Second Roundtable of the Italian Migration Governance Network
The second RESPOND roundtable of the Italian Migration Governance Network was held on the 2nd of July at the University of Florence, eight months after the first one. On that occasion, the purpose was to discuss some key issues relating to the governance of the migration phenomenon in Italy. In particular, the discussion revolved around three main migration policy areas: border management, reception, and integration policies. Participants were encouraged to share different points of view and approaches and were free to raise new reflections. Specifically, they were asked to focus on the main changes occurred since 2011 and on the most important actors involved in policy formulation and implementation.
This roundtable – that was also the first SIRIUS focus group for the Work Package 4 – kept the same framework. Participants, including lawyers, legal experts, decision makers, social workers, and activists, were asked to focus on two main topics: a) changes occurred after the approval on the so-called “Salvini decree” in October 2018; and b) the role of labour market policies in favouring integration processes. The first part was largely a follow-up from the previous event, in order to shed light on the practical implication on the new legislation on reception practices as well as on the activities carried out by the Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection (Commissioni Territoriali per il Riconoscimento della Protezione Internazionale). The second topic mostly explored the importance of work and labour oriented policies for a successful social integration of migrants, with a focus on the relevance of civil society associations in orienting migrants and especially in accessing the labour market.
In the first part of the discussion, the participants have firstly underlined problems linked to the procedural difficulties for asylum seekers in obtaining the residence in the municipalities where they are hosted. This has effect in terms of the “feelings of belonging” to a community, as one can feel excluded from a local community. Nevertheless, basic services such as healthcare are still provided to asylum seekers who are not registered as residents. Another aspect upon which participants have insisted is that the ‘Salvini decree’ revoked the right of asylum seekers and refugees to be hosted in the second-line reception facilities of the National System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (Sistema di Protezione per Richiedenti Asilo e Rifugiati, SPRAR), who are now supposed to find their own accommodation once they leave the Temporary Reception Centers (Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria, CAS). This situation resulted in thousands of people being thrown into the street in a matter of days, increasing problems linked to the accommodation business and the black market. Moreover, more stringent rules for those hosted in the CAS structures – accompanied by a reduction in (per capita) funding – resulted in distrust and demoralization. Asylum seekers residing in these centres do not trust the personnel, not even cultural mediators, who are often considered to be ‘siding with the Italians’, while they are in fact forced to apply and convey regulations that are imposed upon them. The lack of trust is amplified by the unevenness of the whole reception system, with asylum seekers and refugees being treated differently in different centres and localities because of discretionary interpretation of the new rules. This is worsened by the stricter mechanism of checks and controls operated in some areas by the Police and Governmental Authorities (Questure), which results in an increase of the annulment of the right to be hosted in the reception structures, often for minor violations. Overall, the new regulations have the effect of increasing insecurity and deviant behaviours. In fact, asylum seekers and refugees out of the reception system often end up being exploited by criminal networks.
According to the participants, the ‘Salvini decree’ also had heavy practical implications for the Territorial Commissions evaluating the asylum requests. In particular, the new legislation abolished the permits of stay for humanitarian protection, which were largely used before. Several special permits issued by the Questure – and not by the Territorial Commissions – have been instituted to replace the humanitarian protection status, which can be granted for health reasons, to victims of natural disasters, victims of human trafficking, victims of violence and for special acts of bravery and civil valour. However, such permits are now rarely conceded and there is a vacuum – previously covered by the humanitarian protection – that is becoming extremely problematic. In short, we moved from a situation where there was a potential ‘abuse’ of the instrument of humanitarian protection to a complete lack of residual protection. This is worsened by the absence of clear directives in the way the new provisions have to be interpreted and implemented, that results into very different practices among different Questure due to a lack of coordination or limited informal exchanges. This is also evident by the different interpretation of the law by the Territorial Commissions operating in different regions. Moreover, during the discussion has been frequently stressed the weakness of safe and legal channels for migration (even for working reasons). This might have led to an ‘abuse’ of the asylum procedure in the past few years.
In the second part of the meeting, we discussed the role of work and labour oriented policies for a successful integration of migrants in the society. Work is a fundamental “means” of integration. However, being employed is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a successful integration. Training/education is important but often not sufficient if it is not followed by having a job or a work activity. This is particularly important for women, as a way of emancipation and integration into the host society.
Having a job is a crucial element for the dignity and self-accomplishment of a person. It is also crucial from a political standpoint, in that “having a job and paying taxes” seems the only way to stay and be accepted in our society, also according to the speeches of several national-populist politicians. A common problem is to recognize the skills and job attitudes of migrants when they try to enter the labour market. Due to their very different backgrounds, and often lack of education, it is necessary to offer traineeships even to people with a previous professional background. In other words, it is not possible for a former mechanic or electrician from sub-Saharan Africa, for example, to do the same job in Europe, without a specific training, given the very different technical requirements of those jobs. Some success stories of integration are made through those programs.
Having a job and a place to stay are also two necessary steps in order to convert a residence permit or renew it. However, the new legislation also introduced a catch: with the end of humanitarian permits of stay, if one does not already have a job, he or she can only apply for a special permit which cannot be converted into a work permit later on, increasing the chances of turning to the black market. This situation translates into a high risk of migrants’ exploitation, since they are in a condition of extreme need and therefore are forced to accept whatever contract the employer proposes them.
A final interesting aspect participants have discussed relates to the way migrants find an employment. As for ‘economic’ migrants, often jobs are found through ethnic networks, whereas asylum seekers can rely upon the relatively active involvement of institutions, NGOs, and civil society associations involved in the migration governance system.
To sum up, the most important elements that emerge from the roundtable are:
There are procedural difficulties in obtaining the residence, with implications in terms of the “feelings of belonging” to a local community.
The ‘Salvini decree’ revoked the right of asylum seekers and refugees to be hosted in the SPRAR facilities. This has translated into enormous problems for them to find accommodation once they leave the CAS centres.
More stringent rules for asylum seekers hosted in the CAS structures resulted in distrust and demoralization. This is amplified by the unevenness of the reception system, with asylum seekers and refugee being treated differently depending on where they stay. Overall, the new regulations have the effect of increasing insecurity and deviant behaviours, with asylum seekers out of the reception system often ending up being exploited by criminal networks.
Working is a necessary, but not sufficient, “means” of integration.
There are problems linked to the recognition of skills and job attitudes of migrants when they try to enter the labour market.
‘Economic’ migrants find jobs mostly through ethnic networks. Asylum seekers rely upon the relatively active involvement of institutions, NGOs, and civil society associations.
 The Decree-law no. 113/2018, known as “Salvini Decree” on immigration and public security (converted into Law no. 132/2018), modified the previous legislation on immigration and reception by reducing the cases for granting humanitarian protection (previously granted to those who could neither obtain the refugee status nor subsidiary protection but could not be repatriated).
 The Questure are police authorities mainly dealing with public safety and security, as well as dealing with some administrative functions.