Two decree laws were passed in a few days in September that set Italy back on the issue of
migrant reception and children’s rights.

The migration issue in Italy continues to be the subject of numerous debates and different positions. Only ten days later, two new decree laws were passed in September. For temporal logic, it is necessary to start with the events that occurred on September 12 in Lampedusa when 120 boats landed on the island’s shores, causing about 7,000 migrants to arrive in less than 24 hours. From that day to follow, there have been other arrivals and victims at sea, such as that of the infant only five months old who died by drowning during an attempt to disembark migrants from a boat.

On September 19, the Italian government, responding to the landings of about 7,000 migrants in less than 24 hours in Lampedusa, presented in the Council of Ministers Decree-Law No. 124 called “Urgent provisions on cohesion policies, for the relaunch of the economy in the southern areas
of the country, as well as on immigration,” which was then published in the Official Gazette on September 21. The DL contains two articles that provide new rules on the stay of irregular migrants in CPRs (Centers for Return).

The first concerns the length of stay within the facilities, providing for an increase in the maximum limit allowed by current European regulations: 6 months, extendable for an additional 12, for 18 months before being expelled from Italian territory. The second article, on the other hand, kicks off an extraordinary plan to build new repatriation facilities throughout Italy. Italy has nine active CPRs with a total capacity of only 493 guests.

Repatriation centers are places of detention for people who do not have a valid residence permit to remain in Italy. While waiting to be deported, they stay locked in often dilapidated facilities. In recent years, complaints have surfaced about the inhumane and degrading conditions in which migrants are made to live here. In addition, there is evidence that the length of stay in the centers is never as stipulated by law, but migrants are forced to remain in the facilities for many more months than expected.

On September 27, there was a second Council of Ministers in which the government approved a new decree-law on security and immigration. It returned to the subject of repatriations, providing for expedited procedures for those who cause public order problems, and addressed the complex issue of MSNA unaccompanied foreign minors. The government would like to stiffen entry procedures by questioning the minor age of migrants who claim to be minors. The measure calls for age checks on migrants through “anthropometric surveys,” such as X-ray examinations. It is an invasive method that guarantees no effectiveness and goes against the basis of current legislation that protects the child’s best interest through a process of age determination through a
participatory socio-anthropological process. The opposite of the ineffective and unreliable method is now being proposed again. This should be done with the permission of a juvenile court, after which deportation should occur if examinations certify that the person in question is over 18 years old.

“The possibility, provided in the decree, to have minors housed in ordinary reception facilities for adults is also scandalous”, says Cesare Fermi, INTERSOS Italy projects director. “With the decree-law approved in the Council of Ministers”, he explains, “no emergency is addressed, also because there is no emergency, but only worsens the reception situation by taking Italy to positions it has never had before on the front of the rights of minors. What real goal can such a measure have? This measure contravenes international conventions in defence of minors and protecting their primary interest”, Fermi continues. Confirming this is the recent condemnation of Italy for damages by the ECHR – The European Court of Human Rights – for abusively detaining a minor in an adult center.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, in 2023 alone, more than 120,000 migrants arrived in Italy by sea, including 11,649 unaccompanied minors. Numbers are up from 2022 when 105,000 people came to Italy in the entire year, and the memorandum between the European Union and Tunisia had not yet been signed. An agreement was signed in July 2023 establishing the sending of 105 million euros to the government of Tunisian President Kais Saied for border management and, in fact, the reduction of departures. The Tunisian route has become the most traveled by those seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Still, the country’s unstable and insecure internal economic-political situation is generating an inability to manage the phenomenon, with increased cases of human rights violations against migrants.

INTERSOS, which in Italy has been working to support people in vulnerable conditions and their social inclusion since 2011 with protection, legal assistance, and psychological and medical support projects in Rome, Foggia and Palermo, has reached about 23,600 people since 2020, many of them unaccompanied minors. Nearly 1,300 boys and girls have been received in designated facilities in the Latium region alone. To these are added all those lone foreign minors in transit who often dwell in the streets or near Roma Termini or Roma Tiburtina stations. In these places, INTERSOS staff have been constantly going, in collaboration with UNICEF Italy, in recent years to identify and assist the most vulnerable.

Picture of Martina Martelloni