Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Italy

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Italy , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2001, Italy hosted more than 9,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included nearly 2,100 persons granted refugee status during the year, 76 asylum seekers whose cases were suspended pending additional information, and an estimated 7,500 asylum seekers pending a first-instance decision on their cases.

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 asylum seekers filed claims in Italy during 2001, about 30 percent fewer than the number of applicants who requested asylum in 2000. Of these, an estimated 2,000 came from Iraq (mainly Kurds), some 1,700 from Turkey (mainly Kurds), and approximately 1,500 from Yugoslavia. Other countries of origin included Sri Lanka, Romania, and Nigeria.

During 2001, the Italian authorities issued decisions on 13,348 applications, granting refugee status in 2,098 cases. Some 11,170 cases were denied, including both cases evaluated on the merits and cases closed when asylum seekers failed to appear for their hearings. The majority of the approvals were for nationals of Yugoslavia (650), Turkey (313), and Iraq (189).

Asylum Procedure

The asylum provisions of the Martelli Law of 1990 continued to govern the asylum procedure. The Martelli Law gives legal authority to reject asylum seekers at the border if they arrive from third countries that have signed the UN Refugee Convention and have spent more time in such countries than is required to transit through them.

Persons wishing to apply for asylum in Italy are required to submit written applications to the headquarters of the provincial police (Questura). The Questura then transmits the applications to the Central Commission for Recognition of Refugee Status, the competent authority for deciding asylum claims. Although the law requires the commission to interview applicants and issue first-instance decisions within 15 days, in practice, it has frequently taken the commission much longer to render decisions.

Because asylum applicants are eligible for assistance for only their first 45 days in Italy, delays in adjudicating applications meant that asylum seekers awaiting decisions went without government assistance for lengthy periods during 2001. Asylum seekers are issued renewable 45-day residence permits to await the commission's decision. Asylum seekers in Italy may not work during the asylum procedure, but have access to the national health-care system.

An applicant may appeal a negative decision within 60 days to the administrative court in the region where they filed their claim. Further appeals to the Council of State and the president of Italy are possible. After a denial in the second instance, however, the applicant may be deported or issued an order to leave the country. Recognized refugees receive a two-year, renewable residence permit. They are entitled to work and have access to health care, welfare benefits, and education, although integration assistance is reportedly limited. Refugees may apply for citizenship after five years.

New Legislation

A new asylum bill, first introduced in 1997, was abandoned in March 2001 after failing to gain Senate approval. The legislation, which was strongly supported by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), would have created temporary protection for war refugees and improved social assistance to asylum seekers, among other provisions.

In August, the government proposed new, more restrictive draft legislation on immigration and asylum. Intended to combat abuse of the asylum system, the law would limit asylum seekers' freedom of movement and would not suspend their deportation if they appealed a negative first-instance eligibility decision. UNHCR strongly opposed the legislation.

(In February 2002, the Senate approved the bill, with three minor UNHCR-proposed procedural amendments.)

Anti-immigrant Sentiment

Immigration was a prominent issue in the months preceding the May general elections, in which a five-party, center-right coalition took power. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, provoked international outrage when he referred to the "superiority" of Western civilization over Islamic culture at a press briefing. He later apologized for the remark. Members of the right-wing Northern League party also made anti-Muslim and xenophobic statements to the press throughout the year.

Boat Arrivals

Continuing a longtime trend, thousands of asylum seekers and migrants continued to arrive by boat in Italy throughout 2001, almost all using smugglers who often transported passengers in unsafe vessels, adding to the perils of the journey. In place of the 1999 large-scale influx of ethnic Albanians and Roma from Kosovo were thousands of new boat migrants from Iraq, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and North Africa. Some boats arrived from Albania and Montenegro, while larger ships transporting the undocumented also arrived from eastern Mediterranean ports in Turkey and elsewhere during the year.

During 2001, some 20,000 undocumented foreigners entered Italy by boat, according to the Interior Ministry. For each of those caught attempting to reach Italian shores, the government reportedly believes that twice that number manage to slip into Italy undetected.

Many illegal migrants who are able to enter Italy attempt to travel farther west, often risking their lives. In Ireland on December 8, eight migrants were discovered dead in a shipping container that had departed Milan a week earlier. On December 11, four bodies were found in a container in Livorno that was scheduled to be shipped to Canada the next day, while two more dead stowaways, believed to have been in transit from Livorno for two weeks, were discovered in Montreal the same day.


Partly in response to European Union (EU) pressure to shore up its borders, Italy adopted an immigration law in February 1998 that replaced all provisions of the Martelli Law of 1990 except those regulating the asylum procedure. Aspects of the law nevertheless touch on asylum.

Most significantly in the eyes of Italy's EU partners, the 1998 law provides for the detention of undocumented entrants for up to 30 days pending their deportation. Previously, Italy had issued expulsion orders to undocumented entrants, requiring them to leave the country within 15 days. Because Italian authorities did not enforce the expulsion orders, however, many migrants and asylum seekers used the 15 days during which they were to comply with the removal order to travel onward to countries farther north.

The change had dramatic results. Expulsions from Italy increased by a factor of ten, from between 4,000 and 5,000 in previous years to 54,000 in 1998. In 2001, the government reported that 42,087 migrants were expelled.

Italy's move to enforce expulsion orders reportedly does not prevent asylum seekers from filing applications in the country. The 1998 immigration law also imposes stiffer penalties for those smuggling undocumented migrants and asylum seekers.

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