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Refuge and Asylum | Italy |

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Refuge and Asylum

Dr. Giorgia Di Muzio

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The "Bossi-Fini" law (Law 189/2002) considerably modified previous legislation on refugees and asylum. As a result, the "Commissione centrale per il riconoscimento dello 'status di rifugiato'"(Central Commission for the Recognition of Refugee Status) was replaced by the "Commissione nazionale per il diritto di asilo" (National Commission for the Right of Asylum) which has a decentralized structure made up of local commissions all over Italy (located in Gorizia, Milan, Rome, Foggia, Siracusa, Crotone, Trapani, Bari, Caserta, Turin, Bologna) which handle the requests of refugees residing within the boundaries of their territories. These local commissions are obliged by law to hear the applicant within 30 days from submission of the request and to come to a decision within the following three days.

Controlling the inflow of asylum seekers

Over the last 10 years, there has been a discontinuous trend concerning asylum applications. This development has to be regarded against the background of arrivals by sea on Italian shores, because the majority of the immigrants coming to Italy this way are in fact refugees and asylum seekers (cf. Figure 3).

In 2008, for example, 13% of all immigrants coming to Italy arrived by sea. Of these 75% applied for asylum; 50% of them were finally granted some form of protection. The fall in numbers of asylum applications in 2009 and 2010 was due to the ratification of the "Trattato di amicizia, partenariato e cooperazione" (Treaty of Friendship, Partnership and Cooperation) with Libya, approved by Parliament in February 2009, whereby Libya agreed to fight illegal migration by preventing immigrants to depart from its shores. The treaty has, in short, resulted in increasing border controls. The ratification of this treaty has raised much concern among human rights associations, especially at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The controversies mainly concern the fact that the management and control of the flows of asylum seekers fleeing war-torn countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, was assigned to Libya, a country that has not signed the Geneva Refugee Convention.

Current developments

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the number of European asylum seekers is shrinking whereas the number of people who originate from African countries and apply for asylum is increasing (cf. Table 5).

Requests for protection and main countries of origin of asylum seekers, 1990-2011

Requests for protection Top three countries of origin of requests
1990 4,5731) Albania, 2) Romania, 3) Ethiopia
1991 28,4001) Albania, 2) Romania, 3) Somalia
1992 2,9701) Romania, 2) Somalia, 3) Eritrea
1993 1,7361) Romania, 2) Ethiopia, 3) former Yugoslavia
1994 2,2591) Romania, 2) Ethiopia, 3) Sudan
1995 2,0391) Romania, 2) Iraq, 3) Sudan
1996 8441) Iraq, 2) Ethiopia, 3) Zaire
1997 2,5951) Albania, 2) Iraq, 3) Turkey
1998 18,4961) former Yugoslavia, 2) Iraq, 3) Turkey
1999 37,3181) former Yugoslavia, 2) Iraq, 3) Turkey
2000 24,2961) Iraq, 2) Turkey, 3) former Yugoslavia
2001 21,5751) Iraq, 2) Turkey, 3) former Yugoslavia
2002 18,7541) Iraq, 2) former Yugoslavia, 3) Liberia
2003 15,2741) Somalia, 2) Liberia, 3) Eritrea
2004 10,8691) former Yugoslavia, 2) Romania, 3) Nigeria
2005 10,7041) former Yugoslavia, 2) Eritrea, 3) Romania
2006 10,0261) Eritrea, 2) former Yugoslavia, 3) Nigeria
2007 13,3101) Eritrea, 2) Ivory Coast, 3) Nigeria
2008 13,3101) Nigeria, 2) Somalia, 3) Eritrea
2009 19,0901) Nigeria, 2) Somalia, 3) Pakistan
2010 12,1211) former Yugoslavia, 2) Nigeria, 3) Pakistan
2011 37,3501) Nigeria, 2) Tunisia, 3) Ghana

Source: elaboration by the author based on data provided by the Ministry of the Interior

In 2011, Italian authorities received 37,350 applications for asylum, three out of four asylum seekers came from an African country, especially Nigeria (7,030 requests), Tunisia (4,805), Ghana (3,402) and Mali (2,607). The same year, the National Commission for the Right of Asylum gave a positive answer to 40% of the requests examined, while protection was denied in 44% of all examined cases (of the remaining 16% of asylum applications 9% could not be traced and 7% had another outcome).



  1. Types of protection: international protection (temporary visa renewable during the procedure), refugee status (5-year visa, renewable), subsidiary protection (3-year visa, renewable), humanitarian protection (1-year visa, renewable). For further information, see SPRAR (2011).

  2. SPRAR (2011). Because of the Libyan revolution the treaty is currently temporarily suspended, although Libya has repeatedly affirmed its intention to reactivate it.

  3. "World Report 2012: European Union", online at

  4. Withdrawals and transfers due to Dublin requests.

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Dr. Giorgia Di Muzio studied political science and sociology at the University of Bologna. She wrote her doctoral thesis on Eastern European women in the household and care market in Italy.

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