Short overview of the Italian reception system
Decree Law 130/2020 converted into Law 173/2020 has significantly changed – at least on paper – 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 disembarkation places;
- a first “assistance” phase aimed at first assisting the applicant in starting the asylum procedure, implemented in first governmental centres;
- a “proper” reception phase, operated in small centres, not far from the city centre 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. 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.
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 66% 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 reception services in governmental centres and CAS 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 organisations and many of the small non-profit organisations and cooperatives were excluded from the accommodation panorama, thereby cancelling the positive effects on the territory in terms of employment and income.
As highlighted by ActionAid and Openpolis in their last report on the accommodation system in Italy, between 2018 and 2020 the number of centres throughout the country decreased by 25.1%, and the places available fell by 40.2%. The centres that underwent closure were mainly the small size ones (up to 20 people), which lost almost 22,000 places compared to the 20,000 places lost by larger structures (from 51 to 300 guests), the 14,000 by the medium ones and only 7,133 for centres with more than 300 people. Furthermore, in the same time frame, large CAS facilities have seen an increase in their capacity.
The report highlights how these developments prove that, despite the decrease in arrivals, there have been no developments in the ordinary structure of the reception system and a further push towards large concentrations.
The Decree Law 130/2020 brought the reception system back to be conceived as a single system for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international and special protection, even if organised in different phases. As in the past, however, the strong limit posed by the voluntary adhesion of the municipalities to the S.A.I. reception system remains, and is the root cause of the scarce availability of places in these projects. The limit of indeterminacy regarding the actual passage from first reception centres to S.A.I. centres 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 centres only “within the limits of the available places”, following the completion of unspecified obligations necessary to identify asylum seekers and to start the asylum procedure, and limiting the stay in CAS activated at times indicated as “strictly necessary”. 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.
Even after the reform, the S.A.I system is conceived and indicated as primarily intended for beneficiaries of international protection and unaccompanied migrant children. All the others access only in case of additional places available.
Thus, almost a year after its coming into force, the reform still did not show positive results in practice.
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. They are all services that the 2018 tender specification schemes had cancelled.
In 2021, many asylum seekers were still unable to access the S.A.I., while the level of services guaranteed to the most of asylum seekers accommodated remained very low, as the tender specification schemes adopted on 24 February 2021 for first governmental centres and CAS essentially reflect that adopted by the Government in 2018.
On paper, the same level of services is provided for asylum seekers who access to the SAI before the recognition of an international or special protection: here asylum seekers 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.
However, in practice, due to the low level of services provided for the first accommodation facilities, there is a significant difference between those – about a 30% – who stay in SAI and those who are accommodated in CAS or first reception facilities.
The services provided for in CAS, that were zeroed with the previous specifications and regulatory framework, are now provided for and included in the accountable costs, but the 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. The specification actually seems to reveal how low the interest in having these services actually implemented in CAS and governmental facilities is.
Moreover, in 2021, many asylum seekers accommodated in CAS were subjected to a withdrawal of reception measures, with requests for very large reimbursements on the basis of presumed sufficient economic resources, and many beneficiaries of international protection were notified of the termination of reception conditions in CAS after receiving the residence permit, without a previous check for available places in SAI being carried out.
Unaccompanied children who, on paper, should have immediate access to SAI, still spend most of their accommodation in first governmental centres or temporary structures.
The reception system for asylum seekers is therefore now articulated as follows:
- First aid and identification operations that continue to take place in the centres set up in the principal places of disembarkation. First Aid and Reception Centres (CPSA), created in 2006 for the purposes of first aid and identification before persons are transferred to other centres, and now formally operating as Hotspots.
- First assistance and reception, to be implemented in existing collective governmental centres or in centres to be established by specific Ministerial Decrees This includes the centres previously known as governmental centres for accommodation of asylum seekers (CARA) and accommodation centres (CDA). The law states that first assistance can also take place in temporary centres (CAS).
- Proper reception, to be carried out in SAI system, with an access provided as soon as possible and a prioritized access for vulnerable people.
