• Immigration Policies in Italy – Rights, Movements and Imprisonment

  • Por Dario Stefano Dell’ Aquila | 08 May 12 | Posted under: Italia , Antiracismo/Migración
  • This brief article proposes to do three things: first, to delineate the main features of immigration policies in Italy; second, to evaluate the effects of these features; and third, to outline a concise balance sheet of the political choices made and possible developments


    Part one: Entrance quotas and detention centres

    Up to 1990 Italy did not have a norm to regulate immigration.1 Only in 1998 was a law on immigration approved (Law No. 40/1998, known as the Turco-Napolitano Law) which marks an important turning point in policies of managing immigration matters. The norm, the first organic regulation of the presence of foreigners in Italy, follows by eight years the law known as the Martelli Law and constitutes the framework of the current legislation on immigration, despite its already having been modified in 2002.

    There are two main points in the new norm. The first is the introduction of the criterion of entrance quotas for granting stay permits. The second is the introduction of administrative detention for immigrants lacking a permit and awaiting expulsion, along with the creation of detention centres for this purpose.

    With the introduction of quotas, in fact, the principle of tying the freedom of entry of foreigners in Italian territory to the need for dependent and seasonal workers was sanctioned. It is therefore on the basis of the needs for a workforce that the entry flows are determined (aside from cases of political asylum and of refugees). The law is very explicit here and establishes (in Article 21) that the annual decrees have to take account of the information supplied by the Ministry of Labour on the state of employment and rates of unemployment at the national and regional levels.

    The second point – administrative detention for immigrants – has led to the institution of “Centres of Temporary Stay” (CPTs), which require some explanation.2

    CPTs were established by Article 12 of Law no. 40/1998, which regulates the carrying out of deportations. The law establishes that when it is not possible immediately to carry out an expulsion of a foreigner (because it is necessary to establish his identity or find a means of transportation), the questore (the organ which depends on the Ministry of the Interior and is responsible for the police forces) provides that the foreigner be maintained for the minimal time absolutely necessary in a CPT. It is the questore who transmits the detention proposal to a judge who has 48 hours to validate it. A stay in a CPT, in 1998, could not exceed 30 days. It is also the questore who, availing himself of the police, is responsible for the foreigner not going too far away from the CPT and who must reinstate the measure without delay in the event that it is violated. It should be noted that in Italy, as in European countries in general, ordinary detention in prisons is entrusted to the Ministry of Justice and to the police forces dedicated exclusively to custody. However, in this special case the CPTs are destined for the divisions of the police employed in the control of street demonstrations.

    In the first year of the coming into force of the law, 11 CPTs were opened in which some thousands of immigrants were detained.

    Law 189/2002, known as the Bossi-Fini Law (named after Umberto Bossi, secretary of a racist party (the Lega Nord) and Gianfranco Fini, secretary of a right-wing party (Alleanza Nazionale)), introduced the detention also for those requesting political asylum and prolonged the stays in the CPT2, bringing the time up to 60 days.

    Law no. 125/2008, known as the “Security Package”, one of the first acts of the fourth Berlusconi government, renamed the CPTs with the name they now have: “Centres of Identification and Expulsion” and then a few months afterwards, with Law No. 94 /2009, it was established that the maximum detention term for foreigners in such Centres would be 180 days.

    On June 16, 2011, the Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni, announced the approval of a decree law that brought the detention time up to 18 months. It should be noted that in the period 1998 – 2011 there was an alternance of governments with a centre-left majority (1996 – 2001 and 2006 – 2008) and centre-right one (2001 – 2006 and 2008 to today) without this leading to any changes of the principal features of the norm on immigration. We should also add that the law on immigration was approved in 1998 by a majority of the centre-left government, which included in the coalition more left-wing parties, such as the Party of Communist Refoundation (Rifondazione Comunista), which at the time had a ca. 8 % vote share. The same law was proposed at the time by two representatives of the government, the Minister for Solidarity Livia Turco and the Minister of the Interior Giorgio Napolitano, who belonged to the Democratic Party of the Left (DS), the coalition’s leading party, arising out of the ashes of the Italian Communist Party. The need for the establishment of the detention centres was justified as being imposed by the Schengen agreements and was easily approved despite various aspects which were considered potentially unconstitutional. And yet, the only precedents in Italy for the opening of the administrative detention centres, entrusted to the control of the Ministry of the Interior, were the internment camps of the fascist period.

    It should also be added that if the institutionalised left parties voted in favour of the establishment of the centres, a broad alignment of movements and associations, including in the Catholic sector, contested the opening of these camps from the very start.


    Part two: The detained – ghosts or clandestine?

