Summary of the national legislation on refugees
Is the country following all the European/ International legislation on this matter?
Article 10 Italian Constitution clearly recognizes the right to asylum for those who are impeded from the fundamental freedom in the country of origin. (Article 10.3 Italian Constitution “Lo straniero, al quale sia impedito nel suo paese l’effettivo esercizio delle libertà democratiche garantite dalla Costituzione italiana, ha diritto d’asilo nel territorio della Repubblica, secondo le condizioni stabilite dalla legge”). The right to asylum is a perfect subjective right when the foreign in the country of origin has impeded the fundamental freedoms (Tribunale di Roma Ocalan case, 1999) and it is different from the status of refugee because it doesn’t require the well-founded fear of persecution (Corte di Cassazione n. 5055, 2002). However the legislators have never designed a law exclusively dedicated to the right of asylum and finally the right of asylum can only be interpreted as the possibility for acceding to the national territory in order to be eventually admitted to the international claim procedure (Corte di Cassazione n. 25028, 2005).
Right now Italy has not a comprehensive legislation exclusively designed for asylum seekers and International protection. Therefore all the aspects are regulated within immigration law.
The first dispositions regulating right to asylum and status of refugees were included in Legge Martelli on 1989, while nowadays those issues are regulated by “Legge Bossi-Fini” on 2002 and Pacchetto Sicurezza on 2008.
“Legge Martelli” (Legge 28 febbraio 1990, n. 39. Norme urgenti in materia di asilo politico, di ingresso e soggiorno di cittadini extracomunitari e di regolarizzazione dei cittadini extracomunitari ed apolidi già presenti nel territorio dello Stato). Actually the “Legge Martelli” was a law for “urgent dispositions on matter of political asylum, of entry and residence of extra-communitarian citizens and of regulation of non-communitarian citizens and stateless already established on the national territory.” At the end the “Legge Martelli” was a broader legislation, which regulated different issues, instead of being specific on the question of asylum.
The main innovation of that disposition was the elimination of the geographical limitation for claiming the refugee status. As consequence all those refugees already present in Italy under the mandate of the UNHCR had the possibility to ask the recognition of the status of refugee without losing the assistance from the Agency.
However, under the doctrine of safe third countries, the entry to Italian territory was denied to those refugees who have been already recognized as such by a third-State or if they travelled through a third-State that has ratified the Geneva Convention.
At the same time remained the visa requirement for crossing the borders and were introduced sanctions to companies that would accept passengers without documents that must be rejected at the borders by the Police personnel.
Considering the expulsion of migrants the Law set that in general the individual is rejected toward the country of origin, except in case that in such country he/she is likely to face risks to his/her safety and freedom for reasons of race, religion, sex, language, political opinions and membership to a social group, in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement.
However because of the context of emergency in which it was approved the law of concern suffered from important lacks. First of all it did not refer to “de facto” refugees, which situations have been regulated by temporary and emergency dispositions adopted in the following years. Secondly no mention to the refugee sur-place; that is person who becomes potential refugee times after being entered in Italy, because of later changes in the country of origin. This situation emerged because the procedure for asking asylum could be initiated only during the controls at the frontiers, while people already present in Italy have no authorities to present the claim. Moreover the law was conceived as an emergency response to a temporary situation and thus it did not designed dispositions for long-term integration and inclusion of refugees. The only measure in such issue was the possibility for asylum seekers without economic resources to ask a subsidy to the authorities that however lasts until the end of the procedure.
“Decreto legge 451/95 Legge Puglia”. It creates centers for first assistance for indigent persons or those who have received an expulsion decision. It was the root for the further establishment of several types of center for migrants and asylum seekers. Despite the creation of first assistance centers allowed people without economic support to obtain some kind of help, however in practice they have been designed as detainment places where migrants were kept under surveillance of military personnel for an indefinite period of “reception”.
“Legge Turco-Napolitano”. (Legge 6 marzo 1998, n. 40, “Disciplina dell’immigrazione e norme sulla condizione dello straniero”.). This law concerned immigration in general, rather than with asylum seekers and refugee. Indeed it did not design new dispositions for asylum seekers and people claiming some kind of protection, even if article 18 introduced the possibility to concede, through a decision of the President of Republic, a temporary permit in case of humanitarian emergency, such as conflicts, natural disasters or other events with particular seriousness. However no clarifications over the wider assistance provided to those people, or the rights correlated with that permit were adopted. On the other hand some dispositions in “Legge Turco-Napolitano” had indirect consequences also on asylum-seekers and refugees. For instance it prescribes expulsion for those people that have tried to enter in the national territory bypassing the control and without the required documents. In particular during the period required by the authorities to verify the country of origin, the migrant might be received in a Center of Temporary Permanence and Assistance (Centro di Permanenza Temporanea e Assistenza –CPTA). Therefore those centers, which in origin were finalized to the accommodation mainly of displaced people without economic resources, became also place of detention. This spread several misperceptions over the categories of migrants and the progressive overlapping between asylum seekers, economic migrants and criminals.
At the same time article 17 stressed the validity of the principle of non-refoulement forbidding in any case the expulsion or rejection of migrants toward a country where the individual is likely to be subjected to torture or inhuman treatments.