SAI projects can also accommodate: 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, holders of special protection, holders of special cases protection (former humanitarian protection), and former unaccompanied minors, who obtained a prosecution of assistance. Holders of special protection, in case of application of the international protection exclusion clauses, are instead excluded.
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 underlined by ActionAid and Openpolis in their report published in January 2022, in three years, from 2018 to 2020 the number of people accommodated in Italy decreased by 42%, but 7 out of 10 are still placed in extraordinary centres. 
The 2018 security decree marked a net change in the reception approach, preferring a system based on big CAS centres, attracting profit companies. The very low numbers of operators granted by the funds in proportion to the number of guests led to the loss of many jobs, 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.
Moreover, as mentioned the tender specification schemes published on 24 February 2021, brought no significant change to the first accommodation context that emerged after the 2018 reform.
Additionally, the distinction made by Decree Law 130/2020 between service levels dedicated to asylum seekers and the ones dedicated to beneficiaries of protection replicates the erroneous logic to reserve resources for the integration for those who will benefit from international protection, contrary to a logic of generalised protection and ultimately considerably slowing down the process of regaining self-sufficiency for asylum seekers.
Accommodation measure for Afghans
To meet the reception needs of asylum seekers from Afghanistan the DL no. 139 of 8 October 2021, has provided for the activation of a further 3,000 places in SAI and Article 1 (390) L 234/2021 has provided additional 2,000 places.
These were reserved seats which were then extended to those who fled Ukraine by Article 5 quarter (5) and (6) DL 14/2022 converted into L 28/2022.
Accommodation for people escaping from the Ukrainian conflict
After the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine and the decision to implement the 2001/55/EC Directive, the Government has issued some decrees, detailed by the civil protection ordinances, but all – at the time of writing – still only programmatic on the reception side.
The planned interventions are mainly of two types: on the one hand, it is planned to increase the reception system, (first governmental, CAS and SAI facilities), on the other hand alternative forms of widespread reception and economic support are foreseen. (See section on Differential treatment in reception)
Moreover, for further reception needs, it is foreseen the possibility to use, taking into account the evolution of the pandemic from Covid 19, the structures already set up for fiduciary isolation and, for further needs not covered by the other measures prepared, the possibility, for the presidents of the Regions, appointed delegated commissioners, to represent to the Prefectures the need to prepare further housing solutions, especially for people in transit.
COVID-19: Quarantine ships
Due to the COVID-19 emergency measures have been taken that affect access to reception.
The circulars of the Ministry of the Interior of 18 March and 1 April 2020 provided that migrants would be subjected to quarantine for a period of 14 days upon arrival – after a health screening was carried out by the competent health authorities, and that only at the end of that period, in cases not positive to the virus, migrants could be transferred to other accommodation facilities.
The decree of the Head of the Civil Protection Department of 12 April 2020,  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. 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) or arrived on the national territory following autonomous landings. The operators of the Italian Red Cross carry out health surveillance on board.
Following a visit on a quarantine ship, 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. 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.
In 2021, the quarantine period was reduced to 10 days but, in reality, and as in 2020, it took a much longer time for migrants on the ships, since as a rule the quarantine restarted every time a new group of migrants arrived.
In January 2022, as happened in previous months, the stay on board the ships was extended, since all migrants on board were requested to be in possession of a Covid health pass before being. Contesting the situation, the Red Cross threatened to abandon ships. 
In March 2022, several NGOs – including ASGI – signed an appeal to the Ministry of Interior asking to end the use of quarantine ships.
The appeal underlined, among other arguments, that the measure appeared discriminatory considering that on 22 February 2022 the Ministry of Health, by Ordinance, provided for a period of five days of quarantine in case of entry into the national territory of persons from foreign countries, Italian or foreign citizens, only in the absence of specific documentation.
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). 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.
Research carried out by Openpolis showed that reception funds belong to the “mission no 27” of expenditure, dedicated to “immigration, reception and guarantee of rights”.
