Short overview of the reception system


Country Report: Short overview of the reception system Last updated: 03/06/21


Decree Law 130/2020 converted into Law 173/2020 has significantly changed – at least in theory – two fundamental aspects of the reception system for asylum seekers:

  • Access to the (second) reception system;
  • and the type and level of services provided in first and second accommodation facilities.

The accommodation system (former SPRAR, then Siproimi) is now called S.A.I.: System of accommodation and integration.

The aforementioned changes partially restore the reception model that had been outlined by the Legislative Decree no. 142 of 2015 (Reception decree), a system intended as a single system for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection albeit divided into different phases:

  • a first aid and identification phase implemented in the crisis points present at the main disembarkations places;[1]
  • a first “assistance” phase aimed at first assisting the applicant in starting the asylum procedure, implemented in first governmental centres;[2]
  • a “proper” reception phase, operated in small centers, not far from the city center or in any case well connected to it, implemented in the SAI system.

In case of unavailability of places due to a large influx of arrivals, first reception may be implemented in “temporary” structures” (strutture temporanee), also known as Emergency Reception Centres (Centri di accoglienza straordinaria, CAS), established by Prefectures, subject to an assessment of the applicant’s health conditions and potential special needs.[3] When reception is provided in CAS, it is limited to the time strictly necessary for the transfer of the applicant in the second reception centres.[4]

Under the validity of the Legislative decree 142/2015, the effective access to second reception facilities for asylum seekers was often illusory. The extraordinary centres, CAS, whose activation was – and is – ordered by the Prefectures in case of lack of places in the ordinary system, represented – and represents – over the 70% of the facilities where asylum seekers were and are accommodated. Only a small number of asylum seekers were able to access the second reception system whose projects were – and are – voluntarily joined by the municipalities and whose places from 2011 onwards have always been seriously insufficient to cover the reception needs.

Access to the system

The Decree Law 113/2018, implemented by L 132/2018, had brought a drastic change to the design of the Italian reception system, with consequences still affecting the accommodation system even if the law, in 2020, has again reformed it.

In particular, the tender specifications schemes for the first reception services had drastically lowered the costs of the first reception phase, eliminated the services and provided for a negligible number of operators compared to the number of accommodated (1 operator for 50 asylum seekers). Due to this tender specification schemes it de facto favoured the creation of large centres managed by multinationals or for-profit organizations and many of the small non-profit organizations and cooperatives were excluded from the accommodation panorama, thereby cancelling the positive effects on the territory in terms of employment and income.

The Decree Law 130/2020 has again conceived the reception system as a single system for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international and special protection, even if organised in progressive phases. As in the past, however, there remains the strong limit of the voluntary adhesion of the municipalities to the second reception system and therefore of the scarce availability of places in these projects. The limit of indeterminacy regarding the actual passage from first reception centers to S.A.I. centers remains and there is still significant vagueness about the times in which this can happen. The law, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020, ensures the access to these centers only “within the limits of the available places “[5], following the completion of unspecified obligations necessary to identify asylum seekers and to start the asylum procedure[6] and limiting the stay in CAS activated at times indicated as “strictly necessary”.[7] Even in providing a “priority” access to the second reception facilities for vulnerable people, the law does not place any condition for this to actually take place.[8]

Even after the reform, SAI system is still conceived and indicated as primarily intended for beneficiaries of international protection and unaccompanied foreign minors. All the others access only in case of additional places available.[9]

Services provided

The other important aspect affected by Decree Law 130/2020 is the type of services that asylum seekers can benefit from. In theory the following services should be provided: social and psychological assistance, cultural mediation, Italian language courses, legal information service and information on territorial services.[10] They are all services that the 2018 tender specification schemes had cancelled.

However, the picture that emerges from the new tender specification schemes published on 24 February 2021 on the MoI website[11] is not at all comforting. The services that with the previous specifications and regulatory framework had been zeroed are now effectively provided for and included in the accountable costs but the expected increase in costs for these services and above all the hourly amounts of the respective operators are so low that the forecast appears to be only a formula without content. That is, the specification reveals, how the actual interest in having these services actually implemented in first reception is in fact scarce null and void.

