At the end of 2002, Italy hosted more than 5,200 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included around 3,800 asylum seekers with pending cases, 1,300 persons granted refugee status during the year, and 110 asylum seekers whose cases were suspended pending additional information.

During 2002, according to provisional statistics, 7,300 asylum seekers filed claims in Italy, 24 percent fewer than in 2001. The majority of applications came from Sri Lanka (1,400), Iraq (1,200), Yugoslavia (1,100), and Turkey (520).

Italian authorities issued decisions on around 17,000 applications, granting refugee status in around 1,300 cases (about 8 percent), and some 700 persons were granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds (4 percent). The rest were denied, either on the merits or because the applicants failed to appear for their hearings. The majority of the approvals were for nationals of Sri Lanka (350), Turkey (150), and Iraq (140).

Asylum Procedure

Italy is a party to the UN Refugee Convention, but remained the only European Union member state without a comprehensive law on asylum. The asylum provisions of the Martelli Law of 1990 govern the asylum procedure. On September 10, Italy enacted a new law on immigration and asylum (the " Bossi-Fini law") that changed some of these procedures.

The government may reject asylum seekers at the border if they transited countries that are parties to the Refugee Convention, and they have spent more time in such countries than required for transit.

Persons wishing to apply for asylum in Italy must submit written applications to the headquarters of the local police ( Questura). The Questura then transmits the applications to the competent authority for deciding asylum claims, formerly the Central Commission for Recognition of Refugee Status, but one of seven or eight territorial commissions under the Bossi-Fini law. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will have voting rights on each territorial commission. The territorial commissions will consider protection for applicants under the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Refugee Convention. A new authority, the National Commission for the rights of asylum will oversee the work of the territorial commissions.

Under the new law, asylum seekers will be held in identification centers while awaiting first-instance decisions, which should take no longer than 30 days. Most applicants received decisions in 12 to 15 months in 2002, according to UNHCR. Asylum seekers in Italy may not work during the asylum procedure, but receive free medical care.

The National Commission may recommend that the Questura grant rejected asylum seekers one year, renewable residence permits on humanitarian grounds if they cannot be returned home because of unstable conditions in their countries of origin allowing them to work and study in Italy.

The Bossi-Fini law reduced the period in which an applicant may appeal a negative decision from 60 to 5 days. Under the new law, appellants must first apply to their local territorial commission and then to the administrative court in the region where they filed their claim. Previously, they appealed directly to the administrative court. Under the Bossi-Fini law, appeals to the administrative court do not suspend deportation, but the asylum seeker may apply to the Ministry of the Interior for permission to remain while the appeal is pending. Further appeals to the Council of State and the president of Italy will no longer be permitted.

Refugees receive a two-year, renewable residence permit. They receive medical care, public assistance, and education and may work. Refugees may apply for citizenship after five years.

The Bossi-Fini law imposes stricter penalties, including prison sentences, for illegal entry and stay in Italy, and for trafficking migrants.

Boat Arrivals

Thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants continued to arrive by boat in Italy throughout 2002, almost all using smugglers who often transported passengers in unsafe vessels. Many were from Iraq, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, North Africa, Somali, and Eritrea. Large ships transporting the undocumented arrived from Libya, the eastern Mediterranean ports in Turkey, Albania, and elsewhere during the year, but many others took small boats prone to capsize.

On March 18, a cargo ship arrived from Cyprus at a Sicilian port carrying more than 900 undocumented migrants. The Minister of Interior declared a state of emergency to release funds and enable local authorities to requisition buildings as reception centers for the exhausted asylum seekers, more than half of who were women and children.

Under the Bossi-Fini law, the government may deploy police and naval vessels to intercept at sea ships carrying undocumented migrants and escort them into an Italian harbor.

During 2002, some 20,400 undocumented foreigners entered Italy by boat, according to the Interior Ministry. The government reportedly believes that twice that number managed to enter Italy undetected.


The law provides for the detention of undocumented entrants for up to 30 days pending their deportation, a measure which increased expulsions tenfold in its first year of implementation.

In September 2002, the Bossi-Fini law allowed an additional 30 days detention, if officials cannot obtain travel documents or verify the detainees' identity or nationality. The law also allows for the immediate removal of undocumented immigrants once they have received an expulsion order. In 2001, the government reported that 42,100 migrants were expelled.

Under the Bossi-Fini law, foreigners who reenter Italy illegally after being expelled are liable to imprisonment for up to four years.


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