Legge Bossi-Fini, 2002 (Testo unico delle disposizioni concernenti la disciplina della immigrazione e norme sulla condizione dello straniero., 30 luglio 2002, n. 189) The main innovation of the Law in matter of custody of migrants was the possibility to detain asylum seekers in the so-called “Centers of Identification” (Centri di Identificazione-CDI). In particular the detainment became mandatory when the individual have presented the claim for international protection after being stopped in an irregular position or because having bypassed the controls at the borders. In addition the custody was considered optional, under the decision of the authorities, for verifying the identity or nationality of the individual or the elements on which the claim is grounded. At the same time the “Legge Bossi-Fini” did not clarify the dispositions over the characteristics of those Centers and only in 2004 was prescribed a regime of “Open Doors”; that is the possibility for the asylum seekers to go outside during the day and to receive visits from parents or personnel of the UNHCR always after the authorization by Police personnel.
Moreover “Legge Bossi-Fini” introduced a simplified procedure for those cases that emerged as clearly unfounded; that is those applications presented by people who have bypassed or tried to bypass the controls at the borders or who have received an expulsion decision. That procedure was finalized in screening the claims presented and to decide in a reduced period of time about those applications that appeared instrumental for the obtainment of a permit of stay. The simplified procedure has been carried out especially when the claim lacked of relevant materials to prove the persecution or the unfeasibility to come back to the country of origin. During all the period of such procedure (estimated in 3 weeks) the individual should be hold in a Center of Temporary Permanence (Centi di Permanenza Temporanea –CPT).
Only two positive dispositions concerning the asylum and refugee regime were embodied in such law: the creation of the “Commissioni Territoriali” and the establishment of “Sistema Protezione Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati” (SPRAR).
Before 2002 all the claims for refugee status have been evaluated by the unique Central Commission for Asylum in Rome. With an increased number of requests the time for the evaluation was protracted over time. Moreover, not all persons were able to move to Rome for presenting the inquiry to such Commission. Therefore several territorial Commissions have been established throughout the territory and they are composed by a representative of UNHCR, a police personnel and representatives of government. The Central Commission was transformed in the National Commission with roles of coordination and training of the components of the Commissioni Territoriali and of analysis of some peculiar and vulnerable situations.
Executive disposition n.125 “Security Package” (pacchetto sicurezza, Legge, 15/07/2009 n° 94, G.U. 24/07/2009.) in 2008. First of all the disposition introduced the crime to be irregular; that is persons who have entered or stay in Italy without the regular documents can be punished even with detainment. Finally in 2011 the European Court of Justice rejected the crime of irregularity because in contrast with the European Directive n.2008/115/CE on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. In particular the Italian disposition, foreseeing the detainment, would restrict the possibility of a voluntary return, as established by the directive. What can surprise is that the decision is not based on the idea that no person is illegal per se, rather on the need to make return options feasible.
There has been an attempt to eliminate the disposition concerning the crime of illegal migration, mainly beyond the pressure of public opinion touched by the tragedy of Lampedusa in October 2013, which has showed the inconsistency and the effects of the penalties for “clandestinità”. Although, in 2014, the Parliament passed a law that provide the Government with a mandate to set the decriminalization, the Council of Ministers are yet to pass the bill. In particular, the Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, opposed the decree, arguing it wouldn’t be accepted by the public opinion, due, also, to international terrorism threats. Italian judges agree that criminalizing illegal migration is worthless. Iindeed, illegal migration hasn’t decreased during the last decades, on the contrary, the flow has progressively grown, while the judiciary is more and more stuck because of the huge amount of criminal proceedings against migrants.
Then the Centers for Temporary Permanence have been replaced with Centers for identification and Expulsion (Centri di Identificazione ed Espulsione-CIE). Such denomination stresses the final purpose of those structures; they do not provide some kind of assistance, rather they are for the detainment of criminals that must be expulsed. Therefore they are similar to prison and detention structures, without however ensuring the minimal rights that the prisoners are entitled to. In addition the maximum term of detention has been extended to 18 months in accordance with the European Directive 2008/115/CE.
Law n.25/2008 (Decreto Del Presidente Della Repubblica 12 gennaio 2015, n. 21 Regolamento relativo alle procedure per il riconoscimento e la revoca della protezione internazionale (GU n.53 del 5-3-2015). The Regulation aims at improving the regime of detainment and reception in the different Centers and to set clear guidelines for the authorities in dealing with the claim for international protection in order to reduce their discretion and to establish a common pathway in order to ensure the same treatment for the persons of concern.
The influence of European Directives at the national level
The law n.87/2003 to received the Directive n.2001/55 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in case of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof. According to that document governments are entitled to concede temporary protection to people, who lack the requisites for the status of refugee, but that cannot come back to the country of departure because of the risk to safety and psychical integrity. In particular the Directive introduces the definition of displaced persons as “third-country nationals or stateless persons who have had to leave their country or region of origin, or have been evacuated, (…) and are unable to return in safe and durable conditions because of the situation prevailing in that country”. The main situations at the ground of displacement are armed conflicts or endemic violence and systematic or generalized violations of human rights. At the same time because of the final purpose is facilitating the return on the country of origin the validity of the protection is one year.
Decreto Legislativo n.140, 30 May 2005 received directive n. 2003/9 laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers Italy has been pushed to take actions in improving the assistance and integration system for asylum seekers and refugees. Indeed the Directive sets the duty to provide shelter, even deploying some emergency structures, to asylum seekers without resources until the end of the procedure.
Decreto Legislativo n. 251/2007 received the Directive 2004/83 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted represented a good response to the existing challenges. This directive enlarged the term of international protection over the status of refugee in order to include the subsidiary protection too. In particular States have adopted a new kind of protection in favor to all those people forced to flee but unable to be recognized as refugees under the Convention of 1951. In facts a person eligible for subsidiary protection is “a third country national or a stateless person who does not qualify as a refugee but in respect of whom substantial grounds have been shown for believing that the person concerned, if returned to his or her country of origin, or in the case of a stateless person, to his or her country of former habitual residence, would face a real risk of suffering serious harm, and is unable, or, owing to such risk, unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country”. In detail serious harm refers to death penalty or execution; torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; serious and individual threat to a civilian’s life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.
