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Legal changes and climate of hatred threaten migrants

Legal changes and climate of hatred threaten migrants’ rights in Italy, say UN experts

GENEVA (21 November 2018) – Italy’s proposed tightening of immigration rules will have a serious impact on migrants’ lives, and are of grave concern, UN human rights experts* said today, urging the Government to reverse course.

“The abolition of humanitarian protection status, the exclusion of asylum seekers from access to reception centres focusing on social inclusion, and the extended duration of detention in return centres and hotspots fundamentally undermine international human rights principles, and will certainly lead to violations of international human rights law,” the independent experts said.

On 7 November, the Italian Senate converted into law the Decree-Law on Immigration and Security, which is likely to be passed later this month by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament.

Since coming into power in June 2018, the new Italian Government has implemented the anti-migrant and exclusionary measures it campaigned upon. “Removing protection measures from potentially thousands of migrants and limiting their ability to regularise their stay in Italy will increase their vulnerability to attacks and exploitation. They will be at greater risk from traffickers and other criminal groups, and many will have no means to meet their basic needs through lawful means. Exclusion also leads to social tensions and to more insecurity. An inclusive approach would therefore benefit not only the migrants, but also the Italian people”, added the UN experts.

While acknowledging the challenges Italy faces due to the absence of an effective European-wide system of solidarity, the UN experts said this did not justify violations of human rights. “The government must adhere to the values enshrined in the Italian constitution, and the international commitments it signed up to,” they said in an appeal to the government to reconsider the legislative changes.

The Decree comes as Italy contends with a climate of hatred and discrimination, both against migrants and other minorities and against civil society and private individuals defending migrants’ rights.

“During the most recent electoral campaign, some politicians fuelled a public discourse unashamedly embracing racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric. Such speech incites hatred and discrimination,” the experts said. They highlighted that this climate of intolerance could not be separated from the escalation in Italy in hate incidents against groups and individuals, including children, based on their actual or perceived ethnicity, skin colour, race and/or immigration status. People of African descent and Roma people have been especially impacted. During and just after this year’s national election campaign, civil society organisations recorded 169 racially motivated incidents, 126 of which involved racist hate speech and propaganda, including in public demonstrations. Nineteen cases were reportedly violent, racially motivated attacks.

“We are also concerned about the continuing smear campaigns against civil society organisations engaged in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the criminalisation of the work of migrant rights defenders, which have become more widespread in Italy,” UN experts recalled.

The Italian Government, among others, has made it nearly impossible for NGO ships to continue rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, they said. This has led to more migrants drowning or going missing. “Saving lives is not a crime. Protecting human dignity is not a crime. Acts of solidarity and humanity should not be prosecuted”, the experts stressed.

The UN experts urge the Italian government to combat incitement to hatred and discrimination, racism and xenophobia. “Perpetrators of hate crimes must be held accountable and justice provided to the victims. Italian authorities should implement the national and relevant European legal framework and provide the needed responses to hate crime and the use of hate speech.”

The experts have contacted the government about their concerns and await a reply.


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