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The Cutro Decree: Italy’s latest structure in Fortress Europe

Updated: May 23

Hanorah Hardy

In 2015, Europe implemented the ‘hotspot’ approach. This was an effort to accommodate refugees and migrants, with the aim of expediting the asylum process for thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean fleeing persecution, conflict and poverty, and seeking protection in Europe. Due to Italy’s geographical location on the European border, the country soon became a gatekeeper of ‘“Fortress Europe”.

Over the last decade, immigration has been at the forefront of Italian politics. In October 2022, a right-wing coalition was formed in the Italian government which included Silvio Berlusconi, Matteo Salvini and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and her “post-fascist” Fratelli d’Italia party.

Following on from right-wing attempts to crack down on people entering the country, it is no surprise that this coalition would continue to strategically chip away at their

responsibilities under the Dublin Regulations, and their duties under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Figures released on 5 May 2023 by the Italian Ministry of the Interior revealed 42,449 migrants have arrived since January 2023. The number of unaccompanied children in the Italian Reception and Integration System stood at 12,000, compared to 1,142 in 2015. The number of migrants arriving on Italian shores has been steadily increasing –  from 4,962 in January, all the way to 14,507 in April. On 7 May, the arrival of nearly 2,000 people at Lampedusa within less than three days was recorded. However, instead of deploying a humanitarian response to address this staggering increase in migrants, the latest political move by Meloni’s government has been to curtail migrants’ rights to special protection through the introduction of the Cutro Decree in March 2023. 

The government pushed through the Cutro Decree by invoking an emergency decree measure and limiting parliamentary oversight. The far right government's use of extraordinary processes, and the declaration of a state of emergency to respond to longstanding and structural migration issues, raises serious concerns. By way of this new law, the government can invoke the state of emergency and create a vacuum in which universal human rights can be neglected and eroded.  As Nicola Molteni, who is the undersecretary at the Ministry of the Interior, stated: "Special protection creates attractive conditions for immigration, and we will eliminate it."

Special protection is essential, as it can be granted to those in need who do not qualify for

asylum. It also demonstrates a commitment to upholding basic human rights, by protecting

vulnerable individuals from facing deportation; stopping the violation of the principle of non-refoulement; and providing avenues for social integration and stability. 

Italy has always provided special protection, except from 2018-2020, when former Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini scrapped it temporarily. This has now changed with the Cutro Decree –  which was named after the southern town in Calabria, where more than 90 people died in a shipwreck in February 2023. The new legislation severely limits the special protection status that Italian authorities can grant to migrants who do not qualify for asylum. Further, before the Cutro decree was implemented, people in Italy with special protection status could live in Italy for two years, renew their residence permit, and convert it into a working permit. It was granted to asylum seekers who risked being persecuted in their country of origin, and those fleeing war and natural disasters, as well as those with family ties or high levels of economic integration in Italy.

While special protection remains available for those at risk of torture, inhumane treatment or systematic rights violations in their home nation, the new law narrows access by removing direct reference to a person’s right to private and family life, and scrapping criteria based on family links of economic integration. Migrants fleeing natural disasters or seeking health treatment for their severe medical conditions will also have their access to special protection restricted. 

Additionally, if an individual has already received special protection status under these conditions, it is no longer possible for those holding one-year health treatment or 'natural calamity' permits to convert their document of stay into a work permit. The new law limits avenues for integration and support as psychological support, legal aid, and language courses will no longer be guaranteed in first reception centres. 

While this new attack on migrants rights may be seen as Italy’s way to force Europe’s hand into addressing the issue of the number of migrants reaching Italy’s shores, it is using the lives of human beings as a political football and directly violating the human rights of migrants. In response to the introduction of the law, Human Rights Watch wrote: “The new law will have a devastating impact on migrants’ rights, including their ability to seek protection, access fair asylum procedures, and enjoy freedom of movement.”

The Italian parliament’s own legislative committee flagged that a provision in the law that limits the right of appeal may be “unconstitutional”. When the law was introduced, it was evident that the conditions would have a severe impact on the lives and rights of migrants. The law is likely to contribute to rendering more people without any status in Italy, and force them to resort to irregular, undocumented and unprotected work, leading to a potential increase in exploitation or human trafficking. 

The law has fuelled the pre-existing anti-migrant climate that exists in Italy, and will lead to a continued lack of social inclusion due to limited access to integration measures and the retraction of support in reception centres.

Despite the Cutro Decree only being implemented five months ago, the negative impact it will likely have has been exemplified by the tragic events in Libya on 10 September, where the world saw Libya’s deadliest flooding in over a century. Areas in Libya experienced strong winds and rainfall, leading to the collapse of two dams and subsequent catastrophic flooding.

Thousands of people have been reported dead and thousands more are still missing. According to the UNHCR, in 2022, 51% of migrant sea crossings to Italy departed from Libya, and the amount of migrants from Libya is likely to increase in the coming months due to the loss of life and livelihoods caused by the floods.

The Cutro Decree has restricted access to special protection on the basis of fleeing natural disasters. While the Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Antonio Tajani, gave instructions to respond to requests for support from Libya, providing aid including helicopters for search and rescue activities, earth-moving equipment, 100 field tents, 1000 cots with sleeping bags, and teams specialised in various sectors, it seems as though this is the extent of the help that Italy is willing to offer. 

They are happy to assist Libyans, as long as it is not on Italian territory. The lack of special protection for migrants fleeing the floods in Libya will result in heightened vulnerability, loss of life, and health issues as they lack access to essential services. This is likely to further the humanitarian crises we have seen in the mediterranean in the past months, strain resources, and escalate social tensions that exist in Italy with regards to migration.


Italy has seen a rising discriminatory discourse around migrants, and the criminalisation of aid to migrants – this law is just the latest structure in Europe’s Fort. Rather than

solidifying the fort, Italy should reverse course and ensure a humane and rights-respecting

response to asylum-seekers.

Image: Ggia

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