As underlined in the Reception condition chapter, Decree Law 130/2020 converted into Law 173/2020 had, on paper at least, reformed the reception system back to a single system for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international and special protection, even if organised in progressive phases. Nevertheless, despite the reform, the SAI system was still conceived and indicated as primarily intended for beneficiaries of international protection and unaccompanied foreign minors. Other foreign nationals could only access SAI in case of available places. The system remained based on the voluntary adhesion of the municipalities. Even after the reform SAI still does not have enough places to meet the reception needs of all those who are entitled to it.
A possible solution, which ASGI has indicated several times since 2015, is a reform that transfers the administrative functions of reception management to the Municipalities: this would lead to the gradual absorption of specific services for reception within the social services guaranteed at the territorial level, as part of the related welfare system and, therefore, no longer optional. This way, Municipalities could no longer choose, as is the case now, whether to activate a SAI project or not, that is, whether or not to deal with reception services for refugees: reception would become an integral part of local welfare and minimum levels of assistance could also be established which the Municipalities should adhere to.
Law 50/2023 recently came into force. Through its new provisions, asylum seekers have been once again excluded from the possibility to access the SAI system, so that the reception system will return to a situation in which applicants will only have access to collective government centres and temporary facilities, while the SAI will become a sub-system reserved exclusively to protection holders. Access to the SAI will only be granted to asylum seekers identified as vulnerable and to those who have legally accessed Italy through complementary pathways (Government-led resettlements or private sponsored humanitarian admission programs).
Stay in first reception centres and CAS
A protection status does not allow the beneficiary to remain in first reception facilities or CAS. For this reason, beneficiaries who have obtained a protection title should be quickly transferred, if they want, into a SAI project. However, the scarcity of available places in the SAI network and numerous procedural issues often mean that the person is discharged from the reception centre where they were accepted as an asylum seeker before their entry into a SAI centre is arranged. The beneficiary of protection is then forced to temporarily leave the reception system. As described in detail in the Reception chapter, frequent are also the cases in which the request for inclusion in SAI is not even made. Already prior to the 2018 reform, some Prefectures considered that material conditions may be immediately ceased after the status recognition. In some cases, depending on the discretionary decisions of the responsible Prefectures and on bureaucratic delays, beneficiaries of national/international protection, after obtaining protection status, might be allowed to stay in the reception centre a few months or a few days after the notification or until the access to a SAI project. According to the information collected by ASGI, the majority of Prefectures allow beneficiaries of an international or national protection to remain in CAS only a few days.
Accommodation in SAI
Following the 2020 reform, reception of beneficiaries of international protection is carried out in the SAI system, Reception and Integration System (Sistema di accoglienza ed integrazione), the former SPRAR established by L 189/2002. SAI is a publicly funded network of local authorities and NGOs which accommodates unaccompanied children – under some conditions also after they become adults – (see Reception of Unaccompanied Children), beneficiaries of international protection and, in case of available places, applicants for international protection and people who have obtained some other residence permits for specific reasons (among which beneficiaries of national protection).
Unaccompanied children should have immediate access to SAI. Local authorities can also accommodate in SAI: THB survivors; domestic violence survivors and labour exploitation survivors; persons issued a residence permit for medical treatment, or for natural calamity in the country of origin, or for acts of particular civic value. Moreover, Decree Law 130/2020 states that local authorities can also accommodate in these facilities applicants for international protection, beneficiaries of special protection, beneficiaries of a special cases permit (former humanitarian protection), and former unaccompanied minors, who obtained the continuation of assistance. Access to the SAI is precluded to beneficiaries of special protection who have obtained the permit because of international protection exclusion clauses.
The SAI system is formed by small reception structures where assistance and integration services are provided. SAI projects are run by local authorities together with civil society actors such as NGOs. According to the Ministry of Interior Decree of 18 November 2019, SAI accommodation centres ensure interpretation and linguistic-cultural mediation services, legal counselling, teaching of the Italian language and access to schools for minors, health assistance, socio-psychological support in particular to vulnerable persons, training, support at providing employment, counselling on the services available at local level to allow integration locally, information on (assisted) voluntary return programmes, as well as information on recreational, sport and cultural activities. Such Decree, which includes the Guidelines for the former Siproimi system, has not yet been replaced by a new one reflecting the actual new configuration of the SAI.
Decree Law 130/2020 introduced two different levels of services for persons accommodated in SAI projects:
- First level services: applicants for international protection who are accommodated in SAI (before being granted international or special protection) will be able to benefit from “first level” services. First level services include, in addition to material reception services, health care, social and psychological assistance, linguistic-cultural mediation, the teaching of Italian language courses and legal and territorial guidance services.
- Second level services: only available for beneficiaries of an international or special protection, include support for integration, job research, job orientation and professional training.
