Italy’s cabinet on Tuesday softened tough anti-migrant laws penned by far-right chief Matteo Salvini, making it easier for people to apply for humanitarian protection or obtain work permits.
The centre-left coalition government had pledged on coming to power last year that it would overhaul Salvini’s draconian laws, which penalised charity ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean, and had been widely criticised by rights campaigners.
“A wall has be knocked down in Italy. We took a while, a bit too long, but now Salvini’s so-called ‘security decrees’ are no longer,” Giuseppe Provenzano, a minister with the co-ruling Democratic Party (PD) tweeted.
Salvini, head of the League, had made the crackdown on migrants his priority as interior minister, a move which boosted his popularity in a country that has become the main gateway for migrants crossing the central Mediterranean.
He ended in particular the 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 in 2017.
Asylum was only granted to those who risked being tortured if repatriated. Protection will now be extended to those who risk being subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, or having their right to private and family life violated.
As part of his “closed ports” policy, Salvini imposed stiff penalties on charities carrying out search and rescue operations, decreeing that their boats could be confiscated and captains fined up to one million euros ($1.1 million).
Charities carrying out rescues in line with maritime law and in coordination with national authorities will no longer be fined. Illegal activity will instead be punished with fines of between 10,000 and 50,000 euros, and a possible jail term of up to two years.
The new law also reintroduces the use of smaller reception centres for hosting asylum seekers, which Salvini had scrapped.
Migrants granted permits to stay will have the possibility to convert them into work permits, the prime minister’s office said.
“The government is opening doors and ports to illegal migrants,” Salvini tweeted, adding: “Italy deserves better”.