    From the moment when entry quotas were introduced in Italy, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were forced into the condition of “irregulars”. The number of entries officially permitted was in fact far lower than those requested in 2011 and was a bit less than 100,000 units,3 with special limitations according to country of origin. Bureaucratic procedures, the elevated cost of permit requests, the requirement to be in possession of a work contract at the moment the request is processed, and a long series of other burdens has made even more difficult the acquisition of a stay permit. Very often the waiting periods to find out the results of a request exceed one year, and thus even immigrants who have presented a request and are eligible to get a permit have to live in semi-legal conditions. These normative conditions and the bureaucratic slowness of the offices in evaluating the requests have encouraged hundreds of cases of fraud, which have victimised the immigrants. In many cases they have had to pay to obtain “work contracts” which have subsequently turned out to be false and thus useless for purposes of the permit.

    For these reasons, one of the first demands of the anti-racist movements and of the committees established by the immigrants themselves was the request directed to the governments for “amnesties” that would permit the regularisation of the situation of immigrants already present for years on Italian territory but forced into irregularity. During these years, the immigrants themselves have achieved a high level of autonomy and organisation in relation to traditional left associations and trade unions. Throughout Italy, an experience of grassroots committees has emerged, whose protagonists were the immigrants themselves. A widespread network of small committees, associations and grassroots trade unions (sindacati di base) gave birth to the experience of Immigrant Committees in Italy.4 Founded in 2002, the Committee was among the promoters and organisers of a demonstration in Rome on October 17, 2009 which had the participation of more than 100,000 people. In the last two years, March 1 has been proclaimed the day of the immigrants’ strike, in which thousands of irregular immigrants have participated throughout Italy. What characterised the self-organised experience of immigrants is the increased radicalism of demands and autonomy in regard to the centre-left majority governments and the unions and associations connected to the political-party system. Despite the high participation of these experiences and the visibility achieved even in the mass media, it must be admitted that we are still far away from the intended goals. By now many years have gone by without amnesties being granted that are able to absorb the high number of irregulars, with the exception of immigrants employed in domestic and care work. It also happens that new periods for presenting new requests are opened without the processing of the previous requests for permits being terminated.

    In this situation of uncertainty, the immigrants present a new request, paying once again the cost of the request. According to some estimates, the Italian government earned about 300 million Euros from the last regularisation procedure.

    The other point hotly contested, also by some of the parties which had voted for the immigration law, are the Centres for Immigrant Detention. These Centres have been the object of numerous denunciations, penal inquests and journalistic reportage, from their first appearance up to the present day. Cases of abuse and violence on the part of the forces of order have been documented. The last Centre to have been opened by the Italian government in spring 2011 was closed after the immigrants had protested by the judges who after only two months had determined many violations of rights. Nevertheless, on April 1, 2011, through a circular, the Ministry of the Interior prohibited journalists and parliamentarians from entering the Centres, thus sheltering them from inspection and from public opinion. The history of these institutions is truly a sad one.

    Already in 1999 the Centre for Cultures in Milan, an association for the protection of rights, denounced the shameful hygienic conditions, the lack of translations and of legal information on the situation of the immigrants themselves, numerous suicide attempts, sexual molestation vis-à-vis women detainees who are imprisoned together with men and violence on the part of the forces of order. The denunciations were confirmed by the reports of the journalist Fabrizio Gatti who pretended to be an immigrant and succeeded in entering the Centre.

    In August 2002, the parliamentarians Graziella Mascia and Francesco Forgione, after a visit to the Centre in Lampedusa, complained that “the detained foreigners sleep in tents and containers where the temperature reached 70 degrees Celsius. There is no mensa because the container intended for this purpose was being used as a dormitory. Thus people were compelled to eat under sunlight and in the courtyard and, considering the spaces involved and the impossible logistical conditions, they are kept standing in line and counted even 10 times a day. Even if there is water there is no soap. There are no clothes for changing, no SIM cards or cigarettes, and for this reason there is often tension and protests. The most dramatic issue regards hygienic conditions, which could potentially provoke epidemics, and have already been denounced by doctors: filth everywhere, seven bathrooms for 200 people, only two of which worked”.

    In 2004, doctors Without Borders made public the first independent report on the Centres. The report points to the inefficiency as regards health conditions and their treatment, legal aid, management of the Centres and widespread violations of human rights, including serious violations of the right to asylum. The report demands “the immediate closing, in the face of their absolute and indisputable inadequacy“, of the Centres in Turin, Lamezia Terme and Trapani. The report shows paradoxical cases of immigrants who have exceeded, in entering and exiting as many as seven times, the 60 days of stay provided by the law.

    Next, in 2006, was the White Book published in the wake of the visit of deputies of a working group composed of Greens and Rifondazione Comunista. At the conclusion of their inspections, the working group pointed out “the systematic violation of the provisions of the law regarding immigration on the part of the authorities who are supposed to guarantee their implementation, and pointed to an awkward violation of a sanctioned right and of the human rights of foreigners” and the “near total erosion of the right of asylum in our country”.

