Migration Management as an Intergovernmental Cooperation Instrument in Rural Areas

Caterina Salvo, Eurac Research

Relevance of the Practice

Italy, due to its geographical position at the center of the Mediterranean Sea, occupies a strategic location regarding the migratory routes towards Europe. The 2014 so-called ‘refugee crisis’ marked a crucial turning point in the Italian immigration policy regime. Italy was on the front line in hosting the newcomers and, as the first state of arrival accordingly to the Dublin Convention and its modifications, it was responsible for examining the majority of the international protection requests, a condition that placed the reception and legal system in a difficult situation. The number of asylum applications jumped from 25,207 in 2013 to 83,970 in 2015.[1] The number of requests rose to reach its peak in 2017 with 130,119 applications made.[2] Therefore, migration became an issue of key relevance for all Italian government levels. Migration policies concerning control and management of entries into Italian territory is within the competence of the national government, while asylum seekers’ reception and integration are issues of complex multi-level governance dynamics.

The present practice concerns the role of local governments within this multi-level governance, which in Italy is both vertical and horizontal. Vertical governance, characterized by center-periphery relations, aims at guaranteeing a coordination mechanism between the various levels of government. Horizontal governance, based on the collaboration between public actors and private-sector players, seeks to create an integrated system of services. The overall objective is to design a territorially decentralized reception and integration system (accoglienza diffusa) to avoid substantial concentrations of migrants in a few larger urban centers. Empirical evidence has shown that the local level is pivotal in determining not only the implementation but also the formulation and decision-making phases of immigration policies.[3] This is particularly relevant in Italy considering the morphology of its territory: among a total number of 7,954 municipalities 69.85 per cent (5,545) have less than 5,000 inhabitants,[4] and almost all of them are located in inland areas.[5] The Italian multi-level and decentralized migration governance system therefore has significant implications for urban-rural relations.

Description of the Practice

The Italian migrant reception and integration system is organized in such a way that rescue, aid and assistance take place in the so-called ‘hotspot areas’,[6] namely national governmental centers located at the main places of arrival. Those applying for asylum in Italy enter the first phase which takes place in government collective centers called Primary Reception Centers (Centri di Prima Accoglienza – CPA). The stay inside the CPA centers corresponds to the time necessary for the asylum application procedure to begin.

The second phase consists of the Reception and Integration System (Sistema Accoglienza e Integrazione – SAI). The program, introduced in 2020 with the Decree Law no 130/2020, substitutes the Protection System for Persons with International Protection and Unaccompanied Foreign Minors (SIPROIMI) established in 2018 following the so-called Security Decree (Decree Law no 113/2018 also known as Salvini Decree), which in turn replaced the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) in force from 2002 to 2018. The SAI re-established the principles that had inspired the SPRAR: a coordinated and territorially decentralized system of reception and integration and specific measures to promote integration. The SAI can be accessed by both applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection even though organized on two levels of services. The first level is dedicated to applicants for international protection; the second to those who already have been granted international protection entailing additional services focused on fostering integration.

In the absence of sufficient places within the programs of the two above-mentioned phases of reception and integration (CPA and SAI), the system authorizes the possibility for the prefectures to establish so-called Extraordinary Reception Centers (Centri Accoglienza Straordinaria – CAS). CAS are managed directly by the prefecture, the operational arm of the Ministry of the Interior at the local level, and entrusted to private entities. Despite the fact that this is an extraordinary system, CAS centers have become by far the majority of reception facilities over the years.[7] As of January 2021, among the total of 80,097[8] migrants welcomed only 30,049[9] have been hosted inside SAI facilities with the remaining being received inside CAS centers (around 62,5 per cent).

One main difference between the two levels of the Italian reception system concerns their management. CPA and CAS centers are administered centrally by the Ministry of the Interior and peripherally by the local prefecture following national government instructions with a top-down approach. As for CAS in particular, while until 2018 the legislation provided (albeit rarely applied) for the involvement of local authorities in the identification of extraordinary centers, this involvement was completely set aside with the security decrees[10] which entailed a centralization and securitization of migration policies.

