Senate in Italy passes decree to curb migrants

Populist govt wins confidence vote; it should pass Lower House, given ruling coalition's majority

Opposition senators showing their objections to the decree by holding placards that say, "Yes to safety, no to the government", before the confidence vote was held by the Senate in Rome.
Opposition senators showing their objections to the decree by holding placards that say, "Yes to safety, no to the government", before the confidence vote was held by the Senate in Rome. PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME • The Italian Senate has cleared the way for far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's tough anti-migrant and security decree to become law, following a confidence vote.

The populist government of Mr Salvini's League and Mr Luigi Di Maio's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) won the vote with 163 senators for, 59 against - including five M5S members - and 19 abstentions.

The Lower House of Parliament now has until the end of this month to approve the decree, which the coalition first put forward in September and makes it easier to expel migrants and strip them of Italian citizenship.

Mr Salvini tweeted that it was a "historic day" after the Senate vote.

The government opted for a confidence vote to get the decree through the Senate after M5S members tabled a slew of amendments.

It should have no problem passing the Lower House, given the coalition's majority.

The decree ends the two-year "humanitarian protection" residency permits - a lower level of asylum status based on Italian, rather than international, law - awarded to 25 per cent of asylum seekers last year.

Instead, residency permits will be awarded under stricter conditions such as a one-year "special protection" status or a six-month "natural disaster in country of origin" status.

The Italian Refugee Council said it was "seriously concerned" by the new decree. It said in a statement: "The abolition of humanitarian protection will put thousands of people outside the law and only a very few can be repatriated."

A new procedure to fast-track the expulsion of "dangerous" asylum seekers will also be implemented.

The United Nations refugee agency said ahead of the vote that some of the decree's provisions "do not provide adequate guarantees, especially for the vulnerable or those with particular needs, such as victims of abuse or torture".

"Lawmakers still have time to do the right thing, not only for asylum seekers and refugees, but also for Italy's long and proud tradition in terms of respect for human rights," the UN agency said on Monday.

Asylum seekers will in future be housed in bigger reception centres, while only minors and those with recognised refugee status will be housed in different parts of the country to facilitate integration.

There are currently around 146,000 migrants held in the country's reception centres, down from 183,000 at the end of last year.

The Italian mayors' association has railed against the change, saying that having hundreds of unemployed migrants in reception centres can have a negative impact.

The new decree allows local police to be armed with Taser stun guns and makes it easier to evict squatters by getting rid of the obligation of finding provisional housing for the most vulnerable.

Mr Salvini said: "Whoever flees a war is my brother, but whoever comes here to sell drugs and create disorder must go home."

One of the most controversial measures in the decree provides for stripping immigrants of their Italian nationality if they are convicted of "terrorism".


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2018, with the headline Senate in Italy passes decree to curb migrants. Subscribe