    In 2007, the Ministry of the Interior of the centre-left government presented the results of the Investigatory Committee established by the government after the denunciations and after some legal trials concerning mistreatment, which indicted some managers of the Centres. The Investigatory Commission was presided over by an important UN official, Staffan De Mistura. The resulting report, known as the De Mistura Report, was announced with the presence of the Minister of the Interior. The Commission (in which three of its ten members depend on the Ministry) did not demand the closing of the Centres but asks for their “gradual emptying” in the framework of a revamping the entire system. In the Report one reads that the Commission “feels that the present system of detainment: 1) does not respond to the complex problems which the phenomenon involves; 2) does not permit the effective management of irregular immigration; 3) needs several improvements in the case of immigrant rights; 4) comprises serious difficulties for the forces of order, not to mention difficulties for the detainees; and 5) involves high costs with disproportionate results”. The Commission also pointed to the comingling in the places of detention of asylum seekers and immigrants awaiting expulsion and asks the Italian government to make adequate provisions.

    The recommendations fell on deaf ears and the conditions in the Centres have not been improved, up to the point that a long series of rebellions and protests, such as those which in 2011 led to the closing of the Centres of Santa Maria Capua Vetere (Caserta) only two months after its opening. In the face of repeated denunciations of human-rights violations, the only measure taken by the Ministry of the Interior has been to prohibit journalists and regional deputies from entering the Centres.5


    Part three: What future?

    The discriminatory policies adopted toward immigrants did not succeed in impeding their presence in Italy. According to official estimates there are ca. 4,200,000 immigrants with regular residence in Italy.6 According to the estimates of NGOS, among them Caritas, there are at least 700,000 immigrants without stay permits. Despite the fact that their presence is an established fact and is necessary for the economy, the right-wing parties, in particular the Lega Nord, continue to call for a policy of turning people away, and expulsion at the borders, even of those requesting asylum. For the new arrivals on the island of Lampedusa, in the wake of the conflict in Libya and the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the current Italian government only opened up a new Centre and lengthened the detention times. The lack of integration and welcome policies has, in many parts of the country, brought about serious social strains. On September 18, 2008, six immigrants at Castelvolturno (Caserta) were killed, ambushed, in a racially coloured way, by Camorra killers dressed as policemen. On the next day, there was the revolt of hundreds of immigrants exasperated by conditions of poverty and invisibility. In January 2010, in Rosarno (Calabria), hundreds of immigrants, compelled to live in an abandoned factory under inhuman conditions, rebelled after some of them were wounded by rifle shots. In 2011 in Brescia, some immigrants climbed a crane, up to a height of about 10 yards for some days to ask for the granting of stay permits. Their protest was ended by a police charge.

    No episode seems able to change the attitude of governments toward immigration policy. The Minister of Reforms, Roberto Calderoli, and vice-Minister Castelli of the Lega Nord have recently used offensive words regarding immigrants, complaining that the norms did not permit the shooting of immigrants at the borders. The xenophobia of the Lega Nord, which is the second party of the present government coalition, is so extreme that the MEP Mario Borghezio said he understood the reasons that compelled Anders Behring Breivik to carry out the massacre of Oslo and that a “multi-racial society is disgusting”.7 In the face of these xenophobic attitudes, the centre-left parties are behaving in a very timid manner. Livia Turco, member of the Partito Democratico and signatory of the immigration law that established the Detention Centres, although criticising the abuses and violence, has several times insisted on the merits of her norm and the need to have places of administrative detention – while the more left parties, which have more radical politics vis-à-vis immigration, have been excluded from parliamentary representation because they have not crossed the 5 % threshold. A powerful fear prevails in public opinion regarding immigrants, nourished by a prejudicial information and widespread ignorance regarding Islamic culture – a prejudice which is also translated into the application of penal norms, if we realise that in Italy ca. 30 % of the detained population is made up of immigrants, who as such make up only 7% of the resident population.

    Within this certainly not encouraging scenario, we can point to positive developments such as the liveliness of a widespread network of anti-racist associations and the strong political consciousness of the immigrant movements which forcefully demand the right to citizenship of residency. Their direct activism demonstrates that, despite the xenophobic and racist policies and the arbitrary detentions, a real process of integration is underway, which cannot be stopped.




    1)   For an overview it is useful to visit the site of the Ministry of the Interior www.interno.it/mininterno/export/sites/default/it/temi/immigrazione/

    2)  See A. Esposito, L. Melillo (ed.), A distanza d’offesa. Ad est dell’equatore, 2010.

    3)  Data from the Ministry of the Interior, www.interno.it

    4)  www.comitatoimmigrati.blogspot.com

    5)  The decision to prohibit access to journalists was also criticised by the journalists trade union: www. fnsi.it

    6)  See the report Caritas/Migrantes, Immigrazione. Dossier Statistico 2010.

    7)          www.dirittodicritica.com/2011/07/26/borghezio-oslo-societa-multirazziale-14336/

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