Actually despite the subsidiary protection tends to grant a range of rights such as access to health, instruction, job or housing, however it is not consider at the same level of the status of refugee.
Decreto Legislativo n. 25/2008 for the reception of the Directive n.85/2005 on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status, which in particular remind the policies of safe-country of origin and third-safe country .
Considering that disposition the Centers of Identification, created by the “Legge Bossi-Fini”, have to be converted in the Centers for Assistance for Asylum Seekers (Centri di Accoglienza per Richiedenti Asilo-CARA), which are no longer perceived as detainment structures, rather as humanitarian ones. The structures received asylum seekers, which identity or nationality need to be verified or those have showed fake documents, or that have presented the claim after being stopped for having bypassed the controls at the borders or in possession of an expulsion decision. Therefore CARAs first of all are places for the reception and assistance of some groups of asylum seekers who are entitled to the same treatment of those accommodated within the others structures for the assistance of forced migrants. That is people in CARAs have the rights of legal, medical and socio-cultural support.
Moreover the adoption of the Directive led Italy to eliminate the simplified procedure and the Center for Identification and Expulsion. Nevertheless the government bill (Decreto Legislativo) n. 159/2008 which has suspended the Directiven.85/2005, re-introduced the possibility for “Commissioni Territoriali” to reject the claim in case it appears as instrumental to extend the permanence on the national territory, and it opened again the Centers of Identification and Expulsions.
Finally the Directive mentioned, following the trends already expressed in the earlier dispositions, established the common meaning of “asylum claim” as the request finalized to obtain the status of refugee. In that way the regime of asylum and refugee are completely overlapped, since the right of asylum is perceived as the possibility to start the procedure for the status of refugee and asylum seekers are those people waiting for the decision about international protection. In this way the dispositions implicitly undermine the right of asylum.
Refugee life in Italy
How much state allowance does a refugee receive a month?
Asylum seekers hosted in reception centres (SPRAR and CARA) receive a stipend issued for personal needs. Within the SPRAR centres it can varies from €1.50 to €2.50 according to the project, while asylum seekers hosted in CARAs receive €2.50 per day for the duration of the period they are hosted there.
In case it is not possible to host the asylum seeker in a reception centre, the Prefecture should grant a financial allowance provided in two instalments. The first one should cover the first 20 days (€557.80), while the second one the following 15 days (€418.35). However, this provision has never been applied in practice.
What are the living conditions of refugees (for example housing)?
The Ministry of Interior has provided CIR with data regarding the reception system for asylum seekers. Italy has different structures where asylum seekers can be hosted.
4 Centres for first aid and reception (CPSA), where a maximum of 742 third-country nationals can be hosted.
10 CARA (Accommodation centres for Asylum Seekers) and CDA (short term accommodation centres), where 7,866 asylum seekers can be hosted.
The SPRAR System, which, according to a 2013 decree for the Head of the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration should increase the accommodation capacity of the system up to 16,000 places for the period 2014-2016.
Temporary reception systems established to host persons transferred on the territory on the basis of the Dublin Regulation.
In spite of the existence of different systems to accommodate asylum seekers, the places available are still not sufficient to host everybody. CARA and CPSA are consequently often overcrowded. The quality of the accommodation can be different among reception systems. In general, SPRAR centres meet better standards than the other reception centers. However, conditions are different among the same type of centres. Not all of the facilities meet adequate standards, especially regarding the provision of legal and psycho-social assistance, as well as identification, referral and care provided to vulnerable individuals.
In SPRAR centres and CARAs the accommodation provided should respect the principle of family unity. Children should not be separated from their families. However, if the facility conditions are considered not suitable for children, mothers and kids can be hosted in a centre, while men in another. Unaccompanied children cannot be hosted in CARAs and they are usually accommodated in SPRAR centres. If there are no places available, they are hosted in specialised centres for children.
In addition, there is the tendency to avoid accommodating in one place people coming from the same country but with different ethnicity, religion or political group in order to avoid violence and tension.
When asylum seekers arrive in CARAs, they receive a package containing sheets, a pillow case, and clothes. They are not allowed to cook, and meals are provided by external catering. Each person is provided with a pre-paid card of €2.50 per day to purchase items in the shop inside the centre, while in some centres it can also be used as a meal voucher. Although each facility is different, in some SPRAR centres asylum seekers can cook autonomously. They can use either their stipend or the products provided to them.
Are refugees offered language lessons?
There are several projects on the territory which provide Italian language lessons to refugees and asylum seekers. They are usually implemented by associations and coordinated at the local level.
Are people with an official refugee status allowed to work? If yes, is there assistance for finding employment?
Refugees and beneficiaries of international and subsidiary protection are entitled to the same rights of accessing the labour market as Italian citizens. However, only refugees can access public employment under the same conditions of EU citizens.
Beneficiaries of humanitarian protection are allowed to conduct work activities as standard employees or as self-employed.
The situation of asylum seekers is different. They have right to work if authorities have not taken a decision within 6 months from the presentation of the asylum request (unless the delay was caused by the conduct of the asylum seeker). In this case they are granted a temporary residence permit for the duration of 6 months, to be renewed until the end of the procedure. This permit allows the asylum seeker to work.
