Guest Post/ASMIRA: Living conditions of asylum seekers in Italy

foto © Michele LapiniAccess to adequate reception conditions for asylum seekers during the examination of their asylum application is an essential element of any asylum system. Lack of adequate reception conditions not only is in contrast with basic human rights (cf. for example art. 1 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) and obligations towards asylum seekers according to European Standards (in particular, the Reception Conditions Directive), but could also undermines the effectiveness of the asylum procedure. In particular, the claimants’ capacity to go through the process, deal with asylum interview and provide requested documents may be hindered.

Starting from the so-called North-Africa emergency in 2012 (following the fall of Mu’ammar Gaddafi’s regime in Lybia, with the subsequent mass influxes by boat towards southern European countries), Italy has experienced difficulties in providing accommodation to asylum seekers, although the situation varies across Italy’s 20 different regions.

On the basis of Reception Decree No. 140/2005, asylum seekers who lack sufficient financial resources can request the provision of accommodation while lodging their asylum claim, through an ad hoc declaration of destitution. By law, material reception conditions shall be provided immediately after claiming asylum and being identified through fingerprinting (at the Questura, the local police headquarters). In practice, though, asylum seekers may access accommodation centres only after the formal registration (verbalizzazione) of their application (i.e. after having formally “lodged” an asylum claim, in the wording of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive). Since registration can take place months after the asylum application, in many cases asylum seekers have to resort to alternative temporary accommodation solutions (either being hosted by friends, in emergency shelters or, as the case may be, sleeping rough). Nevertheless, the time for the registration of the application differs from Questura to Questura.

Asylum seekers who are granted material reception conditions are accommodated in reception centres within the SPRAR (System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees). In case of unavailability of places in the SPRAR, asylum seekers can be referred to CARAs (Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers).

The SPRAR, established in 2002, is a publicly funded network of local authorities and non-profit organisations which accommodate asylum seekers, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection. It is composed of small reception structures where assistance and integration services are provided. The CARA centres were established in 2008 and replaced previous identification centres. By law, asylum seekers can be accommodated in CARAs only for identification reasons on a series of grounds. In practice, in many cases CARAs provide not only first reception for identification reasons, but also reception in a broader sense.

The AIDA Report on Italy, compiled by the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), notes that most of the asylum seekers coming by boat are placed in CARAs on the ground that they have been stopped for having escaped or attempted to escape the border controls, although NGOs have criticised this policy taking into account that those applicants are forced to flee and have no other means to arrive in Italy and in the EU.

In practice, there are several obstacles which affect and hamper the access of asylum seekers to material reception conditions. First, the lack of reception places available, worsened by the length of asylum procedures and delays in the examination of requests. Second, the needs of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, which constitute the vast majority, cannot be adequately met in terms of assistance and reception. Third, the lack of information on how to lodge a request for material reception conditions.

If there is no place in both SPRAR and CARA centres, by law asylum seekers should be granted a financial allowance for the period needed to find a place in one of the accommodation centres. In practice, this provision has never been applied and in many cases asylum seekers are accommodated in reception centres over their capacity, causing consequent phenomena of overcrowding and deterioration of material reception conditions. Where they are not granted a place in a reception centre nor the financial allowance, they are obliged to live in the self-organised settlements that have flourished in metropolitan areas, living in sub-standard conditions and complete isolation from the rest of society.

A partial response to the lack of available places is the recent enhancement of the SPRAR system through partial financing of additional places during the next three years (2014-2016). In addition, to face the current emergency situation due to consistent arrivals by sea of migrants and asylum seekers, the Italian Ministry of Interior has increased the funds partially allocated to the accommodation system.


For more information:

Asylum Information Database (AIDA), Not There Yet: An NGO Perspective on Challenges to a Fair and Effective Common European Asylum System – Annual Report 2012/2013

Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), Accoglienza dei rifugiati, Fassino (Presidente Anci): “raggiunta intesa rilevante”, 13 July 2014

Swiss Refugee Council, SFH-OSAR, Reception conditions in Italy Report on the current situation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection, in particular Dublin returnees, October 2013

Contributor: Silvia Cravesana