The Policy Highlights of Politiche Sociali / Social Policies Policy
This article summarizes some of the main results of a work published in “Politiche Sociali / Social Policies” n. 2/2020 (printed by Il Mulino and promoted by ESPAnet Italia network). For more details and quotes: Bazurli, R., Campomori, F. e Casula, M. (2020) Shelter from the Storm: “Virtuous” Systems of Urban Asylum Governance Coping with Italy’s Immigration Crackdown, “Politiche sociali / Social policies”, n. 2, pp. 201-224.

Immigration and asylum became tremendously contested in Italy over the last decade. Especially since 2017, left-leaning executives eroded asylum rights for the sake of competing with their right-wing opponents. The climax was then reached in 2018, when Matteo Salvini – leader of the far-right Lega party and newly appointed Minister of the Interior – authored the “Security Decree I” (Decree-Law 113/2018) as a spearhead of his anti-immigration platform. This provision dismantled many of the governance arrangements established through the 2015 “Reception Decree” (Law 142/2015), which had marked an essential – albeit insufficient – step towards a stable and far-reaching asylum system.

The Security Decree I contributed to further deteriorate the already deficient standards of first reception facilities. Secondly, the replacement of the two-year humanitarian protection status with various residence permits for special cases and a special protection status is expected to “illegalize” approximately 70,000 migrants by 2020 due to the introduction of restrictive eligibility criteria; finally, migrants with a pending application (except unaccompanied minors) have been excluded from SPRAR facilities (Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees)—thus reserving the access to successful asylum applicants only. SPRAR (then renamed SIPROIMI – Protection System for Beneficiaries of International Protection and Unaccompanied Foreign Minors) are usually small-scale centers providing a holistic set of services for tackling multiple vulnerabilities and empowering migrants in the longer-term. Local governments, in cooperation with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), are in charge of implementing these welfare services, which are widely praised as effective and respectful of human rights.

In short, with the introduction of the Security Decree I, the most “virtuous” components of Italy’s asylum system, as well as the role of local governments in asylum governance, have been drastically reduced. The burden of integration of this re-adjustment fall especially on municipalities, as they have to meet the needs of a growing, highly precarious population. Paradoxically, however, the same municipalities have seen their prerogatives and resources at their disposal progressively shrinking. The aim of our contribution is therefore to explore the implications of the Security Decree I for Bologna and Parma, two medium-sized Italian cities which have crafted virtuous systems of urban asylum governance over the last decades. How did “virtuous” cities respond to the shockwave?

Bologna and Parma to the test of the immigration crackdown

At the time of the adoption of the Security Decree I, Bologna and Parma were equipped with particularly valuable asylum systems, consisting of small-scale, high-quality reception centers tied to local communities and evenly spread over the metropolitan territory. These sophisticated governance arrangements were the by-product of a sustained cooperation between state and non-state actors at the city-level, including elected officials, civil servants, NGOs, and civil society at large. Hence, the two cities proved prepared to aptly host a rising number of migrants arriving over the 2010s.

Yet the escalation of anti-immigration sentiment at the national level, which materialized in the adoption of the “Security Decree I” in 2018, put Bologna’s and Parma’s asylum systems under heavy pressure. Aside from the changes in the regulatory framework, pro-immigrant actors also suffered increasing resistance from the side of local elected officials. The latter, despite having promoted inclusionary policies both in Bologna and Parma for a long time, started waiving their role as guarantors of the existing system, possibly for the sake of averting a loss of consensus in a juncture of rising nativism nationwide. In face of institutional actors retreating from their responsibilities of international protection, in both cities civil society organizations became the main responsible providers of these welfare services “on behalf of the state.”

Despite the above mentioned similarities, Bologna and Parma present some significant differences after the adoption of the Security Decree. On the one hand, Bologna proved able to (partly) resist the asylum crackdown triggered by the Security Decree I and maintain the relations between state and non-state actors. The asylum governance system of this city could remain standing in spite of the severe restrictions imposed “from above” thanks to a robust and vocal infrastructure of civil society organizations. The latter were able to exert enough pressure on sympathetic local officials, who thus felt obliged to oppose national policies—most notably by maintaining the same number of available slots in the SPRAR/SIPROIMI system.

On the other hand, Parma’s local government has retreated its commitment to asylum policies to a significant extent, for instance by nullifying the decisional power of the Tavolo Provinciale Asilo (the main institutional venue in this realm) and by downsizing the local SPRAR/SIPROIMI system. CIAC – a local NGO that alone bears the lion’s share of reception and integration services across the province of Parma – has taken a vociferous stance in opposing the restrictive turn in national politics, through both political contestation and solidarity initiatives to support those migrants remained devoid of assistance. However, such acts of resistance were not carried out in cooperation with the local government, whose attitude vis-à-vis CIAC’s activism has swung between tolerance and closure.

Conclusion: Recent trends and implications for practitioners

In 2020, Italy’s asylum system has gone through major additional changes, especially following the huge spread of COVID-19 across the country. While our study was conducted in 2019, we can provide some considerations on how the pandemic and the related policies adopted by the national government are affecting the Italian asylum system.

On the one hand, the pandemic shed light on, and exacerbated, the deficiencies of the national asylum system, characterized by large-sized, often overcrowded reception and detention centers, which significantly hamper migrants’ integration in our country. On the other hand, the medical emergency led to a de facto recognition of the value of the SPRAR/SIPROIMI, whereby the government decided to open these facilities not only to refugees, but also to migrants with a pending application and other people in need.

At the time of writing, the “Security Decree I” is about to be significantly amended (albeit not abolished). Among other things, the humanitarian protection status should be reintroduced and SPRAR/SIPROIMI facilities should be made again available to asylum-seekers.

The findings of our study can offer interesting insights on how to design successful asylum policies for migrants’ integration. This may be achieved by leveraging a set of favorable conditions at the local level, in particular by mobilizing the vast constellation of civil society organizations and strengthening local practices of inclusion. The design of policies per se, as observed above, is not enough to guarantee their success. In addition to this, other factors intervene, such as the political orientation of the local government and the welfare legacy. All these factors together can produce best practices to be taken as examples in other localities.


Bazurli, R, Campomori, F. e Casula, M. (2020), Shelter from the Storm: “Virtuous” Systems of Urban Asylum Governance Coping with Italy’s Immigration Crackdown, “Politiche sociali / Social policies”, n. 2, pp. 201-224.

La ricerca su cui questo articolo si fonda è stata condotta nell’ambito del progetto PRIN De-bordering activities and citizenship from below of asylum seekers in Italy. Policies, practices, people (ASIT). Coordinatore nazionale: Maurizio Ambrosini, Università di Milano.