The current Italian government’s inhumane approach to refugees and migrants has reached a new low.
On September 23, news emerged that Italy had pressured Panama to revoke the use of its flag on the Aquarius, the only nongovernmental rescue ship operating off the Libyan coast. The following day, Italy’s Council of Ministers approved a decree to sharply curtail access to asylum, downgrade the care asylum seekers receive, and increase immigration detention.
Forcing the Aquarius to dock means the death toll in the deadliest migration route in the world could climb even higher. At least 1,260 people have died or are missing this year in the central Mediterranean—between Libya/Tunisia and Italy/Malta—according to the International Organization for Migration. Responsible EU heads of government should offer the Aquarius their flag so it can resume its life-saving work.
For survivors who manage despite terrible odds to reach Italian territory, the “Salvini decree,” named after Italy’s strongman deputy prime minister/ interior minister, will make their lives immeasurably tougher.
The decree, which will enter into effect when and if the president signs it, restricts the criteria for obtaining a humanitarian visa to remain in Italy. The visas have helped people who have experienced extreme hardship and abuse, including in Libya, but who do not meet the narrow refugee definition under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The decree also limits access to adequate shelter for vulnerable asylum seekers, on top of the 20,000 spaces cut since this government came to power in June, and doubles the amount of time people can be detained pending deportation, from 90 days to 180.
The decree broadens the list of offenses for which refugee status can be revoked and allows authorities to dismiss an asylum claim if the person is simply charged with any of those offenses, even if they haven’t been convicted. These measures likely fall foul of the 1951 Refugee Convention and EU asylum law.
The UN refugee agency and the European Commission should clarify to the Italian authorities the ways in which the decree runs counter to its obligations under international and regional law. The Italian parliament, which has 60 days to examine and enact the decree as law, should remove these problematic provisions and ensure that the law complies with Italy’s rights obligations.
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