Italy: Asylum procedure and reception conditions

The Swiss Refugee Council & the Law Students’ Legal Aid Office, Juss-Buss, Norway

May 2011

Key issues in brief

Italy has in the last years been overwhelmed by a great number of asylum seekers arriving on its territory. Since the Italian authorities have made an effort to implement the Dublin-System better than in previous years, Italy remains responsible for a large number of cases, even if persons who have claimed asylum have left the country again. Especially since Switzerland has begun to participate in the Dublin procedure, Italy has been faced with an enormous amount of asylum seekers for whom take-back or take-charge requests have been made. The Italian Dublin Office openly admits that it lacks the capacity to process all requests in due time and works under great pressure.

It is a fact that Italy until today is still struggling to provide facilities to receive all applicants properly as prescribed by the Reception Conditions Directive. Applicants run the risk of being denied access to the rights secured by the EU Asylum Acquis during all stages of the asylum procedure and in the integration system.

Consequently, a larger number of asylum seekers leave Italy after having applied for asylum. Arriving in other European countries, they describe how they have not been properly received in Italy after they filed their asylum request. Another group leaving are those who have already been granted protection status as refugees or given subsidiary protection or received a permit on humanitarian grounds. The fact that these still chose to leave Italy appears to be caused to a large extent by the difficulties in receiving sufficient support and integration assistance.

The major problems of the Italian system are due to the fact that the reception system is not commensurate to the number of applicants. In theory, after a shorter stay in a reception and registration center (CARAs are designed for an identification period and housing up to 1000 applicants; in total around 2000 places are available), asylum seekers should be transferred to other, smaller centers for the procedures that offer integration measures and better reception conditions (SPRAR centers, around 3000 places available). In theory, asylum seekers who have been granted a status should be able to support themselves after the stay in such a center (which lasts normally up to six months). Italian law enables asylum seekers to work after six months.

As the system does by far not provide enough places in total, the authorities are not able to provide appropriate accommodation for all asylum seekers according to the system described above. As social support (food, shelter, integration, etc.) for the asylum sector is linked to the sojourn in a center, this causes severe problems for those who do not get a place there. Secondly, the sojourn in a center is granted only for a limited period. Consequently, after this time has expired, asylum seekers find themselves receiving no further assistance by the authorities. These problems concern all persons in the asylum regime not only those during the procedure phase but also those who were granted refugee status, subsidiary or humanitarian protection.

This was the situation that the delegation encountered in the year 2010, when the very recent developments in Northern Africa were still unforeseeable. It is obvious that the recent influx of refugees is aggravating the situation even further.

1. No access to accommodation and assistance at the initial stage of procedure

In theory, every asylum seeker should be assigned to a reception and registration center after he or she issues the claim. This first phase of accommodation should last for 20 or 35 days after registration, depending on how they arrived in the country. Various sources have confirmed that in many cases, there is no access to accommodation for the period between the first contact with Italian authorities and the formal registration of the asylum claim. This period can vary from a few weeks up to, in the worst cases, several months, depending on the capacity of the authorities. In 2010, the delay could last up to two months in major cities, during this period many asylum seekers have no shelter and live on the street.

2. Accommodation not for all asylum seekers

When registered, asylum seekers who fail to support themselves and their relatives economically have at least – according to Italian law – the right to accommodation until the first instance decision is taken. But the main problem is that there are only approximately 3000 places available in SPRAR centers. These centers should also provide for integration measures. As the system is not sufficient, authorities are not able to secure a place in such a center. Therefore, most asylum seekers do not benefit from integration measures during their procedure, with the consequence that they are not – as anticipated under the system – prepared to pursue their lives independently. This situation is aggravated by the current economic situation that led to a high unemployment quota in Italy. Refugees and asylum seekers are the last candidates to be considered for any job; many low-paid jobs previously open to them are now reoccupied by Italian nationals and other foreigners.

If no space is available in SPRAR centers, asylum seekers may be accommodated in a CARA, normally hosting only asylum seekers who have been temporarily arrested for illegal entry or stay. As there is only space for approximately 2000 persons in such centers, not all asylum seekers have access to accommodation. Without accommodation, access to basic needs like food and personal hygiene is also hard to achieve. Financial support is not provided under any circumstances.

3. Lack of appropriate accommodation and support after granting of status

The most severe problems arise for those who have qualified for a status of international protection. As soon as asylum seekers have been granted a protection status (refugee status or subsidiary protection) linked to a residence permit, they are considered to be able to support themselves independently. Consequently, there are only very limited accommodation facilities offered by the authorities. In practice, allocation to a center is often extended for some additional months for vulnerable cases. Most people, however, are put on the streets with a work permit that is useless as they are not able to find work. Also, vulnerable persons are put on the streets once the extended period has expired.

Without accommodation, access to basic needs like food and personal hygiene is also hard to achieve. Financial support is not provided under any circumstances. As the state does not give them money, individuals who are not being accommodated by the government have to depend on themselves or on welfare organizations and NGOs for everything they need to survive.

4. Insufficient access to health care due to lack of information

There are serious communication and information problems with regards to access to health care during the procedure and after recognition. The authorities fail to inform the applicants about their rights. Consequently, although asylum seekers are entitled to benefit from the public health care system, they fail to do so because they are not informed. This is a very poor implementation of Article 5 of the Reception Conditions Directive, which stipulates that Member States have to inform asylum seekers about their rights within 15 days after they have filed the claim.

Many interviewed stakeholders have pointed out that treatment and social assistance of traumatized asylum seekers and refugees or persons with mental diseases is by no means sufficient or satisfactory.

5. Integration lottery – only local concepts

Unlike in most European countries, integration programs in Italy are generally only offered while the asylum seeker is still in the procedure and in some cases for a short time after their recognition. Integration programs should be offered in the accommodation centers of the SPRAR system. However, as most asylum seekers are not given a place in the SPRAR Center, the CARA facilities also offer some language teaching. The offer comprises Italian courses (very often in huge classes) and some training in how to find a job. Apart from this, individuals depend on themselves.

In Italy, the responsibility for the integration of recognized asylum seekers is decentralized, which leaves much to the will and means of local authorities. This causes regional discrepancies in the services offered, which implies unpredictability for the individual. Thanks to the work of NGOs, asylum seekers in many places get further help in addition to the assistance the authorities can offer. However, this support is based mainly on voluntary engagements and is therefore neither reliable nor predictable.

Read the full report here.