In contrast to the large-scale buildings provided in Governmental centres CPSA (former CARA and CDA) and CAS, according to official data from the SAI network, as of February 2023, SAI comprised 934 smaller-scale decentralised projects. The projects funded a total of 43,923 accommodation places. Of the SAI projects currently funded, 36,821 are ordinary places, 6,299 for unaccompanied minors, and 803 for people with mental distress or physical disabilities.
In 2021, a total of 42,464 people were accommodated.
The Moi Decree of 18 November 2019 establishes that reception in the SAI system lasts six months (for holders of a form of protection).
Only in some cases, indicated by the Decree, reception conditions may be extended for a further six months, with adequate motivation and with prior authorization from the competent Prefecture. In particular, the decree allows the extension for the conclusion of integration paths, or for extraordinary circumstances related to health reasons. Furthermore, the extension of six months could be authorised in case of vulnerabilities or special needs (as listed in Article 17(1) of the Reception decree). In this case, the request for extension must contain the explicit indication and evidence of the vulnerability.
A further six months could be granted in case of persistent serious health reasons or to allow the completion of the school year.
Decree Law 130/2020 does not specifically regulate the duration of the reception in the SAI. However, it states that at the expiry of the period of stay, all the people accommodated are included in further integration paths for which the competent Municipalities are responsible within the limits of human, instrumental and financial available resources. Despite this, the Annual Report of the Sprar/Siproimi reception system shows that refugees who are accommodated in Sprar/Siproimi facilities face many obstacles in achieving housing autonomy. In 2018, less than 5% of the people accommodated within the Sprar/ Siproimi system benefited from an accommodation subsidy when their time in the system ended, and less than 1% was supported with lease procedures as they left reception facilities.
According to the SAI report published in 2021, beneficiaries who left SAI facilities in 2020 were 14,280. Out of the total number, less than half (45,0%) chose to leave the project, while 49,4% had to leave due to the expiration of the reception period.
More in detail, regarding beneficiaries of international protection, the National Plan drawn up for the years 2022 – 2024 by the National Coordination Table set up at the Ministry of the Interior – Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, identifies interventions on:
- linguistic training aimed at the knowledge of Italian language at least at A1 level;
- knowledge of the fundamental rights and duties enshrined in the Constitution of the Italian Republic;
- orientation to essential public services;
- orientation to job placement.
Even though the accommodation system should be considered as a unique system, the withdrawal of reception conditions governed by the Accommodation Decree only refers to first reception facilities and CAS.
The MoI Decree also dictates specific rules for the withdrawal of reception conditions which could be ordered in the event of:
- serious or repeated violation of the house rules, including damages to the facilities or serious and violent behaviour;
- unjustified failure to report to the facility identified by the SAI Central Service;
- unjustified abandonment of the facility for over 72 hours, without prior authorization from the Prefecture;
- application of the measure of pre-trial detention in prison for the beneficiary.
The withdrawal of the reception measures is ordered by the responsible Prefecture.
Article 14 of Decree Law 130/2020 sets a financial invariance clause for all the changes made by the decree and, for what concerns the SAI, it states that this also applies to any increase in places in the related projects.
Furthermore, the Decree provides that financial invariance is also ensured, where necessary, through compensatory variations in the Ministry of the Interior’s budget dedicated to the management of migratory flows. As observed by some studies, this clause makes it unlikely that the SAI will actually be able to accommodate the categories of people, including applicants for international protection, to whom the decree gives the right to access the SAI system.
Due to the exceptional reception needs resulting from the crisis in Afghanistan, art. 7 of Law Decree no. 139 of October 8, 2021 provided for an increase in the financial allocation to the National Fund for Asylum Policies and Services corresponding to 11,335,320 euros for the year 2021 and 44,971,650 euros for each of the years 2022 and 2023, to increase the SAI network by 3,000 places for the ordinary category.
In December 2021, 2,000 additional SAI places were activated, to meet accommodation needs of Afghan asylum seekers.
Later, DL 16 of 28 February 2022, later transposed into DL 14/2022 converted with modification by L 28/2022, established the ad hoc expansion of 3,000 SAI places and the possibility for people escaped from Ukrainian’s war to access the SAI places already activated for Afghans.
While the SAI system has been slowly but constantly expanded throughout the country in the 20 years since it was set up, the total amount of available places is still falling short and largely inadequate to meet the existing needs. For this reason, CAS and emergency accommodations still need to be opened and maintained. Furthermore, historically, the number of SAI places funded by the Government and the number of SAI places actually active and available differ by several thousands, as a consequence of bureaucratic delays, as well as organisational and logistical issues.
