Ital­ians de­bate cit­i­zen­ship rights as pres­sures grow

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

With a flood of mi­grants ar­riv­ing on Italy’s shores, a bit­ter de­bate has erupted over whether chil­dren born on Ital­ian soil to for­eign par­ents should have cit­i­zen­ship rights at birth. Ac­cord­ing to a poll pub­lished Thurs­day in the Mes­sag­gero daily, the idea of “ius soli” is los­ing sup­port among Ital­ians, even though such a path to cit­i­zen­ship ex­ists in many other EU coun­tries. The Latin term “ius soli” refers to rights linked to the land (where you are born) as op­posed to “ius san­gui­nis”, where rights are based on blood ties.

Chil­dren cur­rently must have at least one Ital­ian par­ent to en­joy cit­i­zen­ship rights. Those who do not can ap­ply when they turn 18 but rules on time spent out of the coun­try mean some are re­jected. Back in Oc­to­ber, 41 per­cent of peo­ple polled said they were in fa­vor of “ius soli”, but now that num­ber has dropped to 32.3 per­cent. Italy’s high-pro­file bat­tle with Europe over who should deal with the hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants res­cued in the Mediter­ranean and brought ashore since 2014 has sparked a back­lash over a pro­posed bill and even fisticuffs in par­lia­ment.

Af­ter 15 years of de­bate, the draft law es­tab­lish­ing “ius soli” was adopted by Italy’s lower house in 2015. Two years later, af­ter a se­ries of amend­ments, it is now be­ing de­bated in the up­per house with the sup­port of the cen­ter-left. The draft law also pro­vides for na­tion­al­ity via “ius cul­turae” for chil­dren not born in Italy who have spent at least five years in the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Italy’s anti-im­mi­grant North­ern League has slammed the pro­posal as a “cul­tural mis­take”. Ex-pre­mier Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni, founder of the cen­ter-right Forza Italia, said it would send the wrong sig­nal to those al­ready at­tracted to Italy’s shores. “Mak­ing it known that it’s eas­ier to be­come Ital­ian will cre­ate false hopes in Africa and in­crease mi­gra­tory pres­sures,” he warned. Over 86,000 mi­grants have ar­rived so far this year, up over 10 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod in 2016.

800,000 new na­tion­als

The adop­tion of “ius soli” would be­stow Ital­ian na­tion­al­ity on around 800,000 chil­dren im­me­di­ately, and an­other 60,000 new­borns a year, ac­cord­ing to the Ital­ian In­sti­tute of Sta­tis­tics (Is­tat). “The chil­dren born in Italy are Ital­ians and it is the duty of a civ­i­lized coun­try to wel­come them,” Prime Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni said ear­lier this week. The pro­posed bill is also pas­sion­ately sup­ported by his pre­de­ces­sor Mat­teo Renzi.

Gen­tiloni has brushed aside at­tempts by crit­ics to link the is­sue of ci­ti­zen rights to that of na­tional se­cu­rity, say­ing “the way to re­duce risk is not through ex­clu­sion but di­a­logue and in­clu­sion”. But with unem­ploy­ment tow­er­ing at 11 per­cent - well above the av­er­age in the Eu­ro­zone - and soar­ing to 37 per­cent among young peo­ple, the age-old nar­ra­tive of for­eign­ers steal­ing lo­cals’ jobs has reared its head.

That fear has not been eased by new fig­ures this week show­ing 4.5 mil­lion Ital­ians are liv­ing in ab­so­lute poverty. Ac­cord­ing to Il Mes­sag­gero, those polled in Thurs­day’s sur­vey said it would be bet­ter to post­pone the de­bate on cit­i­zen­ship rights un­til af­ter the gen­eral elec­tion in spring next year. Italy in 2016 be­stowed the high­est num­ber of cit­i­zen­ships in Europe at 205,000, up from just 63,000 in 2012. Adopt­ing “ius soli” would bring Italy into line with the ma­jor­ity of its Euro­pean neigh­bors - from Bel­gium and Bri­tain to France and Por­tu­gal - where the law al­ready ap­plies in var­i­ous forms. —AFP

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