Italy Lawmakers Pass Tough New Asylum Law in Immigration Crackdown

November 29, 2018 Updated: November 29, 2018

Italy has passed a new law that tightens the criteria for granting asylum to those fleeing war and political persecution.

A wide majority of lawmakers voted in favor of the new security and immigration law on Nov. 28, handing conservative Interior Minister Matteo Salvini his first major legislative win.

Under the new law, refugees will still be granted protection if they are specifically escaping political persecution or war.

The new legislation, however, narrows the scope of what comes under broader category of “humanitarian” asylum which grants protection to those with “serious reasons” to flee.

“I’m willing to host women and children who are escaping from war … but all the others, no,” Salvini said on Nov. 29, referring to the new legislation. “I don’t want to be seen as an idiot.”

“In Italy there are rules and must be respected,” tweeted Salvini. “If you run from the war, you’re my brother, but if you don’t run from any war and the war brings us home, I’ll take you back to where you came from.”

Critics have said the new policy could be in contravention of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Rejecting a UN Accord

In addition to refugees fleeing war, asylum is now limited to victims of domestic violence, trafficking, work exploitation, and natural disasters, to those needing urgent medical care, and to people who carry out “particularly valuable civic acts.”

“Humanitarian protection was supposed to be used sparingly,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters earlier this month. “In Italy, there has been an indiscriminate reception [of migrants] and the rules helped support this.

Salvini is also pushing for Italy not to sign the upcoming UN accord on refugees, potentially adding to a growing list of European countries that have recently joined the United States in rejecting the agreement which they say takes the “rights” of refugees too far.

Italy Europe Migrants
Migrants on an overcrowded boat call for help off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa on April 17, 2016. (Patrick Bar/SOS Mediterranee via AP)

Salvini leads the right-wing League party that forms a government coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star movement, united under Conte.

Since 2015, the Syria conflict has pushed a surge of refugees into Europe, pressuring the long-criticized “Dublin” system to breaking point, blunting public appetite for open borders policies, and sparking the election of politicians touting tighter immigration policies.

EU-wide migrant policies, combined with European rights laws, have been criticized for decades for being impractical, pitting different countries against each other, and for making it easy for failed asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants to slip the net.

Setting up Refugee Camps Outside the EU

With the EU courts ratcheting up refugee protections in recent years, as soon as someone enters the EU, the hands of authorities are tied.

EU leaders have recently been working on a new system that would include setting up asylum-processing and camps outside of the EU.

During the migrant crisis boat-loads of tens of thousands of refugees made their way from the shores of north Africa across the Mediterranean to Italy—the most dangerous migrant crossing in the world.

In 2017, 130,119 people applied for asylum in Italy, with 6,827 granted refugee status. Of those who did not meet the criteria for refugee status, 20,166 were granted asylum under “humanitarian” protection and 6,880 were granted “subsidiary protection” under EU rules.

Salvini was instated as interior minister in June after months of haggling over the formation of a coalition after an election that overturned the usual political order. He immediately said he was going to enact stricter immigration policies.

On Nov. 28 he said Italy should not sign the Global Compact UN proposal on immigration.

The Global Compact for Migration sets out global standards and guidelines for countries to address immigration.

The United States said last year that it wouldn’t sign the accord, which isn’t legally binding.

The other 193 members of the UN had all agreed to sign the pact until Hungary broke ranks in June, followed quickly by Austria, then Croatia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Poland.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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