In the months since passing a hard-line immigration policy, Italy has come under increased scrutiny for its tough stance, including the ‘push-back' policy: immediately deporting would-be immigrants intercepted at sea without allowing them to disembark or seek refugee status.
Italy's new immigration policy came to the forefront in late August following the deaths of 73 Eritreans who drifted for 20 days at sea without being rescued by passing ships, the latest and one of the largest tragedies involving Europe-bound migrants in the Mediterranean. Although Italy's border police rescued and saved five survivors of the fatal three-week voyage, accusations were launched at both Malta and Italy, whose governments both denied responsibility. The tragedy evoked criticism from both the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees and the Vatican.
The Italian government defends the new policy, arguing that it has helped curb illegal immigration. ‘The push-back policy works and we will continue to uphold it in the interests of both Italy and the European Union', Interior minister Roberto Maroni recently told the press. According to Maroni, 1,300 illegal immigrants arrived on Italy's coasts between May 1, when the policy took effect, and August 31; last year the number for the period was 14,000.
In the meantime, the Italian government has moved to grant amnesty to thousands foreign domestic and health care workers who already work ‘illegally' in Italian households.
Applications for a legal work permit can be submitted by employers throughout September online (at www.interno.it) or in person at city halls and trade union offices throughout Italy. To get a permit, employers must pay 500 euro and confirm that they will employ candidates as domestic workers. Italian officials expect some 500,000 applications.