This mission is divided into three programs, each assigned to a different ministry. The program including funds for reception is the no. 2, attributed to the Ministry of the Interior and entitled “Migratory flows, interventions for the development of social cohesion, guarantee of rights, relations with religious denominations”. The program is allocated 1.9 billion, which represents almost two thirds of the entire mission (60.7%). Out of these, around 95% (or 1.8 billion) is used for activities related to asylum seekers, but the items of expenditure are very different and not all are related to reception.
In 2020, 845.83 million were spent for CAS and first reception services, 412.82 million € for Siproimi / SAI and 118.72 million € for unaccompanied minors’ accommodation, overall decreasing values from 2019 when 1,277.69 million € were spent for Cas and first accommodation, € 385.25 million for Siproimi and € 201.54 for unaccompanied minors. Compared to 2018, when the total spending was € 2.77 billion, the amount of expenses was reduced in half. The expenditure, which saw considerable savings on Cas and first reception centres from 2018, did not however result in any increased investment in SAI / Siproimi centres.
The expenditure forecast for 2021 is a total of 1.75 billion, out of which 1.068,59 million for Cas and first accommodation facilities but the actual expenditure is not known at the time of writing.
Funding for the reception system expansion due to the Ukrainian and Afghan crisis
For the activation of3,000 additional SAI places, first programmed for asylum seekers from Afghanistan and later also for people fleeing from Ukraine, DL no. 139 of 8 October 2021 established an increase in the funds allocated to the National Fund for Asylum, of 11,335,320 euros for 2021 and of 44,971,650 euros for each year in 2022 and 2023, taken from the MOI resources relating, for the respective years, to the activation, rental and management of detention and reception centres for migrants.
Then, to face the need to accommodate Afghan nationals evacuated after the Taliban’s takeover of the country – and later similar needs for people fleeing from the Ukrainian conflict – and allow for the opening of 2,000 additional SAI places, the budget Law of 30 December 2021 no 234 provided for an increase in the endowment of the National Fund for Asylum of 29,981,100 euros for each of the years 2022, 2023 and 2024.
To cover the costs for the creation of 3,000 new S.A.I. places, to be granted to people escaped from Ukraine, the L 28/2022 provides for the use of a portion of the National Fund for asylum, and precisely: 37,702,260 € for the year 2022 and 44,971,650 € for each of the years 2023 and 2024.
To cover the 54,162,000 euros needed for activating new CAS and first governmental reception facilities it is provided to reduce the Fund for economic policy interventions.
Article 31 (4) LD 21 of 21 March 2022 provides that, until December, 31, 2022, MOI resources allocated to the activation, rental and management of the reception centres are increased of 7,533,750 euros, also to be allocated to the activation of new first reception centers and CAS facilities.
The law also provides not to apply, for the year 2022, the provision according to which savings achieved in accommodation of migrants have to be allocated to the international cooperation fund and to the repatriation fund, and authorizes changes among the funds assigned to the single budget chapters under the MOI program “Migratory flows, interventions for the development of social cohesion, guarantee of rights, relations with religious confessions”.
Funding for alternative forms of assistance for Ukrainian asking for temporary protection
To face the assistance measures within the total limit of 348 million euros for the year 2022, LD 21 of 21 March 2022, at Article 31 provides the possibility to draw additional resources from the National Fund for emergencies, that is consequently increased.
In order to cover these costs, LD21/2022 provides an increase of 40 million for 2022 and of 80 million for 2023 the fund of the Ministry of Economy and Finance fed with share of tax and contribution revenues and aimed at equalizing tax measures.
LD 21/2022 foresees that the expenses, including those for reception of people fleeing from Ukraine, will be covered for 2022 by the higher revenues deriving from the contributions paid by the subjects who exercise, in Italy, for the subsequent sale, the activity of production of electricity, methane gas or extraction of natural gas, and of the subjects who carry out the production activity, distribution and trade of petroleum products.
 Article 8 (2) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020.
 Article 11(1) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020.
 Article 11(3) Reception Decree, as amended by Decree Law 130/2020.
 Article 8 (3) Reception Decree, as amended by DL 130/2020 and Article 9 (4 bis) regarding the passage from governmental centres to SAI.
 Article 9 (4 bis) Reception Decree as amended by DL 130/2020.
