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Italy moves to narrow asylum rights in fresh immigration crackdown

Italy’s nationalist
government has approved a bill in the upper house of parliament that aims to reduce the number of migrants who can
claim some form of asylum and curb integration efforts.

The bill approved on Thursday was drawn up after a shipwreck off southern Italy in February that killed more than 90 migrants. It still needs to pass the lower house
to become law.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said the legislation,
which includes tougher jail terms for human smugglers, is
intended to dissuade people from putting their trust in
traffickers and trying to reach Italy illegally.

Critics say the bill is repressive and will do nothing to
halt the flow of migrants seeking a better life in Europe, but
will instead force ever more newcomers into illegality.

Among the most contested measures is a decision to eliminate
“special protection” residency permits that authorities can
offer migrants who don’t qualify for asylum, but who face
humanitarian risks back home, or have family ties in Italy.

The government said the system was being abused, noting that in 2022 authorities had handed out 10,506 special protection permits against 7,494 permits offering refugee status and 7,039 that granted a separate form of international protection.

READ MORE: Italy plans to crackdown on migrants, to eliminate “special protection” law

Surge in arrivals

The bill also halts state-funded Italian language courses and eliminates legal advice services for migrants hosted in official reception centres.

Italy has seen a recent surge in arrivals by boat migrants, with 34,715 people reaching the country from January 1 to April 19, against 8,669 in the same period last year, alarming Meloni, who took office in 2022 promising to reduce migrant flows.

Earlier this week, Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida said Italians were at risk of “ethnic replacement”, drawing criticism from centre-left parties who accused him of promoting white supremacy – a charge he has rejected.

Opposition senators urged the government to do more to help migrants be absorbed into the workplace, saying Italy needed hundreds of thousands of new workers as the population declines.

“Why if you are enemies of illegal immigration are you doing all you can to push people into illegality,” said Ivan Scalfarotto, a senator with the centrist Italia Viva party.

READ MORE: Several irregular migrants from sub-Saharan Africa drown off Tunisia coast

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