Italy: Extension of humanitarian residence permits to put an end to "emergency"

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On 16 May 2012, the "technical" government's interior minister, Anna Maria Cancellieri, announced that thousands of six-month temporary residence permits for humanitarian reasons issued mostly to Tunisians in response to the influx into Italy during the so-called "Arab Spring" would be renewed for a second time, for a further six months. A prime ministerial decree was adopted for this purpose the day before.

The permits were originally granted through a prime ministerial decree issued on 5 April 2011 within the framework of a "state of emergency" concerning the influx of migrants from north Africa that was declared on 12 February 2011 until the end of the year, and renewed on 6 October 2011 to last until the end of 2012. The 5 April decree on these permits set eligibility criteria that included the date of arrival (between 1 January and 5 April 2011), possession of documents, and neither being banned from Italy due to a past expulsion order nor being considered "dangerous" as a result of past convictions or behaviour. Most of the permits were issued to Tunisians, as the dates included in the decree covered the period when most of the people fleeing unrest in north Africa were arriving from Tunisia (a government estimate from August 2011 set the figure at 24,854), excluding thousands of migrants who arrived later from Libya (estimated at around 23,890) and Egypt. The residence permits were then renewed on 6 October 2011 for a further six months.

Describing the measure as a way "to end the immigration emergency by the end of the year with maximum respect for people's rights", as it is unsustainable, particularly "in view of the economic crisis", Cancellieri explained that ongoing dialogue with regional councils will allow the ministry to "verify how many migrants have received humanitarian permits" and the state of play in procedures that are underway. It will then be possible to adopt measures to end the emergency, which is an important development in view of the way in which states of emergency have been called repeatedly in this field in Italy during the last decade to enable "extraordinary" measures to be adopted outside of the limits set by national laws and regulations, with an important economic impact (see Statewatch vol. 21 no. 3, or Statewatch analysis no. 165).

A further concern is that over 20,000 people who fled to Italy from Libya during the armed conflict were excluded from the scope of these temporary humanitarian residence permits, although the situation in Libya is far from settled. Since November 2011, over 11,500 people have signed an appeal calling for asylum seekers who have come from Libya to be granted residence permits for humanitarian reasons, which stresses that this contingent includes nationals of several countries (including Somalia, Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh and Pakistan). The appeal ("Right to choose - Petition for the issue of residence permits to asylum seekers from Libya") stresses that their reception was organised separately from the circuit of reception for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, and warns that they are all liable to become "irregular" although they were threatened or underwent torture and bombings in the north African country. Moreover, some of them who have lodged asylum applications are receiving rejections that will be very expensive to appeal.

Immigration flows and returns

In a hearing before the Senate's human rights committee on 16 May 2012, Cancellieri provided immigration data including a substantial decrease in arrivals by sea compared to 2011, with 1,056 people landing so far in 23 operations, and 22,643 removals from the national territory, enacted "very scrupulously and correctly, respecting rules of conduct, including international ones", between April 2011 and April 2012.

Cancellieri spoke of the case of two Algerians who were photographed while their mouths were taped with a surgical mask secured with masking tape and hands in plastic cuffs with Velcro on the Alitalia flight on board of which they were being deported from Rome to Tunisia on 17 April 2012. She argued that the border police's efforts "cannot be tarnished" by an "isolated case" for which "I have recognised a lack of attention to people's dignity in a recent appearance in parliament". In fact, she noted that "The use of masking tape appears improvised and does not correspond with any of the coercive measures envisaged at a European level as well and, in any case, it is perceived in collective conscience as offensive to people's dignity". She went on to explain the official version of how this came to pass: "the officers decided to use surgical masks to prevent efforts to spit the blood that came out of their lips, that they had started biting, a self-harm practice that foreigners often resort to to obstruct expulsion operations".

Further developments reported by the minister included an imminent decision, following an inspection, on whether to maintain Lampedusa's status as not being a "safe port" for those who arrive by sea, a decision that was used to block arrivals after tensions on the island on 20 September 2011 when some Tunisians set a fire and broke out of the island's Contrada Imbriacola CPSA (early assistance and reception centre, see Statewatch analysis no. 154).