As showcased by the extensive work of Actionaid, by 31 December 2021, the SAI system counted more than 10,000 funded but unavailable places. A more recent reportage from the magazine Altreconomia showed that, in October 2022, against over 44,000 funded places within the SAI system, only 35,000 of them were available and even fewer were used (33,000).
Access to public housing
From the point of view of international and supranational law, the issue of housing is of particular importance. Art. 21 of the Convention on the Status of Refugees states that “As regards housing, the Contracting States, in so far as the matter is regulated by law or regulations or is subject to the control of public authorities, shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory treatment as favourable as possible and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances”. Therefore, according to the Convention, refugees must enjoy the most favourable treatment possible when accessing housing, in a manner that is not, in any case, disadvantageous compared to other foreigners. The law of the European Union is also in line with the Convention: in fact, art. 32 of EU Directive 95/2011 provides for the principle of equal treatment in access to housing between beneficiaries of international protection and third countries citizens who are legally residing in their territories.
National legislation on this subject is even clearer: art. 29 paragraph 3-ter of Legislative Decree 19 November 2007, n. 251, provides that “Access to housing benefits provided for in Article 40, paragraph 6, of Legislative Decree 25 July 1998, no. 286, is open to beneficiaries of refugee status and of subsidiary protection, on equal terms with Italian citizens”. The right to access housing support measures is therefore among those rights for which the Italian legal system provides for equal treatment between refugees and Italian citizens.
Consistent with the relevance of the issue, housing integration is addressed by the National Integration Plan for beneficiaries of international protection, the most important institutional policy document on the issue of refugee integration in recent years, published by the Ministry of the Interior in 2017. This document identifies access to housing as one of the priority interventions.
However, some structural characteristics of the Italian housing system make it not particularly responsive to the needs of beneficiaries of international protection. According to a study from 2019, the share of public housing appeared to be low: in the last thirty years, public housing has steadily represented between 5 and 6% of the overall housing market. In absolute terms, the public housing stock is estimated at around 800,000 units, with a capacity of nearly two million people, with 650,000 applications pending housing allocation in municipal rankings. Furthermore, in many cases the criteria for the allocation of public housing is disadvantageous for many immigrants, even when they have a very low income, as a minimum seniority of residence is required: this criterion can exclude all those beneficiaries of international protection who have been residing in Italy for a shorter time.
In Italy, people with no income or with an income that does not allow them to buy a house or to pay rent can ask their Municipality to access publicly owned housing (commonly called “social housing”), within Public Residential Housing (“Edilizia Residenziale Pubblica”, or ERP). Regions have the power to issue laws that regulate access criteria and distribution of economic resources. Municipalities are responsible for issuing calls for tenders for the submission of access applications and for selecting people to whom housing is assigned.
The possibility of competing for the allocation of housing is given to Italian citizens, citizens of an EU member state, as well as foreign citizens legally residing in Italy, either with an EU residence permit for long-term residents or with a two-year permit at least. Beneficiaries of international protection are treated on the same footing as Italian citizens regarding access to public housing: they can always apply and they cannot be asked to meet additional or different requirements than those provided for Italian citizens. Application requirements vary among Regions, and sometimes even among Municipalities within the same Region. Some Regions have specific scores for refugees. In general terms, criteria can be: maximum income (normally measured through ISEE), non-ownership of housing, residence in the Municipality where the application is submitted, no previous allocation of public residential housing, no illegal occupations.
When calls to access residential housing, published by locally responsible Municipalities, are closed, applications duly complying with the call’s requirements are given scores for ranking purposes. The methods of giving scores vary depending on Regions and Municipalities. Scores can be attributed for income, family composition, seniority of residence, overcrowding, cohabitation with other families, presence of severely disabled persons within the family, inadequate or unhygienic accommodation, expulsion or eviction decisions, and newly-formed family units. The Municipality publishes the provisional ranking with the indication of the deadline by which any appeals can be filed for scoring mistakes. The final ranking is then published, and available accommodation is assigned on its basis.
Numerous regional laws provide that only those individuals who do not own a property in any country in the world or, at least, in their country of origin can access public housing. This limitation entails discrimination to the extent that the Region (or the Municipality) only asks non-EU citizens for documents issued by a competent authority in the country of origin to certify the absence of real estate in that country. In any case, beneficiaries of international protection cannot contact the authorities in their countries, so they are not required to provide evidence regarding real estate property in the country of origin.