In order to provide asylum seekers and refugees with assistance in finding employment, the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR) collaborates with the COL office (Centre for Work Orientation – Centro di Orientamento al Lavoro), a bureau under the municipality of Rome. Once the asylum seeker or the refugee is allowed to work by law and has knowledge of the Italian language, the Social Service Office of CIR refers the person to the COL. The COL uses interviews, evaluation of CV, motivations and competences to develop an individual path suitable for each person. After collecting the necessary information, the COL is able to offer the refugee the best training and job opportunities available for him.
Do legal refugees have the right to work immediately or only after a certain period of time?
Refugees have the right to work immediately. Asylum seekers have the right to work after 6 months from the moment their asylum application is filed, in case the procedure is still ongoing.
Is there a maximum amount of time that a refugee can stay in the country in which it seeks asylum? Also receiving a legal refugee status?
Asylum procedures last several months and the asylum seeker has the right to stay in the reception centres during this time. In case the decision is not taken in 6 months, the asylum seeker is issued with a new residence permit of 6 months which also allows him to work. Also those who lodge an appeal against a negative outcome of their asylum request have the right to stay in the country.
Persons with a legal refugee status receive a residence permit which lasts for 5 years and it is renewable.
Do refugees or their children have the right to attend schools, universities, etc?
Legislative Decree 140/2005 states that foreign children present in the Italian territory have access to education services and are subject to compulsory education. Asylum seeking children until 16 years old, whether with their family or unaccompanied, have the right and obligation to access the national education system within three months from the filing of their asylum application. The Italian legal system states that every foreign child is entitled to equal rights to education, also those in an irregular situation. Preparatory classes designed to integrate foreign children in the education system are not foreseen by law, but some institutions may organise additional courses.
In spite of the legal provisions, the report presented by the CIR lists some issues of concern for school enrolment. Schools might be reluctant to enrol a high number of foreign students, foreign families or their children might be hesitant to attend classes, or it might be difficult for children to reach the schools if they are located far from the accommodation centres.
Is the state obliged to provide asylum seekers with healthcare?
Refugees, asylum seekers as well as beneficiaries of international, humanitarian and subsidiary protection are entitled to health assistance and enjoy equal treatment and equality of rights and obligations with Italian citizens. The registration to the National Health Service is mandatory, and it can be done at the offices of the local health board (ASL). The right to health assistance remains also during the process of the renewal of the permit to stay. Each family member regularly resident in Italy under the applicant’s care is entitled to assistance. Health care is also immediately recognised for new born babies of parents registered at the NHS.
Health assistance granted in Italy is also valid in other EU countries.
Do refugees experience obstacles with regard to issues like social life, personal well being, freedom, etc ? Please illustrate briefly.
Freedom of movement
Italian legislation does not establish limits to the freedom of movement of asylum seekers, although according to Art. 7(1) of the Legislative Decree 159/2008 the competent Prefect may limit the asylum seeker’s freedom of movement to a residence or specific area. This provision has never been applied so far. On the other hand, people in reception centres who want to leave the place temporarily (for some days) need to ask for the permission to leave. This can be considered a limit to the freedom of movement of the asylum seeker.
Refugees lawfully staying in the territory are issued travel documents to travel outside the territory, as declared by article 28 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The travel document, called ‘libretto’, is issued by the central police station competent for the release of the refugee’s residence permit upon payment of a government/licence tax of €40,29 and it is a document equivalent to the passport. Therefore, it allows the refugee to travel freely within the Schengen countries and in all the other contracting States of the Refugee convention.
 Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions, AIDA (Asylum Information Database) – http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/italy/reception-conditions/access-forms-reception-conditions/forms-and-levels
 CIR – Italian Council for Refugees, Access to the Labour Market – Italy, http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/italy/reception-conditions/employment-education/access-labour-market
 CIR – Italian Council for Refugees, Access to Education – Italy, http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/italy/reception-conditions/employment-education/access-education
 CIR – Italian Council for Refugees, Health Care – Italy, http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/italy/reception-conditions/health-care
The legal process
Migrants willing to apply for international protection can present their request to the Border Police, at the time of arrival in Italy, if they are rescued or detected, or to any Police Department later on. There are no deadlines for the presentation of the request, which simply consists of filling quota form called C/3. If the applicants are parents and their child is a minor and their company, their application will also include this child.
The Police Department determines a place in which the applicant remains, until the examination procedure for international protection is concluded. Migrants are usually hosted in CARAs (asylum seekers reception centers). Some people are allowed to stay witha friend or a relative, who have a regular permit to stay or is an Italian citizen, but only if they are not held in a CIE (center for identification and expulsion) already.
Asylum seekers are allowed to stay in Italy until the procedure for the international protection is concluded, during this period they cannot leave the country. The decision is taken by the Territorial Commission for Recognition of International Protection, composed of 4 members: 2 members from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 1 local representative and 1 representative from UNHCR.
The applicant appears personally before the Commission for the hearing, and has the right ask for an interpreter. Minors are heard only in the presence of either a parent or a guardian. Moreover, the Commission can decide not to proceed with the hearing if it has already made a positive decision based on the documents the applicant has handed in and/or the statements he has made to the police.
At the hearing before the Commission, the applicant, through an interview, can tell the reasons why he/she left the country of origin and has the opportunity to show any supporting documents. However usually migrants do not have such supporting documents. The lack of evidence is very critical for the decision, it can damage the credibility of the applicant and it is this credibility that often is the basis of the Commission s decision.
The decision takes a few months (usually 3 months, counting also the time necessary for the communication of the decision). The Commission, through written decision in a language the applicant can understand (usually English, French and Arabic), can:
a) recognize the refugee status, or a subsidiary protection (both last 5 years and are renewable);
b) refuse to recognize the refugee status, but requests the Police Department to give a permit of stay for humanitarian reasons (usually granted for 2 years, renewable);
c) refuse to recognize any international or humanitarian protection, and reject the request.