Cancellieri also noted that sea patrols, "which have been a useful deterrent for indiscriminate arrivals in the past, are a mechanism to which we may resort if necessary". However, critics including Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo of the Associazione di Studi Giuridici sull'Immigrazione (ASGI) and Palermo University have continued to report the practice of summary returns to Egypt. The framework is that described by the then interior minister Roberto Maroni in parliament on 7 April 2011, whereby:

"we have developed a series of initatives to block the influx and to enact repatriations. We have reinforced understandings that were already valid with Egypt. Only a few Egyptian nationals arrived, but the bilateral agreement with Egypt works perfectly: Egyptian citizens arrive, they are immediately recognised by the consular authorities and they are repatriated on the next day".

Paleologo notes that this is a "terrible sign of continuity" with the previous government and flies in the face of the European Court on Human Rights ruling on 23 February 2012 in the Hirsi et al vs. Italy case concerning collective refoulements at sea towards Libya.
The Strasbourg court found Italy guilty of violating arts. 3 ("No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment") and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the ECHR and art. 4 of Protocol 4 to the ECHR that forbids the collective refoulement of migrants. Moreover, in September 2011, UNHCR had criticised conditions in the CPSA in Pozzallo (Sicily), where similar summary return practices were enacted, stressing that it had been unable to contact the people held there to find out whether there were any asylum seekers among them.

Vassallo Paleologo refers to recent cases including that of a fishing boat that arrived in Mazara del Vallo (Sicily) on 2 May 2012, whose passengers were "segregated" in a football pitch set up as a reception camp with tents where they were recognised by Egyptian consular staff as Egyptian nationals before all of them, except for those identified as minors (again, inaccurate summary identification methods were used), were flown back to Egypt from Palermo on the following morning. In spite of being part of the interior ministry-funded Praesidium project to guarantee the rights of migrants who arrive, UNHCR and IOM staff were denied the possibility of contacting them or finding out whether there were any asylum applicants, a possibility which would have been further undermined by the presence of Egyptian consular staff.

Lawyers were unable to hear from them and judges did not exercise the role that is assigned to them in ordering expulsions on an individual basis, if due procedure is followed. An interior ministry press statement explained that all of those returned had already been identified in Italy and expelled in the past, making any further checks unnecessary. Vassallo Paleologo notes that this "justification seems a lie" and that it seems "strange" that none of the adults sought protection and all of them had already been identified and expelled in Italy. Moreover, it would not mean that due procedure can be replaced by arbitrary expulsions enacted by the police. He noted that a similar operation, following exactly the same modalities, took place a few days earlier in Licata, near Agrigento, in Sicily.

Missing Tunisians

In relation to the 2011 arrivals from Tunisia, there has been an ongoing campaign by relatives of migrants who embarked during the crisis, between March and May 2011, never to resurface.

Cancellieri explained that the case is "very significant at a human level", but that despite "intense contacts with Tunisian diplomatic authorities" in order to track them, including the use of fingerprints, the Italian police had only recorded the presence of eight of them out of 142 on Italian territory. To make matters worse, only one of these records was recent, from after their supposed departure, whereas seven others were from much earlier. Cancellieri only spoke of 142 people whose fingerprints were received, whereas the complaint lodged with the Rome courts by two associations (ASGI and ARCI) alongside some of their relatives, refer to 270 Tunisians who have disappeared.

Relatives travelled to Italy to learn about the fate of the disappeared, and have run a campaign called "Da una sponda all'altra: vite che contano" (From one shore to other: lives that matter) and organised several sit-in protests, on one occasion simultaneously outside the Tunisian embassy in Rome and the Italian embassy in Tunis on 30 March 2012. One mother has set herself alight and two others tried to commit suicide in response to a lack of answers from both sets of authorities. They complained that they had not received any answers after a year from their departure, whereas they had received calls from the boats stating that they were arriving, and some parents thought they had seen their relatives in Italian news programmes. They met Italian immigration authorities on 11 April 2011, who told them checks would be run on the 142 sets of fingerprints that they had received, adding that 112 sets had already been sent previously about which they had not had any news.

