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Italy Sees New Migrants Influx

ROME, Sep 11 2013 (IPS) - After what is remembered as the North Africa emergency of 2011, Italy is again seeing an increase in the arrivals of migrants, especially asylum seekers.

According to the latest report from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on asylum trends, the “Arab Spring” in North Africa “led to a tripling of the number of asylum applications in 2011 (34,100 claims) – making Italy the fourth-largest recipient among the group of 44 industrialised countries. In 2012, however, the number of boat arrivals dropped significantly.”

Nevertheless, the turmoil in Egypt and Syria could lead to yet another emergency that Italy, as one of the main gateways to Europe, will have to face. The number of boats arriving at the southern shores is increasing and has already surpassed the 2012 total.

According to an estimate from UNHCR, more than 18,000 boat people have turned up this year. Many of them are Syrians – at least 250 Syrians turned up on just two days, Aug. 23 and 24. Italy received 15,700 asylum applications in 2012.

"In cities like Rome where the system is more congested, asylum seekers end up living literally on the streets.” -- Valeria Carlini, spokesperson for the Italian Refugee Council

Such a scenario represents a tough challenge to the already weak Italian reception system, which saw a migration flow of around 60,000 people as an emergency in 2011. The first victims of these emergencies are usually the asylum seekers themselves for whom , the government is unable to guarantee basic rights.

According to Valeria Carlini, spokesperson for the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) “the CARA system (centres dedicated to the reception of asylum seekers right after their arrival) is already collapsing. In these big centres, some of which can host up to 1,800 people, asylum seekers should stay for no more than 35 days, which is also the time limit to complete the asylum procedure. The truth is that the procedure can take up to eight months,”

Structures for the second level of reception, SPRAR, have increased capacity this year from 3,700 to 5,000 “which is clearly not enough to face the need of all the refugees that Italy receives,” Carlini told IPS.

“According to a law of 2005, whenever the system is not able to provide the asylum seeker with a hosting solution, the prefectures are obliged to guarantee this person with a per diem to pay for an accommodation. Since the law was approved, we have never seen any prefecture giving this money.

“In cities like Rome where the system is more congested, asylum seekers end up living literally on the streets,” she said.

Investing in the SPRAR system has not been a priority for Italy. Giovanni Cervioni with the local association Filo D’Arianna was responsible for a reception project in Tuscany during the North Africa emergency of 2011. “The most absurd thing during that time was to see how a huge amount of public money was spent in creating a new emergency plan with no coordination nor national guidelines, instead of funding a structure, SPRAR, that already existed and that was working despite its scarce resources.”

According to Cervioni, the emergency plan simply consisted in handing out up to 46 euros a day per asylum seeker to any individual or association who was able and willing to host them, becoming a temporary business for operators in the hospitality sector.

“Essentially, the aim was to keep those people for the time required to give them a permit that would be accepted at the EU borders and then free the structure and let them go wherever they wanted,” Cervioni told IPS.

Maria De Donato at the legal department of CIR reveals a more serious detail about Italian management of migrants. The UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration and Save the Children have said that Egyptian and Tunisian migrants are detained and then expelled from Italy simply on the basis of their nationality.

“This has been going on for months now, and we have reasons to believe it is an illegal procedure: upon their arrivals, Egyptian and Tunisian migrants are detained with no possibility to communicate with the outside and then repatriated after some days or weeks,” De Donato told IPS.

It is unlikely that these people are given the chance to ask for asylum, which would make this a serious violation given the worsening conditions in Egypt. “Targeting these nationalities is probably due to re-admission agreements between the two countries and Italy, but we think this is a case of collective expulsion, which is clearly prohibited by the Article 19 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,” De Donato said.

The North Africa emergency plan ended in February 2013 “and we are now in the same conditions as before the emergency,” Cervioni said. “We are facing again a consistent number of arrivals and we are back from the starting point, only this time I doubt that the government can afford to spend that much money again.”

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