And this is extremely relevant considering that de facto asylum seekers spend all the time of the asylum procedure or most of it in the first reception centers or in CAS.

On paper, the same level of services is provided for asylum seekers who will access to the S.A.I before the recognition of an international or special protection: here asylum seekers will be able to benefit from “first level” services which do not include support for integration, job research, job orientation and professional training, limited to beneficiaries of international and special protection.[12]

However, in practice, due to the low level of services provided for the first accommodation facilities,   there will be a significant difference between those who will live in Sai and those who will be accommodated  in CAS or first reception facilities.

Only unaccompanied children have immediate access to SAI. It is confirmed that local authorities can also accommodate in SAI victims of trafficking; domestic violence and particular exploitation; persons issued a residence permit for medical treatment, or natural calamity in the country of origin, or for acts of particular civic value.[13] Moreover, Decree Law 130/2020 states that local authorities can also accommodate in these facilities asylum seekers, holders of special protection, holders of special cases protection (former humanitarian protection), [14] and adults, former unaccompanied minors, who obtained a prosecution of assistance.[15] Holders of special protection, in case of application of the international protection exclusion clauses, are excluded from the SAI.

The reception system for asylum seekers is therefore now articulated as follows:

  1. First aid and identification operations that continue to take place in the centres set up in the principal places of disembarkation.[16] First Aid and Reception Centres (CPSA),[17] created in 2006 for the purposes of first aid and identification before persons are transferred to other centres, and now formally operating as Hotspots.[18]
  2. First assistance and reception, to be implemented in existing collective governmental centres or in centres to be established by specific Ministerial Decrees[19] This includes the centres previously known as governmental centres for accommodation of asylum seekers (CARA) and accommodation centres (CDA). The law now states that first assistance can also take place in temporary centres (CAS).[20]
  3. Proper reception, to be carried out in SAI system, with an access provided as soon as possible and a prioritized access for vulnerable people.

As mentioned, however, the current reception system for asylum seekers is currently affected by the changes laid down by legislative decree 113/2018 and by the contextual tender specifications schemes, changes which have led to reception in large centres and rendered reception in small-scale facilities and apartments economically unsustainable.

As highlighted by several reports[21] and journalistic investigations, the 2018 security decree marked a net change in the reception approach, preferring a system based on big CAS centres, attracting profit companies, such as ORS.[22] The very low numbers of operators granted by the funds in proportion to the number of guests led to the loss of many jobs[23] and the services’ cut made reception a mere management of food and accommodation, also reducing the positive effects on the host territories, in terms of income and socio-employment integration.[24]

Moreover, the new tender specification schemes published on 24 February 2021, brings no significant change to the first accommodation context that emerged after the 2018 reform.

In some cases, the farraginous control mechanisms of Prefectures, responsible for the establishment of CAS centres, have favoured the participation in the reception services of realities connected to underworld and false non-profit organizations, which, according to an investigation now underway, would have falsely attested services never actually performed. These would be contexts related to organized crime.[25]

Also, the distinction made by Decree Law 130/2020 between service levels dedicated to asylum seekers and the ones dedicated to beneficiaries replicates the erroneous logic to reserve resources for the integration for those who will benefit from international protection, contrary to a logic of protection and considerably slowing down the process of regaining self-sufficiency.

Covid-19: Quarantine ships

Due to the Covid-19 emergency measures have been taken that affect access to reception. In some cases, quarantine and isolation are foreseen on board of ships.

The circulars of the Ministry of the Interior of 18 March[26] and 1 April 2020[27] provided that migrants upon arrival, and after health screening by the competent health authorities, are subjected to quarantine for a period of 14 days, and that only at the end of that period – in cases not positive to the virus – migrants can be transferred to other accommodation facilities.