It is possible to make an appeal against the decision of the Territorial Commission, before the Territorial Court, within 30 days of the date of communication of the decision (the deadline is 15 days, if the applicant is hosted in a CIE or a CARA), with the assistance of an attorney. If the applicant is unable to pay an attorney, he/she may make a petition for free legal assistance, sponsored at the cost of the Government.
Filing the appeal will not suspend the effect of the protested decision, unless the Court concedes it, due to serious and founded motives. No suspension can be given in the following cases:
– the Commission declared the request for international protection inadmissible;
– the Commission recognized the subsidiary protection;
– the decision of the Commission was made after the applicant`s exit from the government center (CARA);
– if a decision was made to reject the request because of a clear lack of foundation;
– the applicant was stopped for having avoided or attempting to avoid border control for unauthorized stay;
– the applicant is held in a CIE.
Unfortunately, due to the notorious slow pace of the Italian justice, the trial can last, generally, up to 2 years.
Once the Court decides about the appeal and the claimant considers that the verdict is unjust, he/she may file a petition with the Court of Appeals within 30 days from the verdict) and request, when there are serious and founded motives, authorization to remain on Italian territory. This second trial consists in a review of the previous one. It is not normally possible to provide the Court with new documents, unless the appellant proves he/she was not able to obtain them previously, for reasons not due to his/her fault.
In the same way, he/she may appeal to the Supreme Court against the verdict of the Court of Appeals. This is the 3rd and last status of litigation, and it is a judgement on the correct application of the law and procedure.
Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status
- Can they return to their country?
- Can they go to a different EU country?
- Will they be deported?
Migrants who do not obtain either refugee status, nor any subsidiary protection, have their permit of stay automatically revoked. Their status defaults to that of irregular migrants, and the procedure of expulsion begins with an order set out by the Prefecture or the Police Department (Questura), depending on the reason of expulsion.
The order compels illegal migrants to leave Italian territory from 7 up to 30 days. This voluntary exit is disposed whenever migrants have passports or other documents from the country of origin and financial resources to get to the exit border assigned by the expulsion order (usually an international airport).
Forced exits are carried out primarily for national security reasons, or whenever a migrant fails to comply with a previous order to leave the country. After the expulsion order, it is forbidden to come back to Italy for minimum of 3 and maximum of 5 years.
It is possible to file an appeal against the expulsion order before the administrative tribunal, whenever the order is set out by the Prefecture, or before the justice of the peace in charge, for orders disposed by the Questura. In any case, the expulsion remains enforceable.
Irregular migrants are supposed to return to their country of origin. Whenever the possibility of the latter is uncertain, migrants are held in CIE (Centers of identification and expulsion) for up to 18 months.
In many cases, due to the lack of documents, nationality is determined only on the basis of statements from migrants. Yet, sometimes foreign states refuse to receive them as their citizens, complicating the procedure of expulsion.
Given the Common European Asylum System, migrants who saw their request to obtain the refugee status rejected cannot apply for the same procedure in another EU country.
De facto, most people ordered to exit the country on their own, after an order of expulsion, remain in Italy, avoiding Police control and living like undocumented immigrants. Many among them finally get to move to other EU countries, usually by paying smugglers.
Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Italy
During the last two decades, Italian media attention and coverage of the refugee issue has increased. A close inspection of coverage shows that they do not seem to make a clear distinction between refugees and other migrants, such as ‘voluntary migrants’, also referred to as ‘economic’ migrants.
Indeed, the discourse surrounding migration management in this country is strongly linked to the frequent waves of people arriving at its shores. The UNHCR estimated that out of some 103.000 migrants who reached Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of 2015, more than half disembarked in Italy.
Italian broadcast networks and press agencies did not ignore this fact. On the contrary, the ‘waves’ of arriving refugees and migrants have been a leading theme, influencing the general narrative of the phenomenon of migration. Since only a half of all newcomers actually apply for refugee status, news related to migration rarely provides a distinction between those who actually deserve the recognition of an international or humanitarian protection and those who do not.
At the same time, news related to migration often incorporate facts concerning other groups such as the Roma and Italian travelling community. As we will see later, there is a strong ethnic dimension to this issue. As a consequence, mass media usually cover such different issues, as migration and ethnic minorities, with the similar and recurring narrative patterns.
Thus, reading this brief survey on the Italian media’s approach to refugee issues, the reader should take into account the blurred distinction between refugees and other migrants, which marks out the Italian media’s attitude towards the current crisis and consequently public opinion.
Is there national media attention for refugees and refugee issues?
Media interest in refugee issues can be summarized effectively with a few numbers, collected by the Charter of Rome Italian Press Association, in its 2014 report “Notizie alla deriva”, and its latest report “Notizie di confine”, released on 15 December 2015.
The statistical data displayed in the survey shows that 34% of all news stories are related to the issue of migrants. A half of these are directly related to migrant landings. Only 17% of all press releases talking about migrants and immigration show a positive approach, focusing on such aspects as family reunion, legal or qualified newcomers, and stories of successful integration, to name a few. The majority of coverage is focused on bad news (70%), concerning migrant men (60%), leaving very little space for migrant women, children and their stories.
Newspaper front pages reporting on the matter increased from 70% to 180% in 2015, while TV shows, including TV news, covering immigrants and refugees quadruplicated in comparison with the previous year. All these stories can be divided up into three main themes: refugees reception (55%), landings chronicles (24%) and criminality/security (23%).