The procedure to access social housing is regulated by regional provisions and Municipalities’ administrative acts. Among the documents necessary to access the application procedure, some Regions require documents translated and certified by the Italian Embassy, attesting the absence of real estate properties abroad or in the country of origin. Beneficiaries of international protection cannot be asked for this documentation, as stateless citizens or political refugees are treated on equal footing with Italian citizens. This means that, for the purposes of assessing their economic circumstances, there is no need to submit declarations issued by Embassies or Consulates, since only income and assets potentially held in Italy must be taken into account and, if existent, be self-certified, as is required of Italian citizens. In any case, two judgments of the Court of Milan in 2020 established that requesting the above documents to all non-EU citizens is discriminatory. As a further requirement to access the public housing application procedure, some Regions and Municipalities require prolonged residence or work activity in the area for a few years. The regional law of Lombardy, which required 5 years of residence and was particularly disadvantageous for foreign citizens, was declared unlawful by the Constitutional Court, and therefore repealed. Moreover, with judgement no. 9/2021, the Constitutional Court established that the seniority of residence cannot be included among the criteria for attributing a higher score for the assignment of public housing because it does not determine a condition of greater need. In the same judgement, the Constitutional Court also declared that the requirement of legalised documents attesting the absence of real estate properties abroad or in the country of origin represent a discriminatory provision, contrary to Article 3 of the Italian Constitution.
 Article 1 sexies (1) DL 516/1989 according to which in the SAI system, dedicated to beneficiaries of international protection and unaccompanied minors, municipalities can also accommodate asylum seekers and holders of specified permits to stay.
 According to Article 118 of the Italian Constitution, administrative functions are attributed to the municipalities. See ASGI, Manifeste illegittimita’ costituzionali delle nuove norme concernenti permessi di soggiorno per esigenze umanitarie, protezione internazionale, immigrazione e cittadinanza previste dal decreto-legge 4 ottobre 2018, n. 113, 15 October 2018, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/2W4am3n. For a more detailed analysis, see Gianfranco Schiavone, ‘Le Prospettive Di Evoluzione Del Sistema Unico Di Asilo Nell’unione Europea E Il Sistema Di Accoglienza Italiano. Riflessioni Sui Possibili Scenari’ in Fondazione Migrantes, Il diritto d’asilo, minori rifugati e vulnerabili senza voce, Report 2017, February 2017.
 Article 1 sexies (1) DL 416/1989, as amended by DL 130/2020, citing Articles 18, 18-bis, 19(2)(d-bis), 20, 22(12-quater) and 42-bis TUI. The statuses in Articles 20 and 42-bis had been inserted by Decree Law 113/2018.
 Ibid, mentioning Articles 1 (9) DL 113/2018 (special cases); Article 19, (1, 1.1) TUI, amended by DL 130/2020, special protection.
 Article 1 sexies (1 bis) DL 416/1989, introduced by DL 130/2020.
 Articles 10(2), 12 (1) (b) and (c) and 16 of the Qualification Decree; Article 1 sexies (1) (a) DL 416/1989, as amended by DL 130/2020.
 Article 34 MoI Decree 18 November 2019.
 Article 1 sexies (2 bis, a) DL 416/1989, introduced by DL 130/2020.
 Article 1 sexies (2 bis) DL 416/1989, introduced by DL 130/2020.
 Article 38 MoI Decree 18 November 2019.
 Article 39 MoI Decree 18 November 2019.
 Article 5 (1) Decree Law 130/2020 converted by L 173/2020.
 According to Article 29 (3) of the Qualification Decree.
 Article 5 (2) Decree Law 130/2020 converted by L 173/2020.
 Article 40 MoI Decree 18 November 2019.
 Article 14 (3) Decree Law 130/2020 converted by L 173/2020.
 See Francesca Biondi Dal Monte, I percorsi di accoglienza e integrazione e il loro finanziamento, in Immigrazione, protezione internazionale e misure penali, commento al decreto legge 130/2020, conv. In L 173/2020, Pacini Giuridica.
 Ministero dell’Interno, Published the funding decree for additional SAI network projects, 21 December 2021, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/37sGF6W. Places increased by Article 7 (1) DL 139/2021, converted into L 205/2021, as modified by Article 5 quater (5) DL 14/2022 converted into L 28/2022
 2,000 places according to Article 3(4) DL 16/2022, modifyng Article 1 (390) L 234/2021, later transposed in DL 14/2022 as modified by Article 5 quater (6) DL 14/2022 converted into L 28/2022.
 DL 16/2022, Article 3, then repealed and transfused in the DL 14/2022, Article 5 quater as modified by the conversion Law n. 28 of 5 April 2022, without prejudice to all effects, acts and measures adopted in the meantime on the base of DL 16/2022.
 Article 5 quater DL 14/2022 converted with modifications into L 28/2022.
 Article 29 Qualification Decree; Article 40(6) TUI; UNHCR, ASGI and SUNIA, The refugee house – Guide to housing autonomy for beneficiaries of international protection in Italy, February 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3weRsMl.
 Colombo, F., Housing autonomy of applicants and beneficiaries of international protection in Italy, University of Urbino Carlo Bo, DESP – Department of Economics, Society, Politics, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3ifGKgz.