by Alice Pistolesi

Thousands of future asylum seekers left on the streets, poor planning and a constant emergency management. These are the characteristics of the current Italian asylum system. To understand more, also in the light of the debate on arrivals by sea and rescues by NGOs, we interviewed Dr. Stefano Trovato, vice-president and head of immigration for the CNCA (Coordinamento Nazionale Comunità di Accoglienza).

What’s the state of the Italian asylum system?

As Cnca we are taking part, together with other organisations involved in hospitality, in the Asylum and Immigration Table and we met with the new head of the Ministry of the Interior. It is clear that there is an awareness that managing the issue of immigration is not a simple matter. The system is getting weaker and weaker. There are fewer and fewer reception facilities due to the cut in funding, following the Salvini decrees. Moreover, prefectures and police headquarters are understaffed and services are struggling. This, if we think about it, does not only apply to services for asylum seekers, but also for Italian citizens. Just think of the current time it takes to get a passport renewal. As Cnca we have always said that reception must be managed by the municipalities and the Ministry of Labour and Social Services. In fact, it is not a security issue, but part of the social management of the territories.

Can we therefore say that the reception system is in crisis? If so, why?

Yes indeed. Even the SAI (Sistema Accoglienza Integrazione – System of asylum and integration) system itself, which replaced the SPRAR (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) is in difficulty. Much changes from region to region. It is in fact up to the municipalities to sign up and give their availability to activate SAI projects. Even in the phase with the most projects underway out of eight thousand Italian municipalities, only two thousand had joined by submitting a proposal. The system is therefore extremely fragmented.

The system, however, did not go into crisis because of the increase in arrivals. Right?

There was an increase in arrivals by sea and land in 2022, but not to such an extent as to justify this disorganisation. The problem is the total lack of planning for needs, which is an inefficiency of the overall system. The flows are roughly the same since 2016 and yet our management is still riddled with very light systems, which treat the issue as if it were an emergency and not the norm.

As at many other times, however, the focus is shifted to the sea.

As we all know, focusing attention on the landings is a media issue. It is well known, for example, that NGO ships only pick up a tenth of the people who arrive and that it is instead the coast guard that rescues more of them. The question is therefore instrumental. The NGOs are, however, third parties that question a system and for this reason they have been under attack for years. Today with the removal of landing ports, yesterday with other forms of harassment.

On reception today, the real problem is that thousands of people find themselves on the street because they cannot apply for asylum and, consequently, cannot aspire to a place in reception. Places that are in any case scarce. From our survey we have ascertained that we are on a six-month waiting list just to receive the asylum application document. This does not concern those who arrive by sea, who are immediately sent to the hotspots and then to reception, but those who arrive by the Balkan route or from other European countries.

Having thousands of people on the streets brings with it a number of issues, such as improper access to emergency rooms. Without documents, these people are forced to go to the emergency health services. The increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets is impressive and is in line with other European states. The increase in poverty is indeed evident in a Europe that is increasingly trying to close itself within its own fortress.

Are the agreements being discussed between some European and African states to block the flows to be understood in this light?

Of course. Italy, like other European countries, is closing agreements to stop immigration at its roots. This trend is nothing new, but now we are going further because the aim is to externalise the borders even more. According to the new ‘design’ in fact, there should be free zones in the countries of origin where people can apply for asylum to the country where they wish to be received. This would lead to the total surrender of an international right to third parties. This would make ‘entry selection’, turning countries of origin into contractors who would do the assessment of the application on behalf of European states.


*On the cover photo by Ruben2533 on Shutterstock