Italy govt adopts tough anti-migrant decree

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says a new bill will "reduce the costs of excessive immigration, expel delinquents and fake refugees, strip terrorists of citizenship (and) give the police greater powers" (AFP Photo/Vasily MAXIMOV) (AFP/File)

Rome (AFP) - The Italian government on Monday adopted a heavily-criticised security decree which will make it easier to expel migrants and strip them of Italian citizenship.

The new bill is "a step forward to make Italy safer," far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said on Facebook.

It will help Italy "be stronger in the fight against the mafia and (people) smugglers, reduce the costs of excessive immigration, expel delinquents and fake refugees, strip terrorists of citizenship, (and) give the police greater powers," Salvini said.

President Sergio Mattarella has 60 days to sign the legislation and then it goes to Parliament for approval.

Presenting the decree to journalists alongside Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Salvini said the decree streamlines the rules for processing asylum requests and brings Italy into line with other EU countries.

Humanitarian protection -- a lower level of asylum status that is based on Italian rather than international law -- that was awarded to 25 percent of asylum seekers last year would henceforth be awarded based on six strict criteria.

These include whether there is an urgent medical need or if the applicant was the victim of a natural disaster, or if they had carried out "heroic acts" in Italy.

Of the 81,500 decisions handed down by Italian authorities in 2017, eight percent were granted asylum, eight percent subsidiary protection and a quarter humanitarian protection.

The remainder were rejected. If appeals fail, they face the prospect of being classed as economic migrants who must return home.

Those seeking refugee status will now have their requests suspended if they are considered "socially dangerous or convicted in the first instance" of crimes, while their appeals are ongoing.

They will also 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 in order to facilitate integration.

There are currently around 155,000 migrants held in reception centres, down from 183,000 at the end of 2017.

The Italian mayors' association has railed against the change as having hundreds of unemployed migrants in reception centres can have a negative impact on small communities.

- 'Bad sign' -

The new law also lets local police have Taser stun guns and makes it easier to evict squatters by getting rid of the obligation of finding provisional housing for the most vulnerable.

The controversial bill has been heavily criticised in recent weeks, including by members of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) which governs in coalition with Salvini's far-right League.

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

Italian media reported that President Mattarella obtained amendments to the draft after threatening not to sign it, an obligatory step on the bill's way to parliament.

The cabinet passed the decree unanimously but fellow deputy prime minister and M5S head Luigi di Maio warned that "there are points (in the bill) that are not in the government programme and so will be discussed in parliament."

The head of Italy's bishops' conference Nunzio Galantino has lamented the fact that security and the treatment of migrants are dealt with in the same bill.

"This means that the immigrant is already judged because of his condition and that he's already considered a public menace, whatever his behaviour. This is a bad sign," Galantino said.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, has taken a hardline on immigration since the coalition came to power in June, refusing to allow several ships carrying migrants and asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean to dock at Italian ports.