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December 1997, Volume 4, Number 12

Italy: Immigration Law

Law. On November 18, Italy's lower house of Parliament approved a draft law that would allow authorities to expel illegal immigrants immediately or detain them until their expulsion, rather than giving apprehended foreigners 15 days to leave the country, as under current policy. Between January and October 1997, about 55,000 expulsion orders were issued to foreigners, but police estimates that only about 20 percent of the foreigners returned to their native countries.

Many of the foreigners ordered to leave Italy do so, but they travel north to France and Germany rather than returning to their countries of origin. If, for example, Germany can prove that Kurds applying for asylum came via Italy, then Germany can return them to Italy to apply for asylum. If the foreigners who transited Italy do not apply for asylum, or, claim that they do not know how they arrived in Germany or France, they cannot be returned to Italy.

Many foreigners who land in Italy reportedly prefer to receive the 15-day expulsion orders rather than apply for asylum in Italy, since the 15-day order gives them 15 days legal residence in Italy. Of the 800 Iraqi Kurds who landed in Italy in November 1997, only 20 applied for asylum; the others received 15-day expulsion orders. Many of the Kurds travel to Germany and apply for asylum--Germany processed asylum requests from 13,214 Turks and 10,583 Iraqis in the first nine months of 1997.

The new law would also grant an amnesty to some foreigners in Italy. After five years in Italy, foreigners would be allowed unlimited residence permits after five years of living in Italy; they would be entitled to welfare and health care. The centre-left government removed a provision that would have allowed foreigners to vote in local elections. The bill was opposed by right-wing politicians because it allows illegal immigrants in Italy before the law's final approval to remain in the country.

Smuggling. Some 1,000 foreigners, mostly Turkish Kurds, crossed the Adriatic Sea and landed in Santa Maria di Leuca on Italy's southeastern coast on November 3-4, 1997. The migrants, who reportedly paid $900 to $4,200 each, traveled across Turkey to Istanbul, and made contact with smugglers through boarding houses on Aksaray Street. They left Istanbul in small boats in October, and were transferred from one boat to another several times en route to Italy. Before this landing, some 850 Kurds had been issued orders to leave Italy in 1997, including 460 in August.

On November 19, another 400 illegal immigrants arrived by sea in southern Italy, bringing to 1,400 the number of foreigners apprehended trying to enter Italy between November 1 and 19. On November 21, French police returned to Italy 68 illegal Kurdish immigrants who had tried to enter France through the Mount Blanc tunnel in a bus.

Turkey has emerged as a transit country for Iraqis and others seeking entry to western Europe. Turkey says that it apprehended over 18,000 foreigners in the first nine months of 1997. Greek officials say that 4,200 people have crossed illegally into Greece from Turkey so far in 1997.

Guest Workers. In mid-November, Italy and Albania announced that they had reached agreement on a seasonal worker plan that would permit an "annual quota" of Albanians to work in Italy beginning in 1998. In return, the Albanian Interior Minister said that Albania would crack down on boats filled with migrants and headed for Italy. Italy's Interior Minister said that "Albanian authorities absolutely must reinforce their controls so that vessels (with illegal immigrants) do not set sail from their coasts."

The rest of the 13,000 Albanians who came to Italy in the Spring of 1997 are to return to Albania by December 1, 1997.

Celestine Bohlen, "Gateway Italy Struggles With Flood of Immigrants," New York Times, November 24, 1997. "Italy simplifies expulsion of illegal immigrants," Agence France Presse, November 18, 1997. "Italian deputies approve immigration crackdown," Agence France Presse, November 19, 1997. "Italian lower house passes immigration bill," Xinhua News Agency, November 19, 1997. Tom Hundley, "Italy may clamp down on borders," Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1997. "Italy detains 130 more immigrants," Agence France Presse, November 6, 1997. Vera Haller, "Nearly 1,000 Boat People Arrive Illegally in Italy," Washington Post, November 4, 1997. "Italian police detain around 100 Kurds," Agence France Presse, November 3, 1997.