At the end of 2003, Italy hosted between 5,600 and 8,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included estimates of between 5,000 and 8,000 asylum seekers with pending cases, and 630 persons granted refugee status during the year. The pending number is estimated as the process is decentralized and no information was available from the regions. No statistics were available on the number of asylum applications in 2003.

Italian authorities issued decisions on around 3,800 applications, granting refugee status in around 630 cases (17 percent). Authorities also granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds in some 1,700 cases (45 percent). Such permits are granted to people whose country of origin is in general unrest or conflict, and to people who risk torture, degrading, or inhuman treatment on return. Almost 3,800 were rejected after interview and 7,300 applicants failed to appear for their hearings.

New Developments

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the government did not implement changes to the asylum procedure agreed in September 2002 under the Bossi-Fini law.

During the year, Italian authorities accommodated about 2,000 asylum seekers in 60 reception centers across municipalities in Italy. Médecins sans Frontières Italy estimated that only 10 percent of asylum seekers in Italy had access to such facilities.

In December, the government introduced to the Italian Parliament a draft text for a comprehensive law on asylum. Italy remains the only country in the European Union without such a law.

According to the government, some 14,000 asylum seekers and other migrants arrived by boat in Italy during 2003. Under the Bossi-Fini law, asylum seekers are usually accommodated in reception centers for 20 to 30 days while authorities check their identities and issue them residence permits. However, many migrants pass through Italy to other European countries. Almost all boat arrivals use smugglers who often transport passengers in unsafe vessels. The Military Intelligence Service estimated that about 500 migrants drown every year trying to reach Italian shores. In two such tragic incidents in October, 24 migrants drowned attempting to reach Italy's Lampedusa Island which is closer to Tunisia than the Italian mainland.


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