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15 June 2005

Right to Asylum in Italy : Access to procedures and treatment of asylum seekers

Italy’s geographical position makes the country one of the principal maritime entry points into the

European Union for migrants and asylum seekers from more and more distant countries. In recent

years this situation has led Italian authorities to take initiatives regarding the administration of its

borders and the treatment of asylum seekers which, coupled with a complex and unstable legal

mechanism, does not always meet the requirements to respect Human Rights of the person. This

tendency is in line with the more general direction adopted by the European Union since the end of

the 90s in the domain of the fight against illegal immigration. This is reflected in the strengthening

of controls at the external borders of the EU, particularly the maritime borders, and the methods of

removing unwanted foreigners (joint flights). It is also reflected in the restrictions on candidates’

access to asylum in Europe, in the development of partnerships with countries of origin and, above

all, transit, to encourage them to work in close collaboration with the European migration policy,

particularly in preventing migrants and asylum seekers from continuing their journey to the EU.

The Mediterranean rim is naturally one of the areas of predilection for this policy, which Italy is

experimenting with its North African neighbours, often with detrimental consequences on the

migrants and those in exile who are its focus.

During 2004, several events illustrated in a spectacular manner the strong-arm methods chosen by

Italy to manage the arrival of migrants on its coast by organising massive and almost immediate

refoulement at the time when the country was labouring to adopt a coherent legislative mechanism

with respect to asylum. Although Italy has been able to introduce a dignified system of reception

for asylum seekers in the context of a national reception programme, it is a long way far from

satisfying needs and leaves many applicants by the wayside. Instead of trying to make it generally

applicable, the reform of asylum legislation under way since 2002, which should come into force

during 2005, is based on accelerating procedures and the creation of “identification centres” in

which many applicants risk confinement by way of initial reception. Italy’s experience with respect

to detention centres for foreigners - the CPTAs, in existence since 1998 - is not particularly

convincing, and there are many criticisms of the ways in which their “guests” are treated. However,

although the efficiency of detention with respect to the aims declared (improving the expulsion rate)

has not been proven, the legislator recently doubled the maximum detention period in CPTAs.

This is the context of the FIDH mission to Italy, undertaken from December 5 to 15, 2004. It

followed on the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Immigrant Workers in June

2004 [1]

, and that of a delegation of the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention

of Torture in November 2004 [2]. The intention behind the mission was not to consider Italy’s

complete immigration policy, nor to consider in detail physical conditions in the detention centres

for foreigners. In add to the study it made of Italian law with regard to the reception of immigrants,

asylum and the removal of foreigners, the mission investigated the concrete conditions of treatment

of asylum seekers and migrants in an irregular situation.

This investigation included:

- visits to four CPTA (temporary stay and assistance centres), and one CDA (centre of first

- visits to several association reception centres for asylum seekers,
- a visit to the “Hotel Africa Tiburtina”, considered to be one of the largest squats in the

capital, located on the outskirts of Rome, and where many asylum seekers gather,
- meetings with many associations and individuals involved in the defence of migrants and

asylum seekers (see appendix list), and a representative of the Italian delegation of the United

Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR),
- meetings with officials of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs.

The mission also pieced together, from information received, the sequence of three events that

marked 2004: the Cap Anamur affair in July, the massive expulsions organised in October from the

island of Lampedusa to Libya and, in the same month, the expulsion of thirteen Kurdish stowaways

on the cargo ship Lydia Oldendorff, who were prevented from lodging applications for asylum on

their arrival in Italy. These events are an illustration on the one hand of Italy’s attempt to take a

firm stance in the European debate on immigration, and on the other hand the contradictions

between its internal legislation, its international commitments, and the practices of its politicians.
Last Update 15 June 2005
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[1Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers - visit to Italy, E/CN.4/2005/Add.3, 15th
November 2004.

[2Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture visits Italy, press release, 9th December 2004.


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