Cutro decree approved by the Italian parliament “marks latest attempt by the extreme right parties in Italy to remove protection statuses from national law”. Arrivals to Italy continue to increase with Tunisia’s crack-down on migrants as a push-factor. By early May the Mediterranean route had seen more than 1,000 people dead or missing – NGO rescue operators continue to save lives under “dramatic” circumstances. Malta sticks with non-response tactics.

The controversial so-called Cutro decree (“Decreto Cutro”) dubbed after a deadly shipwreck off Calabria in February was converted into law as the Chamber of Deputies – the lower house of the Italian Parliament – approved it with 213 votes in favour and 133 against. A briefing by ECRE outlines the context, content and probable impact of the decree. The brief defines the new law “the latest attempt by the extreme right parties in Italy to remove protection statuses from national law. In this case, they want to limit the use of the “special protection” status” – such statuses exist in most national systems and cover people who do not qualify for refugee status or subsidiary protection under EU law but who nonetheless have protection needs or who cannot be returned for human rights reasons. According to the brief the so-called “Salvini Decree” in 2018 severely restricted humanitarian protection status which was used extensively in Italy. As the main result was more irregularity, the last government introduced the “special protection” status with Decree 130/2020 (also named “Lamorgese Decree” after the then Minister of Interior). The new law restricts the use of special protection by removing the violation of the right to private and family life as the basis for protection. Further, it dictates that residence permits for certain categories of people (fleeing natural disaster, needing medical treatment, and former unaccompanied minors) will be harder to obtain, as well as the exclusion of asylum seekers from the SAI reception system (Sistema Accoglienza Integrazione) – instead to be hosted in the Extraordinary Reception Centers (CAS), thus lowering their chances of taking part in programmes aimed at fostering social inclusion. It also widens the scope for detention of applicants who are subject to the accelerated asylum procedure at the border, limits the possibility of submitting subsequent applications, introduces return decisions after the time limit to appeal has expired, and adds a further reason for withdrawal of protection status has been introduced, “namely for the case in which the applicant returns to the country of origin for a short period of time without justified reasons”. According to ECRE, the likely impact of the law will include: “Increased irregularity – more people without status and forced to resort to irregular work; Lack of social inclusion – due to limited access to integration measures; “Exploitation – a possible increase in people exploited by criminal organisations; “Secondary” movement to other EU member states due to lack of prospects for protection and/or absence of inclusion measures in Italy”. Sea-Watch Italy commented on the passing of the law: “The denial of rights dictated by propaganda becomes law. With the aggravating circumstance of branding this measure with the name of the place of one of the greatest tragedies caused by the same inhumane policies. We will oppose it, with practice, at sea and on land”. The Iuventa-crew stated: “What to expect from this fascist government. They never wanted to address the causes that lead to the deaths of thousands of people at sea, but instead to increase imprisonment, irregularity, exclusion and deportations”. In a statement, Human Rights Watch wrote: “The new law will have a devastating impact on migrants’ rights, including their ability to seek protection, access fair asylum procedures, and enjoy freedom of movement. The Italian parliament’s own legislative committee flagged that a provision in the law that limits the right of appeal highlighting it may be unconstitutional”.

Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, has cancelled a visit to Paris last minute over remarks made by French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin. Darmanin called the Italian government incapable and stated that PM, Giorgia Meloni, has been “unable to solve the migration problems on which she was elected” and is “lying” and breaking her promise to voters of stopping migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. Figures released on 5 May by the Italian interior ministry reveal 42,449 arrivals since the start of the year. The number of unaccompanied children in the Italian Reception and Integration System (SAI) stands at more than 12,000 compared to 1,142 in 2015. The number of migrants arriving on Italian shores has been steadily increasing from 4,962 in January, to 9,465 in February, 13,263 in March and 14,507 in April. On 7 May, the arrival of nearly 2,000 people at Lampedusa in less than three days was reported. Tunisia has become a hub for people seeking access to Europe and according to spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration IOM, Flavio Di Giacomo, the country has taken over from Libya as the main place of departure for migrants crossing the Mediterranean. In January 2023, 51% of arrivals to Italy came from Tunisia and 37% from Libya. This includes Tunisian nationals, as well as increasing numbers of sub-Saharan Africans in particular from countries in West Africa. Di Giacomo refers to the increasingly harsh crack-down on migrants in Tunisia as a push factor, stating: “In Tunisia, migrants are telling us that lately there has been a lot of discrimination against Western African migrants. Conditions are very harsh. Migrants are reporting they are being robbed, assaulted, quite often and they are tired of this situation, so they are trying to leave the country”. The increased number of departures has also resulted in numerous deadly shipwrecks off Tunisia and on May 8, Tunisian authorities reported the recovery of the bodies of 14 migrants in the space of about 24 hours.