The latest statement from the "Venticinqueundici" (25 11) a feminist campaign that is working alongside the Tunisian mothers and relatives, dated 28 May 2012, complains about the lack of progress in providing them any answers, although they had sent appeals to both the Italian and Tunisian authorities a long time ago, in October 2011. Months of mobilisations in both countries resulted in some meetings with authorities, but few answers. In March 2012, they were informed by the Italian authorities that they had received the sets of fingerprints sent from Tunisia. After the umpteenth disappointment of being told the outcome of the checks was negative when they were in Tunisia, the campaign's press release notes that, after many "false truths and half-truths":

"if we wished... to start from a fact that is certain, we could just state the only truth that cannot be ignored: the EU and Italian governments' immigration policies, with Tunisia's complicity in this case, are policies of death and disappearance".

The statement notes that answering the Tunisian mothers' and families' queries would have required the representatives of these policies to acknowledge their responsibilities for the "men and women who disappear". They will not do this because it would entail an in-depth review of the "creed" on which this policy is based, acknowledgement that the "world belongs to everyone" and that "freedom of movement cannot be exclusively reserved to one part of humankind". In concrete terms, they ask for Tunisian and Italian authorities to jointly announce the results of the fingerprint tests (mentioning the names in each case/list), and call for an in-depth investigation into the telephone data of their communications to confirm where they were when they called home. It has "absurdly" not been carried out yet and the campaigners argue that it could unveil lots of relevant information, considering that the relatives handed in information including their telephone numbers and the approximate time of the calls they received. Finally, they would like to be able to identify their relatives from the footage of television news programmes that they saw when it was broadcast during the crisis, which is another aspect that they are surprised was not dealt with previously.

No quota for 2012

Minister Cancellieri also stated that the quotas that are issued on an annual basis to set the number of non-EU nationals who will be allowed into the country to work would not be issued as a result of the high level of unemployment in Italy. A previous measure was approved to regulate the entry of 35,000 seasonal workers on 13 March 2012, exclusively from the following list of countries: Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, the Philippines, Gambia, Ghana, India, Kosovo, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Morocco, Moldova, Montenegro, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Tunisia. This form of "reserved" quotas using nationality as the key criteria were introduced as a bargaining tool to negotiate repatriation agreements and those for cooperation in stemming immigration flows into Italy. In this year's case, the country preference is exclusive, whereas it previously covered a portion of the places allowed for lawful entry. A further 4,000 places were allocated to people who have undergone officially approved training programmes in their countries of origin as preparation to enter the Italian labour market. The failure to set this quota for 2012 means that "economic migrants and asylum seekers alike have no other possibility than that of trying to enter [Italy] illegally", noted Vassallo Paleologo in his analysis on Egypt (above).

Yasha Maccanico


Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei ministri, 15 May 2012,
"Proroga dei permessi di soggiorno per motivi umanitari a favore di cittadini nordafricani"

"Stop all'emergenza immigrazione entro fine anno", 16.5.2012, Ministero dell'Interno

Il Sole 24 ore, 20.4.2012, including the photograph taken by Francesco Sperandeo

"Diritti sotto sequestro - Dopo la segregazione altri respingimenti collettivi verso l'Egitto", 3 May 2012, Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, Melting Pot

"Da una sponda all'altra: vite che contano", Le venticinqueundici, 24.4.2012,

Update from the campaign's blog, "Politiques migratoires: 'dégage'", 28.5.2012, (in Italian); Original in French (pdf)
Appeal (open for signature), "Diritto di scelta - Petizione per il rilascio di un titolo di soggiorno ai richiedenti asilo provenienti dalla Libia", Melting Pot

English version, "Right to choose - Petition for the issue of residence permits to asylum seekers from Libya"

Previous Statewatch coverage

Italy sets 2012 quota for seasonal migrant workers, Statewatch news online, April 2012

Statewatch analysis, "The EU's self-interested response to unrest in north Africa: the meaning of treaties and readmission agreements between Italy and north African states"

Statewatch analysis, "Italy: Fire and loathing in Lampedusa" 

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