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Disastrous Clamp Down on Migrants Rights in Italy

‘Emergency’ law reflects an ineffective, inhumane response

Migranti sbarcano da una nave di soccorso al porto di Catania, 12 aprile 2023. © 2023 Salvatore Cavalli/AP Photo

After impeding the ability of search and rescue organizations to save lives in the Mediterranean Sea, Italian authorities have now passed a law restricting the rights of people who manage to reach its shores.

Named after a terrible shipwreck in which more than 80 people died in March, the government’s Cutro decree became law last week. Far from offering a rational, humane response to the rise in people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, the new legislation doubles down on the government’s focus on deterrence and criminalization.

The government pushed through the legislative changes by introducing them through an emergency decree measure and limiting parliamentary oversight when the decree was converted into law. Rights organizations in Italy raised concerns over the far right government’s use of extraordinary processes and the declaration of a state of emergency earlier this month to respond to longstanding, structural issues like migration.

The new law will have a devastating impact on migrants’ rights, including their ability to seek protection, access fair asylum procedures, and enjoy freedom of movement. The Italian parliament’s own legislative committee flagged that a provision in the law that limits the right of appeal highlighting it may be unconstitutional.

The law will likely make it harder for people to get “special protection” (protezione speciale), a temporary but renewable right to remain in Italy on humanitarian and family grounds. Under the new law, migrants will no longer be able to convert the special protection into a work permit: a change likely to increase the number of undocumented workers in Italy.

The law extends the amount of time people can be detained pending deportation from a maximum of 120 days to a maximum of 135 days and introduces a new process to detain asylum seekers at the border for up to four weeks while their claim is processed under a new accelerated border procedure. Also, the law removes access to vital services in first reception centers, such as psychosocial assistance, legal information, and language courses.

The law comes against a backdrop of rising discriminatory discourse, criminalization of aid to migrants, and continuing cooperation with Libya, where migrants face abuses the UN describes as crimes against humanity.

Deaths at sea and repressive measures are the real emergency. Italy should reverse course and ensure a humane and rights-respecting response to sea crossings.

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