Italy: Berlusconi bid to double migrant detention period defeated

Italian lawmakers April 8 rejected a bid to triple the amount of time undocumented immigrants can be detained, in a rare defeat for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition. In a narrow vote, opposition deputies—joined by some members of Berlusconi’s own conservative coalition—voted against extending the period from two months to six months.

The opposition amendment to a government security decree containing the provision was approved by a 232-225 vote, in parliament’s lower-house Chamber of Deputies. There were 12 abstentions. “I am incensed,” Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, one of the strongest proponents of the measure, said after the vote. Maroni charged it amounted “to an amnesty for illegal immigrants and represents an irresistible call for more landings” on Italy’s shores by those making clandestine crossings of the Mediterranean from North Africa.

The current two-month limit for migrants to be detained at “reception camps” is insufficient to allow proper identification, which is necessary for their repatriation, said Maroni, a member of the anti-immigration Northern League. (DPA, April 8)

The vote comes in the wake of several controversies surrounding “illegal” immigration in Italy. Earlier this month, police discovered 24 Afghan children living in filthy conditions in the sewer system under Rome’s railway station. (AFP, April 5) On March 30, an overcrowded ship full of Italy-bound migrants capsized off Libya, leaving more than 230 dead. (NYT, April 2)

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  1. Stranded migrants land in Sicily
    From AKI, April 20:

    Italy has allowed a Turkish cargo vessel containing about 140 illegal immigrants to land on the southern island of Sicily on humanitarian grounds after Malta refused to accept them. Thirty of the illegal migrants aboard the merchant vessel Pinar arrived at Porto Emepedocle early Monday, and the others were expected to follow.

    Italy’s foreign ministry said on Sunday it had decided to accept the illegal migrants after negotiations collapsed with Malta over the immigrants’ fate.

    The migrants had been kept waiting in international waters, about 40 kilometers southwest of the Italian island of Lampedusa, for three days before the decision was made to accept them.

    The situation became even more dramatic on Sunday, after a series of telephone calls between Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and leaders from Malta and the European Union.

    The immigrants were picked up by the Turkish cargo ship Pinar on Thursday, after the two boats they were travelling on started sinking.

    Major Clinton O’Neill, spokesman for the Maltese army rescue co-ordination centre, said that the Pinar was diverted to intervene and rescue the immigrants after it was identified as the nearest vessel.

    “We then instructed the ship to proceed to the nearest safe haven. It was Lampedusa,” he said.

    Italy had insisted that the Pinar was in Malta’s search and rescue area, arguing that Malta should have accepted the migrants.

    “I’ve asked and continue to ask Malta to accept its responsibilities which it undertook according to international treaties,” Roberto Maroni, the Italian interior minister, said last Friday.

    Malta has argued that under international conventions, the nearest port of call, Lampedusa, should be obliged to accept the rescued migrants.

    Each year, tens of thousands of migrants pay people smugglers to try to reach Italy. Many aim for the Italian island of Lampedusa, a tiny island that is closer to the African continent than Europe, but their boats often capsize and many drown. Others die of thirst, hunger and heatstroke.

    The number of illegal migrants arriving in Italy by boat rose by 75 per cent in 2008, reaching 36,900 people. The government said 30,000 landed on the Sicilian coast.