Italy Tightens Eligibility for Migrants09/25 06:29
ROME (AP) -- Italy on Monday tightened criteria for migrants receiving
humanitarian protection as its populist government deepened its crackdown on
those seeking asylum.
A new law, in the form of a government decree approved by Premier Giuseppe
Conte and his Cabinet, also permits authorities to suspend evaluation of asylum
requests for migrants judged "socially dangerous" or are convicted of a crime,
before court appeals are exhausted.
"We're not harming any fundamental right," asserted Interior Minister Matteo
Salvini, who is driving the crackdown. "If you come into my home and deal
drugs, I'll escort you back to where you came from," he told a news conference
to unveil the decree.
His right-wing League party, whose popularity has been soaring in recent
opinion polls, associates migrants with crime.
Humanitarian protection will now only be granted for victims of labor
exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence, natural calamities or those
needing medical care as well as to those who performed "deeds of particular
civic value," Salvini said, with the latter criterion an apparent reference to
The premier, who sympathizes with the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement, the
government's main partner, indicated that Italian authorities had been too
elastic in granting humanitarian protection.
"We will continue to assure there is the system of protection, we're just
avoiding abuses," said Conte, adding that Italy had been showing
"indiscriminate welcome" to asylum hopefuls.
Salvini said roughly a third of those who apply for asylum either receive it
or some other special status, notably humanitarian protection. The remaining
are eventually issued expulsion orders, but many of them slip away, often to
find relatives in Northern Europe.
A large percentage of the rescued migrants are fleeing poverty and aren't
eligible for asylum.
Through last year, about 600,000 migrants, most of them seeking asylum,
landed in Italian ports after they were rescued at sea from boats launched from
Libya by human traffickers.
But since Salvini has started denying port entry to private rescue boats,
the numbers of arrivals in the last few months have plummeted. The
heaviest-plied sea route now for migrant smuggling has shifted to the western
reaches of the Mediterranean Sea, with Spain bearing the brunt of arrivals.
On Sunday, the last such boat run by humanitarian organizations and
operating in the waters off Libya lamented that it was losing its registration
from Panamanian maritime authorities.
The maritime authorities have said Italy complained that the captain of
Aquarius 2, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders,
disregarded instructions to return rescued migrants to Libya authorities.
U.N. officials say violence-wracked, largely lawless Libya doesn't qualify
as a safe port for rescued migrants.
The two humanitarian groups asked France on Monday to allow the 58 migrants
aboard Aquarius 2 to disembark in the southern port of Marseille.
In Paris, Francis Vallat, head of SOS Mediterranee France, asked European
countries to "find a solution, whatever it is. We can't stop. We don't want to
stop. We will only yield to force and constraint."
He told reporters: "We never did anything which was not authorized by
The new Italian government decree, which eventually must be converted into
law by Parliament or modified, also provides for stripping Italian citizenship
from those convicted of international terrorism, assuming they hold a second
citizenship from birth of family origin.
Salvini boasted that the decree slashed the daily pocket money
asylum-seekers receive. He didn't say how much they would receive.
Doctors Without Borders contended that the decree seemed aimed at further
dismantling an "already fragile and precarious" system for asylum-seekers.
The group's Italian mission chief, Anne Garella, expressed concern about the
criteria for granting humanitarian protection for medical care. Garella said in
a statement that many migrants suffer from "health problems with not easily
recognizable symptoms." In particular, she cited torture victims.
U.N. refugee agency officials say many of the migrants have been tortured,
beaten or raped in Libyan detention centers before or after attempting
crossings to Europe.
Another advocacy group, the Italian Refugee Council, or CIR, expressed worry
over the decree, including a provision that will put asylum-seekers except
minors in new, large government centers, and no longer in smaller
accommodations in cities and towns, where migrants could attend language class
and other local activities to foster integration.