Generally, the media’s attention to the refugee question is more or less constant, which is to be expected due to the previously discussed frequent landings on Italian shores. However coverage could best be described as rather lacking and/or partial. Notwithstanding the large number of migrants who enter the State by land receives very little coverage from the media. Similarly, migrants who arrive outside of legal channels have drawn much more coverage than those who arrive after getting a temporary visa (usually a tourist visa), and then remain in the country after the expiration date (so-called ‘overstayers’).
The overall information given to the Italian public on the migration issue is not ‘thematic’, that is to say there is little or no focus, nor deep analysis of the whole phenomenon. Except for a handful of national TV networks – Rai2, Rai3 and La7 – which distinguish themselves by offering a more comprehensive or detailed insight, Italian media favor an ‘episodic’ depiction of the problem. There is a strong dramatization of tragic events, but without giving a consistent overview of the topic.
In national press, as well as national cable TV, refugees are often the main theme in the aftermath of tragic events, like the 2013 shipwreck in Lampedusa, which resulted in the death of more than 300 people. This example along with others such as the 2015 shipwreck on 19 April, during which around 800 people lost their lives, (deemed as the worst maritime disaster since WWII), and the death of a Syrian child offshore Turkey, whose image circulated worldwide as one of the most tragic and powerful images of the crisis in the last year. In this case, the prevailing sentiment is grief for the victims, and rage for the lack of efficiency of the Italian and European asylum policy.
Public reaction is critical when it comes to choosing a narrative. As many authors and specialists on the topic have demonstrated, the media use the news as a product to be sold. In this sense, media outlets reflect existing social or political views on the issue rather than attempting to change the way people see refugees. We can accurately state that in Italy, as in other countries, broadcast networks face strong competition with new media, namely internet based news and social media platforms. As a result, information has become a battlefield, in which the goal is to capture the attention of a larger audience than your competitors.
In the 21st Century, we are witnessing a fundamental change in the way the news is framed, presented and delivered, which is more descriptive and prone to an emphasis on sensationalism. Moreover, the very nature of new media (i.e. internet posts) brings to even more terse and intense expressions.
Ethnic-orientated media outlets could surely lend a hand to creating a more encompassing picture of the phenomenon. Unfortunately, this kind of media are primarily active at the local level, and very few exceptions are found at the national level, where little space is left to non-European (‘extracomunitari’) journalists or opinion makers. Thus, they usually cannot reach as large an audience as the latter. They serve as a bridge to the country of origin and its cultural ties. At the same time, ethnic press outlets and radio stations help newcomers to learn know more about the country they arrived in, its laws and its bureaucracy and can aid in the integration process.
In conclusion, in spite of the numerous records of news related to refugees and other immigration issues, Italian mass media do not seem to approach the question in a suitable way. Although the refugee seekers’ crisis has worsened during the last two years, its depiction in the Italian media is still superficial and one-dimensional, due in part to a fundamental lack of multicultural representation.
How are asylum seekers presented by the media?
As stated above, most news items related to migrants focus on criminality, even if the 2014 report records a slight decrease in favor of stories with a more social and/or political slant. As in previous years, migrants, above all asylum seekers, are often described using mass generalizations and are portrayed as passive, often victims of the Italian legal system and the indifference of European migration policy.
This is particularly true about migrant women, who are assigned the identity of victims of crimes or other tragic events and degrading situations (feminicide, sexual exploitation, submission). This general media representation of migrant women has made even more apparent that news outlets are often deeply influenced by stereotypes and/or lack of in-depth analysis. In addition migrant or refugee women, especially those of the Muslim faith, are also depicted as victims of a culture of submission, poverty and exploitation. When dealing with crimes whose victim is a migrant woman, media usually represent it as a culture-related crime, without any further detail about her family and personal life and/or social context. An interesting point to note is that it is exactly the opposite representation when the victim is an Italian citizen.
Although there is a growing attention to the language of journalism, in order to avoid words that may sound offensive or even racist, a trend persists which identifies a migrant by his/her nationality, their names and in a sense their humanity become secondary. Similarly, words as ‘extracomunitario’ (to indicate a person from a poor extra-European country) or ‘clandestino’ (undocumented/illegal migrant) are broadly used in both press and TV shows. However, none of those terms are accurate and full descriptions for all refugees and migrants. Indeed, the term ‘extracomunitario’ does not necessarily relate to a person who migrates, and it could refer, as an example, to an Australian or a Canadian citizen. Nevertheless, in the language of newspapers it has become strongly associated with migrants from Eastern Europe, Africa or less developed countries of Asia. The use of the word ‘clandestino’ to indicate migrants, especially in the context of the Mediterranean refugee and asylum seekers crisis, is even less justified, since all the people who land in the coast after their rescue by the Italian Navy, are de facto detained until they are identified or provided with a document that certifies they have begun the formal application for refugee status. Therefore, there is nothing undocumented or illegal about their status.
