Italy: Reforms of international protection measures, particularly of humanitarian protection (2018-May 2019) [ITA106301.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

For information on the categories of protection available in Italy, see Response to Information Request ITA106193 of November 2018.

1. Overview

According to sources, a decree-law [Decree Law 113/2018 (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 37; Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 8)] on immigration and security became law in December 2018, modifying asylum protection measures, including "humanitarian protection," in Italy (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018; IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). Sources explain that the decree-law was introduced in October 2018 (Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 8) or that it came into force in October 2018 (Al Jazeera 17 Dec. 2018). According to a 2018 country report on Italy by the Asylum Information Database (AIDA) [1], a decree-law is a "[r]egulatory act which provisionally enters into force but requires the enactment of a legislative act in order to have definitive force" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 6).

2. Features of the Law

According to sources, the changes introduced by the law include a measure to "fast-track the expulsion" of asylum seekers deemed "dangerous" (The Local 29 Nov. 2018) or "'socially dangerous'," or convicted of crimes, leading to the suspension of their refugee protection (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018).

Sources report that the new law extends the time individuals may be detained for identification purposes (Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 8; IRIN 7 Dec. 2018), [from three months] to six months (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). IRIN [2] indicates that "[a]dded to the 30-day detention period many face in "hotspot" facilities ["initial arrival facilities"], this means asylum seekers can now be detained for up to seven months without having committed any crime" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). According to Amnesty International, detentions may take place "in centres for repatriation, hotspots, regional hubs, border police stations and other police structures" (Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 8).

According to sources, the reforms introduce a "'safe countr[y] of origin'" provision (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 14; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018; Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 14). Open Migration, a website created by the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and which "aims to provide quality information on refugees and migrations" (Open Migration n.d.), explains that "[a]pplicants from these countries will be required to demonstrate 'serious reasons' for seeking protection," and that "[a]sylum claims will also be rejected if the applicants may be repatriated in a different region of the same country that is deemed safe" (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018). According to the AIDA report, "[n]o list of safe countries of origin has been adopted yet" [as of 31 December 2018] (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 14).

2.1 Elimination of Humanitarian Protection

According to sources, the new law eliminates "humanitarian" reasons as grounds for protection (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018; The Local 29 Nov. 2018). The AIDA report adds that it is no longer possible for those holding residence permits for humanitarian protection to renew them (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 134). Sources explain that those given humanitarian protection were previously granted two-year residency permits (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 134; IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; The Local 29 Nov. 2018). IRIN explains that this category was "broadly interpreted as those who [are not] refugees but who [cannot] be sent home either" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). Open Migration states that the rationale for the elimination of humanitarian protection "is that the definition of humanitarian protection is too uncertain, leaving 'too wide a margin for extensive interpretation' and creating too many 'fake refugees' who are 'running from no war,' as [Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo] Salvini has stated repeatedly" (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018). However, according to Amnesty International,

the abolition of humanitarian protection status is depriving thousands of people, who had their asylum request rejected and who cannot lawfully be repatriated, of a legal status which would allow them to access health, housing and social services, education and work, negatively affecting their wellbeing, safety and dignity. (Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 8)

2.2 Introduction of Special Protection Permits

According to sources, the law has replaced humanitarian protection with "special permits" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; Al Jazeera 17 Dec. 2018; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018) for "restricted categories" of individuals seeking protection (Al Jazeera 17 Dec. 2018). The AIDA report explains that these "special protection" permits are to be "granted to persons who, according to the law, cannot be expelled or refouled" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 36). IRIN states that "a much narrower group" is eligible for these special permits in comparison those previously eligible to humanitarian protection (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). Open Migration quotes an attorney with the Italian Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), as saying that the special permits constitute "'a very limited form of protection'" (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018). According to sources, the special protection permits are valid for one year (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 36; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018). The Local, an English-language Italian news website, states that residence permits replacing humanitarian protection permits "will now take the form of a one-year 'special protection' status or a six-month 'natural disaster in country of origin' status" (The Local 29 Nov. 2018).

According to sources, conditions which may allow the granting of special permits include:

  • Domestic violence (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018);
  • "[S]evere exploitation" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018) or "labour exploitation" (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2019);
  • Trafficking (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018);
  • [Serious (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018)] health or medical issues (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018; ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 135);
  • Natural disasters (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 135); and
  • "[A]cts of civic valour" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018) or "for particular civil value" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 135).

The AIDA report adds that other cases include those where the applicants cannot be returned to a country where they may be subjected to torture or "persecuted for reasons of race, sex, language, citizenship, religion, political opinions, [or] personal or social conditions" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 36-37). The AIDA report further states that "[s]pecial protection is not granted when it is possible to transfer the applicant to a country which could offer equivalent protection (protezione analoga ) to Italy" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 37, italics in original). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the AIDA report, these new residence permits "can be released directly by the Questuras [Immigration Office of the Police]" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 135). The AIDA report adds that the special protection permits "allow access to the labour market but, contrary to permits for humanitarian protection, they cannot be converted into a labour residence permit. They can be renewed, subject to a favourable opinion by the Territorial Commission" [3] (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 135). The ASGI attorney quoted by Open Migration similarly states that the special protection permit "'cannot be converted into a residency permit even if the beneficiary has found permanent housing. It can only be extended for a further year'" (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018).