SAI facilities are initiated by municipalities responding to a ministerial call for project funding following a bottom-up logic. The SAI network is coordinated by the Central Service (Servizio Centrale) based in Rome, whose administration is assigned by the Ministry of Interior to the National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) with the operational support of the Cittalia Foundation. Cittalia is the ANCI foundation dedicated to promoting and disseminating the culture of welcome, integration and citizenship, contributing to strengthening the role of cities in implementing social inclusion and integration policies.[11]

The municipalities that choose to join the SAI network, as it was also in the previous systems SIPROIMI and SPRAR, outsource the implementation of the project to one or more managing bodies (usually private-sector organizations) and sometimes also involve second-tier local governments. The fact that in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/South Tyrol the seven Bezirksgemeinschaften/comunitá comprensoriali, intermediate territorial bodies between the municipalities and autonomous province, were involved in the SPRAR is a case in point.

The emergency nature of the CAS allows, on the one hand, greater flexibility in terms of organization, and, on the other hand, less administrative transparency compared to the SAI model.[12] Such features combined with, on the one hand, the voluntary nature of signing up to SAI projects and, on the other, the possibility for the local prefecture to force the opening of CAS centers, have contributed to a climate of tension between the different levels of government regarding migration and integration management.

The complexity of multi-level migration governance is exacerbated by the above-mentioned multitude of small inland municipalities. These are small in demographic terms but often cover large territories so that access to public services is limited or even problematic. The trend of the depopulation of these areas is complemented by the rationale behind the territorially decentralized reception and integration system to incentivize the settlement of migrants in rural municipalities and not only in cities.[13]

Even though the majority of asylum seekers are hosted in large urban areas, a distinction between the two levels of receptions in relation to their territorial distribution is worth to be explored.

Considering the CAS/CPA system, 75,43 per cent[14] of the total available places[15] are located in the so-called ‘pole’, ‘inter-municipal pole’ and ‘belt’, namely those municipalities having inside their territory or the neighboring one all essential services[16]. Interestingly, only around 24 per cent of the total CAS/CPA places are located in ‘intermediate’ and ‘peripheral’ or ‘ultra-peripheral’ areas. The center-north has the highest number of facilities, with Emilia Romagna and Toscana leading the way with in each case 55 per cent respectively of their total municipalities hosting a CAS.[17]

Looking at the SAI network, the picture is reversed. Official data concerning the SAI territorial distribution are not yet available. However, looking at the distribution in 2017 of the SPRAR facilities which preceded and formed the basis of the SAI system,[18] 20 per cent of southern municipalities, individually or in association, hosted a project as opposed to 9 per cent of those in the north. In fact, with the exception of Trentino-Alto Adige where 39 per cent of the all municipalities were involved in a SPRAR project, the top regions in the ranking are located in the south: Puglia (38 per cent), Calabria (30 per cent), Sicilia (26 per cent) and Molise (21 per cent). The last positions, on the contrary, were occupied by Lombardy (6 per cent), Piedmont (5 per cent), Veneto (5 per cent), Abruzzo (5 per cent), Friuli Venezia Giulia (4 per cent) and Valle d’Aosta (1 per cent).[19] Applying the criterion of inner areas, it appears that almost one out of two municipalities belonging to the SPRAR is located in such an area (323 out of 659).[20]

Assessment of the Practice

The data clearly shows that, on the one hand, the concentration of the CAS system is in the north, mainly in pole and belt municipalities, and, on the other hand, a greater territorial decentralization of the SPRAR model is witnessed in southern regions, concentrated in inner villages. Looking at this evidence from an urban-rural divide perspective, such an uneven territorial distribution is striking. The reasons that have led to this imbalance between first and second phases of reception and integration are to be found at the local and regional levels. The establishment of inter-municipal cooperation regarding reception and integration is complicated by the voluntary nature of signing up to SAI projects. The limited extent of such cooperation is a general problem but more evident in the north than in the south. Moreover, southern municipalities often cooperate inside the SAI framework to convey public funds and resources into their territory where employment and investment rates are generally low. The consequence is that, overall, poorer municipalities welcome relatively more beneficiaries with fewer services, while richer municipalities host fewer migrants but with higher standards.