The decree of the Head of the Civil Protection Department of 12 April 2020, [28] assigned the assistance on accommodation and health surveillance of these migrants to the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior (Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration), through the operational help of the Italian Red Cross.[29] The same decree of 12 April also stated that the Civil Liberties and Immigration Department may use private ferries to isolate migrants rescued at sea for the period of quarantine or fiduciary isolation in cases where Italy cannot be considered a “safe harbour” (pursuant to the decree of 7 April[30]) or arrived on the national territory following autonomous landings.  The operators of the Italian Red Cross carry out health surveillance on board.

Over the months, the procedure has been also used for asylum seekers already present in Italy in reception centres. In September, a notice published by the Civil Protection provided for the use of quarantine ships for migrants arriving on the national territory from land borders, in particular in Friuli Venezia Giulia, where it is not possible to identify other areas or facilities to be used for accommodation.[31]

On 10 December 2020, 150 Italian and international organizations, including ASGI, signed a document asking the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Health, and the Civil Protection Department to close the quarantine management model with ships.[32] The associations raised strong alarm regarding detention on ships and quarantine centers violating the prohibition of discrimination as it is implemented in different ways for foreign citizens and in such a way as to determine deprivation of personal freedoms. The associations complained about the complete absence of official information on what happens on board of these ships. From a health point of view, quarantine on board of ships makes it impossible to distance and completely isolate positive cases and risks exacerbating previous health problems and psychological distress. [33]

According to two humanitarian workers of the Red Cross on board of a quarantine ship, the ships present situations of promiscuity of minors with adults, scarcity of medical personnel and inadequate spaces. The two workers also explained that due to the common spaces people negative to the covid-19 test came into contact with positive cases and were forced to prolong their isolation. They also spoke about people and families brought in isolation from reception centers even at night and frightened because, not informed of what was about to happen to them, they thought that getting on board meant being repatriated.[34]

On 20 May 2020, a 28-year-old Tunisian boy drowned after jumping overboard from a quarantine ship to swim to the coast.[35] In October 2020, a 15 year old child, rescued from the open arms and then quarantined on the Allegra ship, died, after ten days on the ship, due to his worsening health conditions, which was not related to Covid-19. This could probably have been prevented if he was promptly moved to the mainland for more adequate health treatments and monitoring.[36]

As recorded by ASGI and by local associations in Sicily, there have been numerous cases of migrants in quarantine held in isolation for periods longer than 14 days, resulting in the restart of the quarantine from the arrival of a new group of migrants.

Between September and October 2020, the Ministry of the Interior, supported by the Red Cross, has transferred hundreds of foreign citizens who tested positive for Covid-19, and who were already accommodated in reception centers on the land to these quarantine ships. [37]

Following a visit on a quarantine ship[38], the Guarantor for the rights of detained persons highlighted two critical aspects: the effectiveness of the information on the rights due to the absence of written and multilingual materials available to Red Cross workers and volunteers, and the difficulty in dealing with people to immediately recognize vulnerabilities.[39] These issues were confirmed by the interviews conducted – between the second half of May and the beginning of November 2020 – from the In Limine project, to 82 persons who, after their arrival in Italy, spent quarantine aboard one of the ships.[40]

Financing, coordination and monitoring

The overall activities concerning the first reception and the definition of the legal status of the asylum seeker are conducted under the programming and criteria established by both national and regional Working Groups (Tavolo di coordinamento nazionale e tavoli regionali).[41] The Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Ministry of Interior, including through the Prefectures, conducts control and monitoring activities in the reception facilities. To this end, the Prefectures may make use of the municipality’s social services.[42]

The Decree of 20 November 2018, through which the Ministry of Interior adopted the tender specifications scheme (capitolato d’appalto) for the supply of goods and services related to CPSA, first reception centres, CAS and CPR[43] and which only foresees a basic level of services and drastically reduces funding for the centres still needs to be replaced by a new one to provide coverage for the new services provided by law in first accommodation and CAS facilities (see further Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions).




[1]  Article 8 (2) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020.

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Article 11(1) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020.

[4] Article 11(3) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020.

[5]  Article 8 (3) Reception Decree, as amended by DL 130/2020 and Article 9 (4 bis) regarding the passage from governmental centers to SAI.

[6] Article 9 (4 bis) Repection Decree as amended by DL 130/2020.

[7]  Article 11 (3) Reception Decree as amended by DL 130/2020.

