A number of gaps persist regarding refugee protection in Italy, in particular with regards to the integration of refugees and the reception of asylum seekers, UNHCR argues in a new advocacy paper.

One of the most problematic areas of the Italian asylum system identified by UNHCR is the integration prospects for beneficiaries of international protection, which have severely diminished with the current economic crisis and the lack of a comprehensive integration strategy. It is argued that shortcomings in Italian legislation and practice might hinder efforts of refugees from becoming self-sufficient. There is an increasing number of refugees, including families with children, living in centres for homeless people and squatting abandoned buildings. According to research carried out by an NGO in Rome, around 1,700 beneficiaries of international protection are living in abandoned buildings.

Regarding reception conditions for asylum seekers, UNHCR underlines that asylum seekers accommodated through the emergency reception plan established to respond to the sudden increase in arrivals from North Africa in 2011 did not have access to many of the minimum services foreseen by law for their reception. The quality of reception measures, which were meant to be provided until the end of the ‘state of emergency’ did not improve substantially over time. According to UNHCR, reception conditions also deteriorated in government centres due to overcrowding and funding constraints.

According to UNHCR, there are still delays in accessing reception facilities when a person applies for international protection, due to structural gaps, lack of capacity, slow administrative procedures and problems in the registration of the asylum applications. In this respect, UNHCR finds that there are still significant differences among regions in Italy.

Regarding access to the territory, the Italian Government has confirmed that the push-back policy that led to the Hirsi Jamaa and Others v Italycase would not be repeated but concrete measures remain to be adopted. Furthermore, UNHCR remains concerned with hundreds of Egyptian and Tunisian migrants who have been repatriated without having the opportunity to meet with any NGO or receive basic information about their rights. UNHCR underlines that there are still reportsstating that people, including children, are being returned to Greece without having their protection needs properly assessed. The UN Refugee Agency urges Italy to ensure that all border control mechanisms respect international commitments, including the principle of non-refoulement.

While UNHCR is satisfied with Italy’s recognition rates, some concerns were noted about reports indicating that asylum seekers that were detained, were returned to their country of origin before the end of the period foreseen by law to appeal a negative first instance decision. Furthermore, free legal aid at appeal is not always guaranteed in practice, contrary to the law. UNHCR strongly recommends that Italy adopts further legislation with the objective of guaranteeing access to legal remedies to asylum seekers who have had their claims denied.

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 This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 13 September 2013.

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