It is worth noting that the more migrants are represented as passive and victims, the more media show a less polarized attitude towards asylum seekers. Thus, migrants are the object of compassion and empathy. They are not actors of events, nor the subject of a global phenomenon, such as migration flows. The narrative of migration and refugees is completely de-personalized, even in cases of migrant crime. Criminals of foreign origin are not called by their names, but only by their nationalities, and sometimes not even by that, as we can see in the following headlines: “Terni: giovane ucciso da clandestino ubriaco e drogato, già espulso una volta dall’Italia (Terni: young man killed by a doper drunk illegal immigrant, expelled once already)”; “Cuneo: albanesi rapinatori svaligiavano le case, picchiando selvaggiamente (Cuneo: Albanian muggers burgled beating fiercely)”; “Ennesima strage stradale: romeno ubriaco travolge passante sulle strisce pedonali (Umpteenth road massacre: drunk Romanian crash pedestrian walking on zebra crossings); “Esplode l’emergenza immigrati. Torino: disabile stuprata 30 ore nel bivacco dei migranti clandestini (The immigrants emergency has triggered: disabled woman raped for 30 hours in a camping of illegal migrants)”; “Immigrazione e degrado: video choc dalla Cnn mostra immagini di minori che si prostituiscono alla stazione Termini (Immigration and decay: CNN shocking video shows underage prostitution at Termini station)”.
During 2015, a strong emphasis has been given to the risk immigrants could represent to national security, due to the terroristic attacks occurred in France, from Charlie Hebdo to the 15 November shootings in Paris. The report remarks that 47% of all news coverage related to migrants was in terms of concern and alarmism of the possible threat they pose, while 27% of coverage demonstrates a more neutral attitude.
Some newspapers stand out for consistently assigning a specific link between Muslim migrants and refugees, and the threat of international terrorism. This often results in coverage contributing to a climate of islamophobia through headlines such as “Abbiamo i macellai islamici a casa nostra (We have the islamic butchers at home)”, “Nel Corano i precetti del killer (the killer’s teachings in the Coran)”, “Centro accoglienza terroristi (Terrorists reception center)” or “Jihad, espulso un turco che studiava alla Normale (Jihad, expelled a Turkish student of the Normale)” – most of which were edited by the publication “Il Giornale.” These types of fear-mongering stories reached a peak in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, when “Libero” displayed in its first page the title “Bastardi islamici (Islamic bastards)”. It is worth noting that in Italian the term “islamico” refers to the muslim community in general and does not differentiate between those of the Muslim faith and violent islamic extremists. As such, some journalists have recently coined the term “islamista”, in order to describe Islamic terrorists and avoid dangerous and erroneous correlations.
Preference is seemingly given to news stories with a high emotional content and impact, and these are usually covered using a descriptive and sensationalised style. This leads to a misconception of the basic reality of life of refugees’s reality, and ultimately does not facilitate an objective understanding of migration or the current European refugee crisis. Ultimately, these approaches make it more difficult to build a public consensus on better policies, based on a more encompassing understanding of a broad range of contributing factors.
Is being a country of refuge presented in a negative, neutral or positive way?
Generally speaking, Italians perceive refugees, and more broadly immigration itself, as a danger to their security and a further burden on Italy’s economy. This is in line with a broader and pervasive European narrative on the issue.
The way mass media narrate and frame the issue has led to a dangerous and vicious circle. Sensationalism and strong ‘ethnicization’ of stories on criminality assign an active role to migrants only when they are under suspicion of or convicted of a crime. The more media stress the criminal’s nationality factor, over their identity as a person, the more they foster the idea that a causal link ties migration to national security.
The threat of international terrorism has also played a role in increasing hostility and suspicion towards refugee seekers. This is due to the fear that among them may be hidden elements of terrorist groups seeking to cause death and destruction.
This distorted perception of the phenomenon, creates the perception of the curent migrant flow as a sudden event (although it has taken place for at least two or three decades), which is completely beyond control. The financial resources employed by the Italian institutions to manage the issue have been, so far, poor and insufficient. International institutions and NGOs have raised doubts on the adequacy of the Italian reception system. The media do not usually deal with these aspects, except for high profile cases which temporarily humanize the victims containing visceral images. For example a scandal broke in 2013, when a video showing migrants standing naked in the cold while being sprayed for scabies at a detention center in Lampedusa. The video shocked public opinion and generated a tide of righteous indignation. More recently, the media turned its attention to the issue of the reception system, due to an investigation (dubbed “Mafia Capitale”), which uncovered a system of corruption designed to ensure public contracts to manage migrant reception centers.
In this case, media outlets stressed that Italy cannot face the overwhelming number of people landing, because of the lack of financial resources, the inefficiency of its judiciary and the corruption of its local administrators. We can find some examples of sensationalized approaches towards the difficulties Italy faces in managing the refugees crisis in the following headlines: “L’invasione è alle porte, un milione di profughi sta per lasciare la Libia (Invasion on the doorstep, one million refugees to leave Lybia)”; “L’emergenza profughi durerà vent’anni (The refugees emergency is going to last twenty years”;“Così abbiamo scelto di diventare Africa (This way we chose to become Africa)”.
As a result, the news related to the facts mentioned above had a strong political character. The migration theme was just a pretext to shift focus to the main topic, namely political discussion. Indeed, the Mediterranean refugees’ crisis, often linked to security, is a critical field for political debate and appeal to oversimplified populist descriptions ironically largely created and/or reproduced within the media. Thus, the media normally follow the tide, giving voice to each faction, in a competition, which is more and more ideological and polarized. There appears to be an endemic failure to analyze the problems arising from migration flows, and give a larger view.
To sum up, the refugee issue is often largely exploited for political reasons. Excluding the 2013/2014 sea rescue operation Mare Nostrum, the manner in which Italy has responded to the problem of migrant flows has not been particularly exemplary, to say the least. The mass media detected the weakness of the system, but were not able to promote an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon, and a coherent and unbiased debate among politicians, civil society and migrants.