A total of 1,053 people are reported dead or missing in the Mediterranean this year as of early May. Since 2014, more than 26,000 people have died or gone missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and the number across maritime routes to Europe stands at 30,000 in the same period. As the situation in the Mediterranean “remains dramatic,” civilian search and rescue operators continue to save lives. RESQSHIP reported on 6 May: “Last night, the Nadir assisted a total of 234 people from six boats in distress, within 5 hours. 3 people are missing. Around 6 pm, the Nadir reached a distress case where the boat had already capsized. 38 people were pulled out of the water by 3 fishing boats”. The organisation was involved in another rescue the following day of 130 people including more than 15 children that had been adrift for three days. Meanwhile, rescue ship Louise Michel is preparing to go back at sea after being detained for 20 days for “rescuing too many people”. The organisation stated “Not only is the far right Italian government working hard to restrict private rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, but the German flag state, under which the Louise Michel is registered, has again raised the crewing requirements for our already highly over-certified crew”, adding that they will not stop their work “until this cruel fortress named Europe has a political solution that respects the basic human rights of everyone, regardless of nationality or status”. Besides, the trial of members of Iuventa Crew, a rescue ship seized by Italian authorities since 2017, began on 12 May. The members might be facing up to 20 years in prison and millions of euros in fines for an alleged indictment for “facilitating irregular entry” of migrants to Italy. Further, the NGO hotline, Alarm Phone has reported numerous distress alerts of boats escaping Libya to where almost 5,000 people have been returned after interceptions in 2023 as of 6 May. Italian PM, Meloni recently met with General Khalifa Haftar, the strongman in the Cyrenaica region in Libya from where thousands of migrants depart attempting to reach Italy via the Mediterranean Sea. Reportedly, Haftar’s visit to Rome was an attempt to move the dialogue on the stabilization of Libya. The country has two competing governments, one in Tripoli and one, which is not recognized, in Benghazi. On her side, Meloni raised concern over the increase in migrant arrivals and the potential fleeing of hundreds of thousands of people from the conflict in Sudan.

Malta continues its non-response tactics. Times of Malta reported how “EU was urged to rescue 29 people in “deteriorating weather conditions” in Maltese waters by Alarm Phone on 8 May. Sea-Watch International reported on 6 May: “Our monitoring airplane Seabird spotted three boats in distress in the Maltese SAR zone with 100-120 people each. We urgently call on Maltese authorities to launch an immediate rescue operation and ensure the safety of all those on board”. The organisation further stated: “More time spent in open sea waters could mean the difference between life and death for those aboard the distress case, as they face risks of hypothermia, dehydration, capsizing, and drowning”. Sea-Watch International comments on the recent interview by European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, stating: “Varhelyi praises Malta’s absence from its own search and rescue zone and puts into perspective illegal pushbacks funded by Europe & coordinated by EU member states”. The organisation further notes that as people drown in the Mediterranean “Malta gives orders not to rescue and ignores distress calls”. Meanwhile, media refers findings of the latest AIDA country update on Malta: “45% of the countries listed as being “safe countries” in Malta’s International Protection Act criminalise LGBTIQ+ identities and behaviour”. Further, recommendations made in the last annual reports for 2021 and 2022 by the Monitoring Board for Detained Persons have been published through a parliamentary question to home affairs minister, Byron Camilleri. According to media: “No less than 10 of the 15 recommendations made in the 2021 report are repeated practically word for word in the subsequent report, as are 4 of the 9 recommendations made in 2018. But many of the concerns highlighted in the other recommendations – including concerns about the food quality – also repeat themselves”. Reportedly, recommendations made by Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović to “avoid the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and migrants,” and suggestions of seeking “alternatives to migrant detention, improving safeguards against the detention of vulnerable persons, and ensuring that any detention of minors is immediately ended” also “predictably fell on deaf ears”. The death of a Sudanese teenager, Nebil Abdula, at the Ħal Far detention centre in 2020, remains under magisterial and police investigation. Following the tragedy, the government issued a statement saying he had fallen off a fence while trying to escape the closed Lyster Barracks. However, the Council of Europe delegation said that it “cannot reassure itself that staff, including healthcare staff, had reacted sufficiently promptly when crucial help was needed to save this young man’s life from the effects of suspected internal bleeding over a period of at least three hours.” The Council has requested a copy of the full death certificate and Magistrate’s report to be submitted to the Attorney General.

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