A step ahead in the recognition of people’s dignity regardless their legal status: the Italian Constitutional Court on asylum seekers’ rights.

A step ahead in the recognition of people’s dignity regardless their legal status: the Italian Constitutional Court on asylum seekers’ rights.

Rome, 9 July 2020, by Veronica Federico, Sirius UNIFI Team leader.

The Italian Constitutional Court has examined the constitutionality of the provision that bars asylum-seekers from registering with the Italian Registry Office. The provision was introduced in the legal system by the so called Salvini Decrees in 2018. Law No113/2018 did not explicitly forbid asylum-seekers from registering, but stated that the asylum-seeker temporary permit to stay did not constitute any more, per se, the legal title to claim the registration. While not explicitly jeopardising the large majority of rights asylum seekers were entitled to before the entry into force of the Salvini Decree, it made the effective recognition and enforcement of those same rights more complex, therefore de facto making life even harder for one of the most vulnerable categories of migrants. The law explicitly grants asylum seekers access to a number of services, included those enforced at local level, by both public administration and private companies, even in the absence of the registration with the Registry Office. Therefore, in principle asylum seekers should have access, regardless their registration, to education services (from nursey school to vocational training), healthcare services, housing and local welfare services, but also to banking, estate agency services, insurance services, etc…

However, in Italy the system of access to rights (and provision of services) is mainly residence-based. Hence, impeding asylum seekers from enrolling on the civil registry and obtaining a residence card has de facto hampered the access to rights. Moreover, the response from local municipality has been extremely uneven. A number of local governments and of private entities have considered the bar from registering as an implicit bar from services, and further complexity has been added to the already complex procedures for opening a bank account, for example.

Other local governments, while forbidding asylum seekers to register, have granted them rights and services.

And a third cluster of local governments has registered asylum seekers in the Registry for temporary residents, whereas a fourth group of local governments has decided not to comply with the law and allowed asylum seekers to register.

A certain degree of variability is intrinsic in the decentralisation process, but when it heavily impacts on people’s rights and life conditions this may seriously undermine on the one hand the very principle of equality, and on the other the likewise fundamental principle of predictability of the law. When this variability affects vulnerable people’s life, the breach becomes nasty.

The provision has been challenged before a number of courts (the large majority of which issued ordinances allowing asylum seekers to register), and it reached the Constitutional Court in late 2019. The Court has decided on July the 9th 2020. It will take few more weeks to have the full judgment published, and to analyse the Court’s reasoning.

Yet, what is most relevant is that the Court declared the provision unconstitutional in light of Article 3 of the Constitution (recognising and granting equality), in two respects. First, the provision at issue is intrinsically irrational, because it does not facilitate pursuit of the Salvini Decree’s declared aims of controlling the territory. Second, it gives rise to an unreasonable difference in treatment, because it unjustifiably hinders asylum seekers’ access to the services to which they are entitled.

A step ahead in the recognition of people’s dignity regardless their legal status.