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Italy

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals and the fear of possible COVID-19 contagion affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation of asylum seekers, especially in the agriculture and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).

The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. In June the Ministry of Interior suspended its contract with an NGO that managed a migration center in Cosenza after one of its managers was accused of corruption in an organized crime investigation.

Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when it renewed the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration with Libya on February 2. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants in Libyan waters and take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” in light of the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, the lack of protection from abuses, and the lack of durable solutions.

Access to Asylum: On April 7, the minister for infrastructure and transportation signed a decree stating that Italian ports could not guarantee to meet the requirements to qualify as place of safety for migrants rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area due to the massive outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. The decree effectively continued the highly restrictive policy of former deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini. On May 6, the coast guard seized two humanitarian ships, one German and one Spanish, ostensibly because their equipment was inadequate.

NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services.

On October 5, the government adopted a decree reintroducing humanitarian protections for migrants who face risk of life in their countries of origin and authorizing local authorities to provide legal residency to asylum seekers, allowing them to access public services, such as health care and education. Regional adjudication committees took an average of five months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. On July 31, migration centers hosted 85,000 migrants, a 19-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government reviewed 71,700 asylum applications.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 180 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. On March 24, in order to prevent COVID-19 contagion in the expulsion centers, the ombudsman for detainees asked the government to free some of the 381 irregular migrants who could not be repatriated and who were detained in expulsion centers. The government worked to reduce migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and imposed restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.

Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 national lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.

Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees in centers of varying quality, from high-quality centers run by local authorities to repurposed facilities, such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. Some rescued asylum seekers were quarantined off Sicily’s coast aboard cruise ships leased by the government. Some refugees who tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized in military facilities. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported refugees had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

Some refugees and asylum seekers working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions. On April 9, authorities in Rome found at least 16 COVID-19-positive refugees squatting in a building with 600 other persons. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The COVID-19 lockdown caused an increase in unemployment among refugees and asylum seekers. The government offered refugees resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future