Italy toughens immigration policy to restrict influx of migrants


By Rhoderick Ople 

In September 2019, Claus Peter Reisch, the captain of German-flagged vessel “Eleonore” of the charity Mission Lifeline, was accused of violating Italy’s Security Decree for saving hundreds of lives from the sub-zero Italian waters.

The ship entered the Italian waters to save 104 starved and freezing migrants.

According to Reisch, the boat was at the Italian sea border for a week, hoping for immediate rescue.

“It was dark and freezing because of the bad weather. I had obliged to declare the state of emergency and those people should be saved because they are in the sea waiting to be rescued” said Reisch.

“The temperature was below zero, there was no other way to keep them alive but to bring them to the seaport,” he added.

Reisch and his crew completed the rescue despite a run-in with Libya’s coast guard, which was intent on taking the migrants back to Libya.

Their heroic act however, has infuriated Italian authorities, who said the captain and his crew have violated the Italian public security law. Reisch was then ordered to pay 300,000 euros (US$332,445) fine for entering the Italian waters illegally.

Under the current public security decree of Salvini, Italy’s state borders are off-limits to asylum seekers.

Disappointed over the charge filed against him, Reisch has requested to meet with Italy’s minister of internal affairs, to urge the latter to repeal the law “because it violates human rights”.

Claus Peter Reisch, captain of German-flagged vessel “Eleonore” (Credit: Thomas Grabka/Laif)

Immigration policies in Italy have become tougher over the past two decades, with the government imposing laws which aim to regulate the influx of migration.

Pro-migrant organisations like OFW Watch Italy, have discovered that the consolidation of public security act is Italy’s “perfect guise for restriction”.

Italian authorities introduced the first law on the restriction of migration in 1931 under the public security act of the Monarchy. The law allows full permission of the competent authority to search and check identity documents in any place.

Failure to show any identity cards shall lead to expulsion without due process. Non-nationals, who were unable to show their residence permit, were accompanied back to the frontier or deported.

The law which was introduced in 1990 known as “Legge Martelli”, reaffirmed the migrant policy of the Monarchy. Only a slight introduction regarding migration policy was penned under the “Martelli” Law.

The Martelli Law introduced the two-year validity of the renewable residence permit.

In 1998, a more systematic policy concerning migration was approved by the state under the “Turco-Napolitano” law. The introduction of “contratto di soggiorno” gave way to a systematize expulsion of migrants.

Under this act, overseas contract workers’ residence permit shall be based on the duration of the signed contract. When the contract expires, the non-EU worker must return to his country of origin.

The Turco-Napolitano Law also states that a contract worker has to meet the requirements for the renewal of the residence permit.

Thus, a contract worker must secure the continuity of the working contract from his or her employer. Failure to comply with the requirements shall lead to revocation of residence permit and immediate expulsion. In contrast to the Martelli law, a subordinate worker could renew his or her permit to stay for the purpose of working.

The need to systematically restrict the migration flow gave prominence to Bossi-Fini Law in 2002. This new legislation for restriction came into force. The Bossi-Fini Law amended the 1998 immigration law and introduced new clauses.

Serious sanctions and non-existent grants towards undocumented migrant nationals have been introduced under this law. Being irregular is a crime under the Bossi-Fini Law.

Article 14, paragraph 5, of the Bossi-Fini law states that “foreign national living with no justified reason in the state territory, in violation to the questore’s instruction (paragraph 5), are to be arrested”.

Therefore, irregular immigrants will be immediately deported regardless of their economic activity in Italy. Deportation is immediate even if the immigrant files for appeal to the court. Illegal migrants would be deported or accompanied to the borders.

Suspected irregular immigrants apprehended by authorities will be taken to specific centres. If they fail to show any proof of residence, they will be ordered to leave. Those who failed to leave the state territory shall be detained for six months up to a year.

Reentry to the territory of expelled migrants could lead to arrest and trial by the court.

Undocumented workers are the most vulnerable for expulsion. The new amended law has been heavily criticised by both trade unions and employers’ organization.

Previously, a “migration and security” decree, which came into force in October 2018, has ended the future of the asylum seekers. Thousands of asylum seekers have fallen into uncertainty.

The Salvini law introduces new measures making the asylum seekers almost impossible to obtain a refugee status. Salvini law abolished the “humanitarian protection” for asylum seekers and had issued a “special” permit to those who are not eligible for a refugee or subsidiary protection.

Thousands of refugees, specifically the unaccompanied minors, are vulnerable of losing their humanitarian protection. Minors who turned 18 lose the protections that give them the privilege to stay, and if they can no longer obtain humanitarian protection, it means that they become irregulars.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior (Photo:

Prior to the implementation of Salvini Law, victims of trafficking and other forms of violence fall into the category of humanitarian protection.

Today, under the Salvini Law, victims of trafficking, along with the asylum seekers – families of young children, and people with physical and mental disabilities, who fall under the category of “special permit”,  have become more restricted.

In contrast to humanitarian permit, which has two-year validity and can be converted to a working permit, a “special permit” only lasts up to one year and can’t be converted to a working permit.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior who authored the decree, has argued that the measure was created to ensure that only “real refugees” will be granted rights for protection.

The closure of seaports, criminalising migrant rescue missions of NGOs like the Mission Lifeline, and enhancing collaboration with the coastguard are believed to be deterrent measures to eliminate all refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented workers in Italy.

Most of the asylum seekers have disappeared without a trace. But that’s another story.

(Reporting by Rhoderick Ople, Rights Corridor contributor. Editing by Henri Abenis-Macahilo)