What is important to emphasize in relation to the urban-rural divide concerns above all the provision of public services: in the inland areas the access to basic services such as compulsory education, health care and railroad infrastructure, is denied or extremely limited. The challenge to guarantee services to asylum seekers in such places offered occasions to rethink the meaning of inter-municipal cooperation beyond migration management, as SAI resources could be directed towards actions to the benefit of the whole community. An example is ‘Small Welcoming Municipalities’ (Piccoli Comuni del Welcome), an initiative promoted by the Caritas of Benevento with the support of the Sale della Terra Consortium, born from the union of four cooperatives active in the fight against poverty. In the four years of activity, the network has brought together 34 small municipalities in southern and central Italy. The main objective of the network is to foster reciprocity between those who welcome and those who arrive. The intention is to create a new model of welfare capable of empowering the small municipalities to cope with the challenges they are facing. The welcoming of newcomers is seen as a strategy not only to tackle depopulation, rural demographic ageing and environmental degradation but also to rethink the development strategies at the local level. The network supports the strengthening of the SAI System, assistance to fragile fringes of the population, a focus on social agricultural activities and artisanship, overcoming the digital divide, the transition to clean energy and implementation of community-based cooperatives.[21]

In conclusion, the new system of multi-level governance concerning reception and integration which is in place since 2020 has countered the centralization attempts made in 2018 in several respects and gives rise to an increasing role of local governments. First, it involves single municipalities adhering to the SAI, places the local government association ANCI at the heart of the SAI network and in some cases even features the participation of second-tier municipalities. Secondly, it harks back to the principles and objectives of the pre-2018 SPRAR system and seeks to achieve steering effects in terms of a territorially decentralized reception and integration so as to avoid the ‘natural’ imbalance in this regard between urban and rural local governments. The varied extent to which such decentralization of centers hosting newcomers actually occurs across Italy’s regions is striking. What is common, however, to local governments in all regions are the need – in spite of certain obstacles – to reap maximum benefits from inter-municipal cooperation and to see reception and integration services for migrants as specific group as a platform to rethink local development and public service provision to each local community as a whole.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Legal Documents:

Decree Law no 113/2018 ‘Urgent Provisions in Matters of International Protection and Immigration’

Decree Law no 130/2020 ‘Urgent Provisions in Matters of Immigration, International and Complementary Protection’

Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications:

Campomori F, ‘La governance multilivello delle politiche di accoglienza dei richiedenti asilo e rifugiati in Italia’ (2019) 1 Le Istituzioni Del Federalismo 5

— — and Caponio T, ‘Immigrant Integration Policymaking in Italy: Regional Policies in a Multi-Level Governance Perspective’ (2017) 83 International Review of Administrative Sciences303

Openpolis & Actionaid, ‘Centri d’Italia, una mappa dell’accoglienza’ (Openpolis, 16 March 2021), <https://www.openpolis.it/esercizi/limportanza-di-un-monitoraggio-dettagliato/>

Scholten P and Penninx R, ‘The Multilevel Governance of Immigration and Integration’ in Blanca Garcés-Mascarenas and Rinus Penninx (eds), Integration Process and Policies in Europe. Contexts, Levels and Actors (IMISCOE Research Series 2016)

[1] Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, ‘Quaderno statistico per gli anni 1990 – 2020’ (Ministry of the Interior, undated)       <http://www.libertaciviliimmigrazione.dlci.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/allegati/quaderno_statistico_per_gli_anni_1990_2020.pdf> accessed 9 July 2021.