See UNHCR press release 9 June 2015: http://www.unhcr.it/news/cresce-la-pressione-sullisola-greca-di-lesbo-il-numero-di-rifugiati-e-migranti-arrivati-attraverso-il-mediterraneo-nel-2015-raggiunge-quota-100-dot-000
 See UNHCR Statistical Snapshot – Italy –
See also: Commissione nazionale per il diritto di asilo “Riepilogo Dati 2013-2014” –
 Associazione Carta di Roma “Notizie alla Deriva” secondo rapporto (2014) http://www.cartadiroma.org/news/rapporto-carta-di-roma-notizie-alla-deriva/
 Associazione Carta di Roma “Notizie di Confine” terzo rapporto (2015) – http://www.cartadiroma.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Rapporto-2015_-cartadiroma.pdf
 See Ferguson, C.J. “Portrayals of immigrants in mass media: Honest depiction of cultural differences or unfair stereotype?” In J. Warner (Ed.), Battleground Immigration (vol 1). Westport, CT: Greenwood.
 See Corte, M. “Media e Immigrazione: la Scomparse dei Giornalisti” 13 July 2015 – http://www.mauriziocorte.org/media-e-immigrazione/
 See ANSI – Associazione Nazionale Stampa Interculturale – http://ansi-intercultura.over-blog.it/
 See Lastrofa, M. and Vaes, J. “Potere mediatico e pregiudizio: i mass media influenzano la nostra percezione sociale?” in The Inquisitive Mind Italia no. 3/2013 – http://it.in-mind.org/uploads/Italia/Issues/3/Latrofa_Vaes.pdf
 Abdel Majid Touil is a Marroquin young man, suspected of having taken part in the Bardo National Museum of Tunis attack of 18 March 2015. Investigations later found out that the man arrived in Italy on a boat carrying other 79 migrants from Libya, a month earlier, and precisely on 17 February. Witnesses and other proofs seems to confirm that since that day, he has never left the country. His capture sparked a lot of interest on the media, arousing more suspicion on refugee seekers. Nevertheless, entering his name on a search engine, we will hardly find news after the date of his capture, and no frontpage was dedicated to his story when the Police decided to drop all charges against him. See: http://www.panorama.it/news/in-giustizia/abdel-majid-touil-tunisia-terroristi-isis-bardo/
 European Parliament Information Office in Ireland “Statements by the co-chairs of the delegation to Sicily on migration as an unprecedented challenge requiring a holistic approach”, 24-07-2015 :
http://www.europarl.ie/en/news_events/news/press_releases_2015/july_2015/committee_on_budgets_sicily_migration.html; Open Society Foundation “How to Fix Italy’s Migrant Reception Centers”: https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/how-fix-italys-migrant-reception-centers
Follow-up on the refugee crisis
The subjective perspective
Manuela Ledda, lawyer and human rights activist – I became involved in the topic of refugees for professional reasons a couple of months ago. Taking part in this survey gave me a further opportunity to go deeper into the matter from a different perspective, and to compare my opinion with other people’s points of view. Here, I would like to add some personal reflections on the issue, which I feel are neglected in the mainstream conversations.
Firstly, we all can see how lately there is a great deal of discussion around the issue of Syrian refugees. The same was true in the past for Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistani migrants. There is no doubt that the uncertainty those countries are facing is exacerbating the refugee crisis. At the same time, as a Sicilian, I know that it would be erroneous to believe that even if wars in the Middle East and Central Asia ended tomorrow, the migration flow would stop. There is a huge number of people, from certain countries of Sub Saharan Africa, who would keep crossing borders in the desert. There is also a complex criminal network, which is both well equipped and organized, that gain billions of euros smuggling people. During the last ten years, this kind of criminal activity has increased a lot. Ground transportation of people, as well as money transfer, became easier and faster. People trapped in this criminal system cannot give up the journey and return to their homeland, even if they wanted to. They probably leave their country of origin for economic reasons, but then, just like people who flee from war-torn countries, they are subjected to human trafficking. They face another type of forced displacement, not caused by armed conflicts, but for having been caught up in a criminal system. So far, neither international law nor European law have taken effective measures to address the problem from a legal point of view. The European Union, in particular, seems to be unwitting to deal with this reality, until faced with it when migrants cross its external frontiers. In many cases, as in Italy, these human beings are promptly and often inaccurately labelled ‘economic migrants’. While conflicts and emergencies may come to an end, unprecedented changes are necessary in terms of both strategic policy and a legal framework, which at this point are completely non-existent.
Secondly, there is an aspect of the Italian refugee system, that public institutions prefer not to draw attention to and that people who are not normally involved in the matter do not notice. Despite a number of acronyms which are used to name different types of structures who deliver assistance and accommodation to migrants and asylum seekers (CIE, CPSA, CDA, SPRAR system, CARA, and so forth), often we are talking about one and the same place. Visiting the CIE of Caltanissetta, I noticed that inside it there is also a CPA and a CPSA, which is to say that people who applied for a refugee status still live inside the same structure where they were hosted during the identification procedure, perhaps behind a different gate. Thus, they are still accommodated in effectively a detention camp, surrounded by a 5-metres locked fence, and patrolled by military personnel. Moreover, since refugee seekers are not legally detainees, they cannot enjoy the guarantees the Italian law provides to people under detention. Since the legal procedures for the recognition of refugee status could last several years, migrants who apply for the international protection are often received in a way which is inconsistent with the European standards and proclaimed values. Thus, recognizing a minimum standard of guarantees and procedures applicable to asylum seekers is something which is regrettably easier said than done. Anyway, it is different from agreeing on a couple of principles laid down in a Directive. Italy should start thinking about the refugee system as a critical component of its policies, given its peculiar geographic position, and not as a temporary emergency to cope with. The largescale movement of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is now a political reality which can no longer be ignored.