[8]  Article 9 (4 bis) regarding the passage from governmental centers to SAI and Article 11 (3) Reception Decree regarding the passage from CAS to SAI.

[9] Article 1 sexies (1) DL 516/1989 according to which in the SAI system, dedicated to beneficiaries of internation protection and unaccompanied minors, municipalities can also accommodated asylum seekers and holders of specified permits to stay.

[10] Article 10 (1) Reception decree, as amended by DL 130/2020.

[11] According to Article 12 Reception Decree.

[12]  Article 1 sexies (2 bis) DL 416/1989,introduced by DL 130/2020.

[13]  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.

[14] Ibid, mentioning Articles 1 (9) DL 113/2018 (special cases); Article 19, (1, 1.1) TUI, amended by DL 130/2020.

[15] Article 1 sexies (1 bis) DL 416/1989, introduced by DL 130/2020. In some cases according to the law unaccompanied minors becoming adults can benefit of a further assistance (accommodation and help) up to 21 years. It is called “prosieguo amministrativo”

[16] Article 8(2) Reception Decree, as amended by DL 130/2020, which now directly recalls Article 10- ter TUI

[17]   L 563/1995.

[18]   Article 10-ter TUI, inserted by Article 17 Decree Law 13/2017 and L 46/2017.

[19]  Article 8 (2) Reception Decree, as amended by DL 130/2020, and Article 9 Reception Decree.

[20] Article 8 (2) as amended by DL 130/2020.

[21] Openpolis, Actionaid, Centri d’Italia, La sicurezza dell’esclusione, October 2019, available in Italian at:

[22] Valori, Dai timori alla realtà: «I centri-migranti sempre più ghetti senza servizi». E a Trieste rispunta ORS, 31 January 2020, available in Italian at:

[23] Avvenire, Decreto Sicurezza. Accoglienza migranti in crisi, 15mila operatori rischiano il lavoro, 6 May 2019, available in Italian at:

[24]  Valori, Accoglienza migranti: i quattro fallimenti del decreto Sicurezza, 31 July 2019, available in Italian at:

[25] Repubblica, Parma: Fake Onlus: l’indagine sull’accoglienza dei migranti tocca Parma, 2 July 2019, available in Italian at:

[26]  MoI Circular 18 March 2020, available at:

[27]  Moi Circular, 1 April 2020, available at:

[28]  Decree of the head of the Civil Protection Department, 12 April 2020, available at:

[29] On 8 May 2020, the MoI signed an agreement with the Red Cross for the management of the emergency on board quarantine vessels, agreement available at:

[30] According to Inter Ministerial Decree of 7 April 2020, it should be applied to people rescued by foreign ships outside the Italian SAR zone, Decree available at :

[31] Civil Protection, 10 September 2020, available at:

[32] Critical issues in the quarantine ship system for migrants analysis and reqwuests del sistema navi quarantena  per persone migranti analisi e richieste, available in English at:

[33]  See also on this point “A distress call for human rights”, report of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights about the Confinement on ships as a method of “disembarkation”, March 2021, available at:

[34] Redattore sociale, Navi quarantena, due operatori umanitari raccontano quel sistema sbagliato che sospende il diritto, 24 December 2020, available at:

[35] La Repubblica», Migrante si getta in mare dalla Moby Zazà: morto, 28 luglio 2020.

[36] AGI; Il calvario ‘europeo’ di Abou, morto dopo lo sbarco dalla nave quarantena, 7 october 2020, available at:

[37] Open Migration, il trasferimento di uomini e donne già presernti sul territorio italiano sulle navi quarantena è illegale, 9 October 2020, available at:

[38] Visit on Rhapsody, quarantine ship, on 17 September 2020, available at:

[39] Guarantor for the rights of detained persons, 28 October 2020, available at:

[40] See In Limine, Report “Rights on the skids. The experiment of quarantine ships and main points of criticism”, 7 May 2021, available at:

[41] Article 9(1) Reception Decree.

[42] Article 20(1) Reception Decree.

[43] According to Article 12 Reception Decree.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation