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News > World

Refugees on Edge as Salvini's 'Italians First' Anti-immigrant Law Passes

  • Leader of right-wing League party and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini speaks during a rally in Rome, Italy, Dec. 8, 2018

    Leader of right-wing League party and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini speaks during a rally in Rome, Italy, Dec. 8, 2018 | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 December 2018

Interior Minister Mateo Salvini celebrates nationalism and boycotts UN pact on global migration as his anti-immigration law passes. 

An Italian immigration law passed last week has the country’s 640,000 migrants in the country on edge wondering if they will lose their humanitarian benefits that include housing, work permits, and Italian language classes.

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Dubbed the ‘Salvini Decree’ after the right-wing, anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who proposed the measure, the new policy limits ‘humanitarian protections’, such as housing for as many as 120,000 people who benefit from the program but aren’t fully eligible for refugee status. Salvini’s ultimate goal is to send those back to their countries of origin who no longer qualify for the special status under the new law.

The law takes Salvini and his nationalist Lega Nord coalition one step closer to fulfilling a campaign promise to deport the over half a million “illegal immigrants” residing in the European country. Since coming into power six months ago Salvini has several times denied access to boats on the Mediterranean Sea filled with asylum seekers fleeing persecution and extreme exploitation in African and Middle Eastern countries, saying that Italy ‘has done enough’ to take in refugees. Some 640,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since 2014, mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. Germany took in well over 123,000 refugees in 2017 alone.

The Italian law also increases deportation funding and makes it easier for Italian authorities to revoke citizenship to foreign-born and to reject refugees if they are born outside of a ‘safe country of origin’, meaning they come from a country with a low level of democracy and don’t follow established rules of law.  

To celebrate the laws’ passage Salvini held an ‘Italians First’ rally in Rome attended by some 50,000 people where he promoted heterosexual marriage: "We will be judged by the number of cribs we fill with babies born ... to a mother and a father," said Salvini.  

"This government felt that Italy is offering humanitarian protection to too many people, so it changed the rules on who will receive it," Matteo Villa, an expert on migration with Italy's Institute for the Study of International Politics, told The Associated Press this week.

As the law was passed the minister announced he won’t attend the U.N. Global Compact on migration to be held in Marrakesh, Morocco next week.

Leaders from Hungary and Poland also say they won’t be there, however, mayors and delegates from over 70 cities worldwide say they will be present in Morocco to sign the July-drafted non-binding Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration pact that addresses how governments can protect people who migrate and how to integrate them into their new countries.

The Italian law won’t be retroactive and still allows for "special" residency permits if the migrant can prove they have a serious health condition or are victims of domestic violence, work exploitation or sex trafficking.

However, the change puts many in jeopardy of deportation when their two-year humanitarian provision expires. Barry Tierno, a 19-year-old from Guinea told Associated Press he is trying to convert his humanitarian visa into a different status before it expires next October. "I can't stay here without papers," he said.

Emanuela Adeboga, a 21-year-old who arrived from Lagos, Nigeria, with her mother and two sisters in 2016, has similar fears. Her humanitarian permit expires at the end of the month.

"I have heard that those who don't have a work contract for at least one year cannot have their visas renewed," Emanuela Adeboga said. "Where should we go?"

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