Yesterday the Italian Senate gave final approval to legislation allowing unarmed citizen patrols and creates tough measures aimed at fighting 'illegal' immigration. The legislation, already passed by the Chamber of Deputies, makes entering or staying in Italy without permission a crime punishable by a fine of €5,000-€10,000 and lengthens the amount of time migrants can officially spend in detention from two to six months.
The new law, which even the Vatican has condemned, also creates an offence of knowingly renting housing to an 'illegal' immigrant at the time a lease is signed or extended punishable by up to three years in prison. It also makes it a imprisonable offence to force children to beg, a measure obviously targeted at gypsies and Roma people. And to top it all off it officially sanctions mayors to form unarmed vigilante patrols ostensibly to help police and soldiers fight crime on the streets but the provisions have widely been flagged up as 'anti-foreigner' patrols - back to the days of the Black Shirts it would seem.
This comes a day after another boat holding 89 migrants, including nine women and three children, had been intercepted 30 miles off the island of Lampedusa when their boat got into trouble and they activated a distress signal. An Italian naval vessel transferred the migrants to an oil platform near the Libyan coast late Tuesday before being handed over to the Libyan navy.
As part of a pact concluded earlier this year Libya agreed to curb the number of migrant boats leaving its shores for Europe, to take back migrants picked up by European navies in the Mediterranean and to hold joint naval patrols with Italy. This policy has resulted in a sharp drop in the numbers of migrants making it to Malta and Lampedusa, the 2 main landfalls for migrants sailing from Libya. For example, during April and May only two vessels carrying a total of 99 migrants arrived at Malta compared to 872 African migrants in the same period in 2008. In Lampedusa arrivals have declined 33 per cent and 95 per cent in April and May respectively, compared to the same period in 2008, according to UNHCR figures.