of the competent authority for search and rescue at sea.” But such a condition is very subjective in nature and leaves no scope for those rescue ships which aim at saving the human rights of people, like of people of Libya who are at risk of grave human rights abuse.

To Repeal the List of Safe Countries of Origin

The concept of “safe country of origin” comes from the 2018 decree wherein the countries of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, Ghana, Senegal and Cape Verde were awarded fast track procedure on Asylum applications. According to Italian government, these countries were not in need of international protection. This led to discrimination on the grounds of country of origin. Hence, it was decided to repeal this provision in the 2020 decree.

To Restore the Access to Complementary Protection

‘Complementary protection’ refers to the grounds for protection that go beyond the definition in the 1951 Refugee Convention. The Italian Law with its 2020 decree aims at reinstating the “special protection.” This means that now residency permits will be again available in Italy on humanitarian grounds. Earlier, the provision of complementary protection provided those people to stay in Italy who had experienced hardships in their native countries or who faced troubles during their migration journeys or the ones who feared returning to their native grounds due to expected risk of life.

Though this measure has been reintroduced, it is not retroactive in nature. This is because it will be available to only those individuals whose asylum applications have been pending for some time now.

Experts want the government to create a system which allows those people with special protection whose humanitarian permit expired from October 2018 to October 2020, when the amended decrees were being applied in the country. This is because these people were neither able to renew their permits nor convert them. Also, experts wish for the inclusion of those people in this list whose asylum application was rejected in first place, but may seek permits via special protection.

Conclusion

The Italian legal system is flexible in nature. Here the parliament has the right to amend the provisions laid out by the government decree within 60 days of its adoption into law. Many observers expect the government to impose an accelerated procedure (“fiducia”) that precludes further debate before a vote is passed in the parliament.

Though the Italian Constitutional Affairs Committee has been putting in a lot of efforts to bring amends to the previous laws, yet they won’t be effective till the time any strict and rigid change is not introduced with proper research. The system will be both effective and efficient only if major changes are brought. The current provisions maintain the status quo of the previous decree laws as they are brought in with slight changes.

Till the time no major changes are introduced, the situation of the immigrants would not be able to improve in Italy and their human rights will not be safe. Hence, a well laid-out plan is required for their best interest which is objective in nature and well-defined.

“To bring a change, we need a change.”

 

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