2.3 Transitional and Retroactive Implementation

According to IRIN, "under the new law, authorities are no longer able to distribute the [humanitarian protection residence] permits, even after they have been granted" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). The AIDA report states that

[t]he 2018 reform has provided for a transitional regime only for those who have been waiting for the issuance of the first residence permit for humanitarian protection or those to whom the Territorial Commissions had already granted, although not yet communicated, humanitarian protection before 5 October 2018. These persons receive a residence permit for "special cases" granted for two years and convertible into a labour residence permit. Upon expiry, if not converted into work permits, the "special cases" permits are not renewed. The only option for the holders of such [a] permit is then for such persons to obtain a "special protection" permit if they meet the conditions. (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 135)

The same source also states that the 2018 reform

does not regulate the situation [of] asylum seekers who applied for [international] protection before its entry into force on 5 October 2018 and who are still waiting for a first instance decision. As of that date, the Territorial Commissions have already stopped examining the possibility to grant humanitarian protection, pursuant to instructions from the Ministry of Interior.

However, the Civil Courts and Courts of Appeal have so far agreed on the non-retroactivity of the reform and have continued to grant humanitarian protection to asylum seekers after 5 October 2018, at least for appeals that were submitted prior to the entry into force of the law. (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 37)

The AIDA report further adds that

[i]n February 2019, the Court of Cassation held that Decree Law 113/2018 should be considered non-retroactive for all asylum procedures already initiated at the time of its entry into force. At the moment, however, Territorial Commissions are unequivocally applying the new regime to all ongoing procedures, therefore not granting humanitarian protection, given that … the [National Commission for the Right of Asylum] has received instructions from the Ministry of Interior to disregard the Court of Cassation judgment. (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 37)

Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Exclusion from Reception Facilities

Sources report that the reforms restrict the access of asylum seekers to Italy's reception system (Amnesty International Mar. 2019, 8; Al Jazeera 17 Dec. 2018; The Local 29 Nov. 2018). According to IRIN, "[a] migrant can be entitled to remain in Italy as an asylum seeker or refugee, but can still lose, with a 'withdrawal order,' all institutional support, such as accommodation, training, [and] medical care," among others (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). The same source adds that individuals who receive a withdrawal notice "instantly lose their place in a residence centre [and] a €75 monthly allowance," among other forms of institutional support, and that withdrawal notices may be given to those "found guilty of minor infractions" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Open Migration states that "[u]nder the new law, only foreign unaccompanied minors, beneficiaries of international protection, and those in possession of 'special' residency permits will have access to SPRAR [the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees]," a "decentralised network" of reception and integration services (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018). According to IRIN, loss of access to SPRAR facilities also means that affected individuals are no longer able to access "integration measures such as language classes and work skills courses" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). According to sources, asylum seekers will only be able to access CAS [centres for extraordinary reception, emergency accommodation centres, temporary reception centres] (Open Migration 19 Dec. 2018; IRIN 7 Dec. 2018; ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 15). IRIN describes CAS as "supposedly temporary accommodation facilities" that "are for the most part managed by commercial entities with no track record in providing housing and services for asylum seekers, and have been associated with corruption and substandard living conditions" (IRIN 7 Dec. 2018). The AIDA report also states that "[s]ubstandard conditions" in CAS were "widely reported," noting "unsuitable facilities; lack of hygiene and lack of safety conditions minimally adequate for both guests and workers" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 57, 99).

Sources report that asylum seekers have been expelled from reception centers following the coming into effect of the reforms and left without shelter (The Local 29 Nov. 2018; Al Jazeera 17 Dec. 2018; ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 83). According to the AIDA report, those excluded from the reception system include "holders of humanitarian protection status" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 83).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is funded by the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM) and coordinated by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE); it "aims to provide up-to date information on asylum practice in 23 countries" in Europe (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 2).

[2] IRIN was founded by the UN in 1995 and became independent in 2015; in 2019 it changed its name to the New Humanitarian (The New Humanitarian n.d.). It is an independent non-profit news organization dedicated to humanitarian issues (The New Humanitarian n.d.).

[3] The AIDA report describes the Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection (Commissioni Territoriali per il Riconoscimento della Protezione Internazionale ) as administrative bodies responsible for examining asylum applications and for taking first instance decisions, adding that they "are established under the responsibility of Prefectures" (ECRE 16 Apr. 2019, 18).


Al Jazeera. 17 December 2018. Ylenia Gostoli. "'Salvini Law' Could Make Thousands of Refugees Homeless ." [Accessed 6 May 2019]

Amnesty International. March 2019. Italy: Refugees and Migrants' Rights Under Attack . Amnesty International submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review, 34th session of the UPR Working Group, November 2019. (EUR 30/0237/2019) [Accessed 6 May 2019]

European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE). 16 April 2019. Asylum Information Database (AIDA). Country Report: Italy - 2018 Update . Written by Caterina Bove, Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI). [Accessed 6 May 2019]

IRIN. 7 December 2018. Lorenzo D'Agostino. "New Italian Law Adds to Unofficial Clampdown on Aid to Asylum Seekers ." [Accessed 6 May 2019]

The Local. 29 November 2018. "Salvini's Anti-Migrant Security Decree Becomes Law in Italy ." [Accessed 6 May 2019]

The New Humanitarian. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 14 May 2019]

Open Migration. 19 December 2018. Claudia Torrisi. "The Italian Government Has Approved a New Bill Targeting Migrants ." [Accessed 6 May 2019]

Open Migration. N.d. "About." [Accessed 14 May 2019]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including:Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI);; European Database of Asylum Law; European Network on Statelessness; Formiche ; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; Italian Council for Refugees; Italian Institute for International Political Studies; Refugee.Info – Italy; UN – Refworld; US – Department of State, Law Library of Congress; Valigia Blu ;