 Article 11 (3) Reception Decree as amended by DL 130/2020.
 Article 9 (4 bis) regarding the passage from governmental centres to SAI and Article 11 (3) Reception Decree regarding the passage from CAS to SAI.
 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.
 Article 10 (1) Reception decree, as amended by DL 130/2020.
 According to Article 12 Reception Decree.
 Article 1 sexies (2 bis) DL 416/1989, introduced by DL 130/2020.
 Article 8(2) Reception Decree, as amended by DL 130/2020, which now directly recalls Article 10- ter TUI
 L 563/1995.
 Article 10-ter TUI, inserted by Article 17 Decree Law 13/2017 and L 46/2017.
 Article 8 (2) Reception Decree, as amended by DL 130/2020, and Article 9 Reception Decree.
 Article 8 (2) as amended by DL 130/2020.
 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.
 Article 1 sexies (1 bis) DL 416/1989, introduced by DL 130/2020. In some CAS, 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”.
 Avvenire, Decreto Sicurezza. Accoglienza migranti in crisi, 15mila operatori rischiano il lavoro, 6 May 2019, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3edXbWM.
 Valori, Accoglienza migranti: i quattro fallimenti del decreto Sicurezza, 31 July 2019, available in Italian at: https://bit.ly/3c0VIBs.
 Article 7 (1) DL 139/2021, converted into L 205/2021 and later modified by Article 5 quarter (5) DL 14/2022 converted into L 28/2022
 Ordinance of the Head of the Civil Protection no. 872 of 4 March 2022, Article 3 (2), and Article 3(4) available at: https://bit.ly/3k7njY2. See also MoI Circular, no. 0015709 of 8 march 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3s2XBs2.
 MoI Circular 18 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3tHdIJQ.
 Moi Circular, 1 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2RJ28AM.
 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: https://bit.ly/2QdjnKc.
 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: http://www.immigrazione.biz/legge.php?id=1005.
 Visit on Rhapsody, quarantine ship, on 17 September 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3hlDCAj.
 Guarantor for the rights of detained persons, 28 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3bk72eG.
 See In Limine, Report “Rights on the skids. The experiment of quarantine ships and main points of criticism”, 7 May 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/2R8ap1j.
 Article 9(1) Reception Decree.
 Article 20(1) Reception Decree.
 Article 1 septies of Legislative Decree 416/1989 converted into Law 39/1990.
 Article 7 DL 139/2021, as amended by Article 5 quarter DL 14/2022 converted with modification into L 28/2022
 Article 5 quater (6) extended the provision also to people fleeing from Ukraine.
 Article 1 (390) L 234/2021 as amended by Article 5 quater (6) DL 14/2022 converted with modification into L 28/2022.
 Article 1 septies of Legislative Decree 416/1989 converted into Law 39/1990.
 Article 1-septies LD no. 416/1989.
 Article 5 quater (3) DL 14/2022 as modified by the conversion L 28/2022.
 Article 5 quater (9) DL 14/2022 as modified by the conversion L 28/2022.
 Article 31 (4) LD 21/2022.
 Article 5 quater (8) dl 14/2022 as modified by the conversion L 28/2022 which states not to apply the second sentence of Article 1(767) L 145/2018.
 Article 5 quater (8) dl 14/2022 as modified by L 28/2022 which refers to the budget of the Moi program belonging to the “Mission 27” “Immigration, reception and guarantee of rights “, to be adopted pursuant to article 33, paragraph 4, of the law 31 December 2009, n. 196. The Mission 27 expendings has been reported by the Senate in the publication Una analisi per missioni, programmi e azioni: la pubblica amministrazione, l’ordine pubblico el’immigrazione available at: https://bit.ly/3uYeQwG. More in general, regarding funds addressed to the reception system, see also Openpolis at: https://bit.ly/3vP8gYP.
 Article 31 (4) LD 21/2022, which reffers to the fund ruled by Article 44 LD 1/ 2018.
 Article 38 LD 21/2022 which refers to the fund ruled by Article 1 quarter DL 137/ 2020 converted into L 176/2020.
 Article 38 (2) and Article 37 LD 21/2022.