Italy Senate passes tough anti-migrant decree

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini hailed the passage of his tough anti-migrant and security decree as a "historic day" (AFP Photo/Alberto PIZZOLI)
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Rome (AFP) - The Italian Senate on Wednesday cleared the way for far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's tough anti-migrant and security decree to become law following a confidence vote.

The populist government of Salvini's League and Luigi Di Maio's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) won the vote with 163 senators for, 59 against -- including five M5S members -- and 19 abstentions.

The lower house of parliament now has until the end of November to approve the decree, which the coalition first put forward in September and makes it easier to expel migrants and strip them of Italian citizenship.

Salvini tweeted that it was a "historic day" after the Senate vote.

The government opted for a confidence vote to get the decree through the senate after M5S members tabled a slew of amendments. It should have no problem passing the lower house given the coalition's majority.

The decree ends two-year "humanitarian protection" residency permits -- a lower level of asylum status based on Italian rather than international law -- that were awarded to 25 percent of asylum seekers last year.

Instead, residency permits will be awarded under stricter conditions such as a one-year "special protection" status or a six-month "natural disaster in country of origin" status.

- 'Seriously concerned' -

The Italian Refugee Council said it was "seriously concerned" by the new law.

"The abolition of humanitarian protection will put thousands of people outside the law and only a very few can be repatriated," it said in a statement.

A new procedure to fast-track the expulsion of "dangerous" asylum seekers will also be implemented.

The United Nations refugee agency said ahead of the vote that some of the decree's provisions "do not provide adequate guarantees, especially for the vulnerable or those with particular needs such as victims of abuse or torture".

"Lawmakers still have time to do the right thing, not only for asylum seekers and refugees, but also for Italy's long and proud tradition in terms of respect for human rights," the UNHCR said on Monday.

Asylum seekers will in future be housed in bigger reception centres, while only minors and those with recognised refugee status will be housed in different parts of the country in order to facilitate integration.

There are currently around 146,000 migrants held in the country's reception centres, down from 183,000 at the end of 2017.

The Italian mayors' association has railed against the change, saying that having hundreds of unemployed migrants in reception centres can have a negative impact on small communities.

The new law also lets local police have Taser stun guns and makes it easier to evict squatters by getting rid of the obligation of finding provisional housing for the most vulnerable.

"We must welcome those who are fleeing war, but there is no place for economic migrants," Salvini said.

"Whoever flees a war is my brother, but whoever comes here to sell drugs and create disorder must go home."

One of the most controversial measures in the bill provides for stripping immigrants of their Italian nationality if they are convicted of "terrorism".

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, has taken a hardline on immigration since the coalition came to power in June, refusing to allow several ships carrying migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to dock at Italian ports.

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