Italian response to North African refugee influx is too slow and leaves migrants at risk, says NGO

by zoejardiniere

05.10.2012 The Presidency of the Council of Ministers in Italy has approved a document detailing guidelines to address the emergency situation in North Africa and the resulting influx of refugees into the country by the end of the year. The document envisages a coordinated response including central government funds to be made available for the reception of unaccompanied children and an increase from the current reception capacity of 3,000 to 5,000.

The Italian Refugee Council (CIR) has welcomed the document, which addresses some of the questions arising from the emergency in North Africa but remains concerned over the lack of explicit provisions regarding the legal protection to be granted to those who were not deemed eligible for international or humanitarian protection. In a statement to the Weekly Bulletin, CIR remarked:

“We are extremely concerned that the document fails to explicitly mention the procedures for recognition of legal status. This is a problem that must be remedied. According to our information, there could be two possible solutions to the issue: one hypothesis is the issuing of a ministerial decree establishing that in exchange for withdrawing an asylum application or an appeal on an initial negative decision, a permit to stay for humanitarian reasons will be provided. On the other hand, a second hypothesis foresees the direct intervention of the Territorial Commissions for Recognition of International Protection. This latter hypothesis, however, is truly worrisome: it proposes that the Territorial Commissions call up the cases of all asylum seekers from North Africa who have not been granted asylum to grant a permit of stay for humanitarian reasons. We maintain that this would be an extremely cumbersome and slow process. While the intent is to have a positive practical impact – to give protection – it could instead have an extremely negative one, overwhelming the Commissions and resulting in months and months before individual cases could be examined.  It must be borne in mind that the majority of these individuals have already been in Italy for 17 – 18 months, and they need to know what will happen to them in order to rebuild their lives. We are very concerned by the fact that the document doesn’t seem to propose any practical solutions to this problem. Within three months, these provisions could have a positive impact on the lives of the over 18,000 North Africans who are currently in Italy.  Fundamentally, however, the document doesn’t provide an answer to the question of what will happen to them in concrete terms.”

UNHCR has reacted similarly to the developments in a statement expressing support for the reforms envisaged but emphasizing its concern regarding the lack of any explicit provisions for North Africans who have not been granted any form of international protection and a dearth of measures to facilitate the integration of the people concerned into society.

This news comes at the same time as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, is visiting Italy as part of his tour of the EU’s external borders.