Italy’s nationalist government is pushing through a bill that aims to reduce the number of people who can apply for some form of asylum.
The bill was approved by the upper house of parliament on Thursday, but still needs the approval of the lower house to become law. It was drawn up after a shipwreck off southern Italy in February that killed more than 90 migrants and asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said the legislation, which includes tougher jail terms for human traffickers, is aimed at deterring people from trusting traffickers and trying to reach Italy illegally.
Critics say the bill is repressive and will do nothing to stop the number of immigrants seeking a better life in Europe, but instead push more newcomers into illegality.
Among the most questioned measures is the decision to eliminate the “special protection” residence permits that the authorities can offer to immigrants who do not qualify for asylum, but who face humanitarian risks in their country of origin or have family ties in Italy.
The government said the system was being abused, noting that in 2022 authorities had granted 10,506 special protection permits against 7,494 permits offering refugee status and 7,039 granting a separate form of international protection.
The bill also stops state-funded Italian language courses and eliminates legal advice services for immigrants housed in official reception centers.
Italy has seen a recent increase in migrant boat arrivals, with 34,715 people arriving in the country from January 1 to April 19, up from 8,669 in the same period last year. The numbers have alarmed Meloni, who took office in 2022 promising to reduce migration flows.
Earlier this week, Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida said Italians risked “ethnic replacement,” drawing criticism from center-left parties who accused him of promoting white supremacy, a charge he rejected. .
Opposition senators urged the government to do more to help migrants be absorbed into the workplace, saying Italy needs hundreds of thousands of new workers as the population dwindles.
“Why, if they are enemies of illegal immigration, are they doing everything they can to push people into illegality?” said Ivan Scalfarotto, a senator from the centrist Italia Viva party.