[2] The number of applications is calculated on the basis of the so-called C3 module of international protection deposited at the local police headquarter (Questura). Therefore, the number of arrivals exceed the number of applications: as for 2017, the number of undocumented migrants arrived was 181,436. See Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, ‘Quaderno statistico per gli anni 1990 – 2020’; Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, ‘Cruscotto statistico giornaliero’ (Ministry of the Interior, undated)     <http://www.libertaciviliimmigrazione.dlci.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/allegati/cruscotto_statistico_giornaliero_31-12-2017.pdf> accessed 9 July 2021.

[3] To expand on that point and on the so-called ‘local turn’ in migration and integration policies, see, for instance Peter Scholten and Rinus Penninx, ‘The Multilevel Governance of Immigration and Integration’ in Blanca Garcés-Mascarenas and Rinus Penninx (eds), Integration Process and Policies in Europe. Contexts, Levels and Actors (IMISCOE Research Series 2006); Francesca Campomori and Tiziana Caponio, ‘Immigrant Integration Policymaking in Italy: Regional Policies in a Multi-Level Governance Perspective’ (2017) 83 International Review of Administrative Sciences 303.

[4] Data from the National Institute for Statistics ISTAT, ‘Annuario Statistico Italiano 2019’ (ISTAT 2019) 3-30 <https://www.istat.it/it/files/2019/12/Asi-2019.pdf> accessed 9 July 2021.

[5] Inland areas are also called ‘inner areas’ following the definition made by the National Strategy on Inner Areas – SNAI. For more information on the topic, see the respective website of the Agency for Territorial Cohesion, <https://www.agenziacoesione.gov.it/strategia-nazionale-aree-interne/?lang=en>. To the scope of the present research, they can be compared to rural areas, even if the majority of them is located in mountain regions.

[6] By the end of 2015, the operative hotspots were 6: 4 in Sicily (Porto Empedocle, Pozzallo, Trapani, Lampedusa) and 2 in Puglia (Augusta and Taranto).

[7] As of 31 December 2019, there were 5,469 CAS centers located all over the country. See Openpolis, ‘I comuni dove vengono offerti più posti nei centri di accoglienza’(Openpolis, 9 April 2021) <https://www.openpolis.it/i-comuni-dove-vengono-offerti-piu-posti-nei-centri-di-accoglienza/> accessed 2 August 2021.

[8]Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, ‘Cruscotto statistico giornaliero al 31 dicembre 2021’ (Ministry of the Interior 2021) <http://www.libertaciviliimmigrazione.dlci.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/allegati/cruscotto_statistico_giornaliero_31-01-2021.pdf> accessed 9 July 2021.

