Italy on Monday tightened criteria for migrants receiving humanitarian protection as its populist government deepened its crackdown on those seeking asylum.
A new law, in the form of a government decree approved by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his Cabinet, also permits authorities to suspend evaluation of asylum requests for migrants who have been judged “socially dangerous” or have been convicted of a crime, before court appeals are exhausted.
“We're not harming any fundamental right,” said Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is driving the crackdown. “If you come into my home and deal drugs, I'll escort you back to where you came from,” he said during a news conference to unveil the decree.
His right-wing League party, whose popularity has been soaring in recent opinion polls, associates migrants with crime.
Humanitarian protection will now only be granted for victims of labor exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence or natural calamities, or those needing medical care as well as to those who performed “deeds of particular civic value,” Salvini said, with the latter criterion an apparent reference to heroism.
The prime minister, who sympathizes with the Euroskeptic Five Star Movement, the government's main partner, indicated that Italian authorities had been too elastic in granting humanitarian protection.
“We will continue to assure there is the system of protection, we're just avoiding abuses,” said Conte, adding that Italy had been showing “indiscriminate welcome” to asylum hopefuls.
Salvini said roughly a third of those who apply for asylum either receive it or some other special status, notably humanitarian protection. The remaining are eventually issued expulsion orders, but many of them slip away, often to find relatives in Northern Europe.
A large percentage of the rescued migrants are fleeing poverty and aren't eligible for asylum.
Through last year, about 600,000 migrants, most of them seeking asylum, landed in Italian ports after they were rescued at sea from boats launched from Libya by human traffickers.
But since Salvini has started denying port entry to private rescue boats, the numbers of arrivals in the last few months have plummeted. The heaviest-plied sea route now for migrant smuggling has shifted to the western reaches of the Mediterranean Sea, with Spain bearing the brunt of arrivals.
The new Italian government decree, which eventually must be converted into law by Parliament or modified, also provides for stripping Italian citizenship from those convicted of international terrorism, assuming they hold a second citizenship.
Doctors Without Borders contended that the decree seemed aimed at further dismantling an “already fragile and precarious” system for asylum seekers.
The group's Italian mission chief, Anne Garella, expressed concern about the criteria for granting humanitarian protection for medical care. Garella said in a statement that many migrants suffer from “health problems with not easily recognizable symptoms.” In particular, she cited torture victims.