Giovanni Papotti is an Italian Law student from the University of Turin (Italy) with a passion for  international law and human rights. He has been working on migration law for more than two years, both in academia and on the ground. Giovanni is currently working with  the Refugee Law Clinic in Torino, where he collaborates with specialised lawyers to help asylum seekers preparing for the commission interview. Previously, he was involved in the Human Rights and Migration Law Clinic organised by the University of Turin in partnership with the Eastern Piedmont University at Alessandria and International University College of Turin and also attended the Turin International Summer School “Europe, Migration and Inclusive growth: a focus on human capital”. In 2015 he was selected for a prestigious exchange program in London organised by  George Town University called the Center for Transnational Legal Studies. His dream is to pursue a career in migration law and work at a national level first and eventually also abroad.  


Italy: The Gateway to Europe

It was the 7th of August 1991 when the cargo ship named Vlora left the port of Durazzo heading towards the Apulian coast,  arriving in Bari the following day. There were more than 20’000 migrants on board escaping from the repressive Albanian regime, which had no opportunities to offer for the future. That was the first time that Italy was confronted face to face with the phenomenon of mass migration flows, which eventually characterised its history for the following years, becoming the subject of policy-making and social discussions.

Photo credits: Wikimedia/La Vlora attraccata al molo di levante del porto di Bari, piena di migranti albanesi. Luca Turi/ 8 agosto 1991

Photo credits: Wikimedia/La Vlora attraccata al molo di levante del porto di Bari, piena di migranti albanesi.
Luca Turi/ 8 agosto 1991

Twenty-five years later the situation is always the same: the routes have changed, the countries of origin of the people arriving have changed, but Italy continues to be the entrance to the “Fortress of Europe”. Europe symbolises for  many people the chance to find a job, the respect of human dignity and rights and the opportunity of a better life. These are things that migrants dream during their journey but when they arrive in Europe they understand that the situation is different. Article 12, paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own” (recovering art. 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) but this paragraph still offers the possibility of restricting such right under many conditions  (national security, public order…). This shows that each individual State can decide what kind of policy to adopt concerning migration: blocking the access to its territory to certain categories of people, depending on the reasons for which they want to enter and their nationality. But, as always, there is an exception: the right of asylum. In this case, states recognise a general right to enter in their territory according to the needs and rights of the person who is asking for protection.

Photo credits: Wikimedia/Maximilian Dörrbecker/ Migratory Routes Map/ European migrant crisis. Asylum applicants in Europe between 1 January and 30 June 2015/ CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credits: Wikimedia/Maximilian Dörrbecker/ Migratory Routes Map/
European migrant crisis. Asylum applicants in Europe between 1 January and 30 June 2015/
CC BY-SA 2.0

The difficulties for many people to enter legally in Italy as economic migrants to find a job that can guarantee them a better life, has made it so that the normal proceeding to enter in Italy (and in the rest of Europe) is to ask for a form of international protection, which has distorted the the system and produced huge confusion about the different categories of migrants. The inability of the Italian government and of Europe to find a solution that could transform what is now defined as a problem into an opportunity, shows how immigration policies are the biggest challenge faced by Europe in the current humanitarian crisis, which requires strong and sensible answers.

How does the Italian proceeding for International Protection work?

1. ARRIVAL & INITIAL RELOCATION 

The majority of migrants arrive in Italy passing through Lampedusa or the Sicilian coast. The humanitarian operations in the Mediterranean sea, conducted by the European Union and private associations, permit to search for and rescue migrants, bringing them safe to Italy. Here they affirm to be asylum seekers, so they are subject to the  welcome procedure, which, according to Italian law, involves the redistribution of people region by region. Normally an asylum seeker is allocated in a shelter for homeless people one day and half from the moment in which he is arrived in Italy. There are public and private associations that work in this field which provide to host and take care of asylum seekers.

Photo credits: Wikimedia/Sara Prestianni / noborder network/ Migrants arriving on the Island of Lampedusa in August 2007/ CC BY 2.0

Photo credits: Wikimedia/Sara Prestianni / noborder network/
Migrants arriving on the Island of Lampedusa in August 2007/
CC BY 2.0

2. FORMALIZATION OF REQUEST

The formalization of the request to obtain international protection is done with the help of a police policer by filling of a form called C3. It contains 19 questions that help to identify the person and to reconstruct his story, inlcuding personal details such as country of origin, religion, if he or she is member of some particular political party, etc… As asylum seekers, they obtain a resident permit to remain in Italy until a final decision about their case will be made – first by a the a specialised commission and then, eventually, by an ordinary tribunal. During this procedure they can be assisted by lawyer that provides to complete a written deposition in which he explains the reasons why his/her client is asking for a form of international protection.

3. THE FORMAL INTERVIEW  & THE DECISION PROCESS

The interview is conducted by one of the four members of the territorial commission (two that belong to the Ministry of the interior, a delegate of the local government system and a representative of the UNHCR), who has to verify the truth of the story and accordingly decide whether he/she meets the criteria to obtain a form of international protection (status of refugee, subsidiary protection or humanitarian protection). The asylum seeker has the right to have an interpreter and to be assisted, during the interview, by his/her lawyer. Finally, there is the decision of the comission that can accept the request of protection, conceding one form of it (depending of the reasons for which the protection is required) or reject it. In this case, the asylum seekers can appeal this decision to the ordinary tribunal. In case of final denial from the ordinary tribunal, if the person is recognised as an economic migrant and not as an asylum seeker, they receive an expulsion order on the basis of which they have to leave the country.

Problems in the Asylum Application Process

The are many problems in this proceeding.

1/ The long time from the moment in which migrants arrive in Italy to the moment in which they go to the commission. This process currently requires one year of waiting just for the first interview; but the governament is trying to speed up the process to reduce the waiting times for asylum seekers and costs for state.

2/ This system has created a form of business: some associations aim at obtaining state funds without ensuring the minimal standards required by the European Union for a satisfactory welcome system.

3/ The use of this proceeding as the “standard” to enter in Italy has negative consequences for those people that are truly entitled to obtain asylum. Given the huge number of arrivals, and given that all the forms go in the same pile, they might have to wait more time to be recognised as refugee or similar.

Photo credits: Flickr/Freedom House/ Syrian refugee/ August 23, 2015. From AFP PHOTO / ACHILLEAS ZAVALLIS Getty Images/CC BY 1.0

Photo credits: Flickr/Freedom House/
Syrian refugee/ August 23, 2015. From AFP PHOTO / ACHILLEAS ZAVALLIS Getty Images/CC BY 1.0

Serious and responsible analysis would show that five years after the fall of Gaddafi and the consequent outbreak of the Libyan war, this has led to a significant increase in the “journeys of hope” to Italy, which is no longer an “immigration emergency”. This mislabeling shows the failure of the Italian policymakers to adopt adequate tools to solve the problem: by facilitating the legal entry of the economic migrants we would not burden the proceedings for applying for international protection, and by keeping the procedures distinct we would ensure asylum rights more quickly to those who are truly entitled to protection.

Over the years we have seen how policies of repressions and border closures have not yielded the expected results, leading instead to changes in routes, and not stopping the flows of migrants. The challenge of Europe today is primarily to solve this humanitarian crisis, which for the first time is in our front garden. 

Written by Giovanni Papotti

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