[9] The present number encompasses ordinary beneficiaries, unaccompained foreign minors and asylum seekers with special needs (mental or physical disorder). ‘I numeri della rete SAI. Progetti Territoriali gennaio 2021’ (Sistema Accoglienza Integrazione, January 2021) <https://www.retesai.it/i-numeri-dello-sprar/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[10] Openpolis & Actionaid, ‘Centri d’Italia, una mappa dell’accoglienza’ (Openpolis, 16 March 2021), <https://www.openpolis.it/esercizi/limportanza-di-un-monitoraggio-dettagliato/> accessed 9 July 2021. In this regard, it is interesting to note that in October 2016 the Minister of the Interior, following the pressure made by the Italian Association of Municipalities (ANCI), issued a directive concerning the so-called ‘safeguard clause’ (clausola di salvaguardia). Such a clause exempted the municipalities already involved in a SPRAR project (or having formally expressed the intention to do so) from having a CAS center opened on their territory. ‘Piano di Ripartizione e Clausola di Salvaguardia’ (Sistema Accoglienza Integrazione, undated) <https://www.retesai.it/piano-di-ripartizione-e-clausola-di-salvaguardia/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[11] Founded in 2008, the Cittalia Foundation has dealt with environment, institutions and innovation and then focused on welfare and social inclusion; study and research activities, as well as the development of new projects which are devoted to asylum, human rights, immigration, citizenship, social inclusion, social and socio-health policies. For more information, see the Cittalia website, <https://www.cittalia.it/utility/la-fondazione/chi-siamo/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[12] In this regard, two recent contributions made by Openpolis are particularly relevant. They offer a comprehensive and updated overview of the CPA/CAS facilities by municipalities. It is the first time that data concerning location, number of centers and migrants hosted in governmental centers at the national level is made publicly available. See Openpolis & Actionaid, ‘Centri d’Italia, una mappa dell’accoglienza’ (Openpolis, 16 March 2021), <https://www.openpolis.it/esercizi/limportanza-di-un-monitoraggio-dettagliato/> accessed 9 July 2021; Openpolis, ‘I comuni dove vengono offerti più posti nei centri di accoglienza’(Openpolis, 9 April 2021) <https://www.openpolis.it/i-comuni-dove-vengono-offerti-piu-posti-nei-centri-di-accoglienza/> accessed 2 August 2021.

[13] See, as an example, Martin Hedelund, Doris A Carson, Marco Eimermann and Linda Lundmark, ‘Repopulating and Revitalising Rural Sweden? Re-examining Immigration as a Solution to Rural Decline’ (2017) 183 The Geographical Journal 400; Manfred Perlik and Andrea Membretti, ‘Migration by Necessity and by Force to Mountain Areas: An Opportunity for Social Innovation’ (2018) 38Mountain Research and Development 250. The recent EU-Horizon 2020 MATILDE three-year project focus specifically on the impact of migration on the local development of rural and mountain regions. For more information, see <https://matilde-migration.eu/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[14] The following data are referred to 2019. See Openpolis & Actionaid, ‘Centri d’Italia, una mappa’.

[15] ‘Available places’ means the full capacity of each center, regardless of whether or not the places are occupied.

[16] The categorization of municipalities in classes (pole, inter-municipal pole, belt, intermediate, peripheral and ultra-peripheral) is the one proposed by the National Strategy on Inner Areas (SNAI). Such classification introduced an interesting novelty feature compared to previous ones because it considers as main feature the accessibility to so-called citizenship rights: primary education, emergency health care services and mobility infrastructures, in particular high-speed railways. The last three classes (intermediate, peripheral and ultra-peripheral) are generally referred to as inner areas.

[17] Data are referred to 2017. See Luca Pacini, Nicolò Marchesini, Monia Giovannetti, ‘L’accoglienza di richiedenti asilo e rifugiati nelle aree interne: una strategia per il rilancio del territorio’ (Percorsi di secondo welfare, 25 February 2019) <https://www.secondowelfare.it/immigrazione-e-accoglienza/accoglienza-nelle-aree-interne-una-strategia-per-il-rilancio-del-territorio.html> accessed 9 July 2021.

[18] The SIPROIMI system was established in 2018, following the so-called Security Decree (Decree Law no 113/2018) and was replaced by the SAI in 2020. Being short-lived it did not change the overall territorial distribution of the precedent SPRAR system.

[19]Claudio Buongiorno Sottoriva and Francesco Longo, ‘Accoglienza: quando la realtà smentisce le narrazioni’ (lavoce.info, 16 October 2020), <https://www.lavoce.info/archives/69965/accoglienza-quando-la-realta-smentisce-le-narrazioni/> accessed 9 July 2021.

[20] Data are referred to 2017. See Pacini and others, ‘L’accoglienza di richiedenti asilo e rifugiati nelle aree interne’.

[21] ‘Il Manifesto’ (Piccoli Comuni Welcome, undated) <https://piccolicomuniwelcome.it/il-manifesto/> accessed 9 July 2021.