Italians debate whether Italy-born children of migrants should get citizenship

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Italians debate whether Italy-born children of migrants should get citizenship
A demonstration calling for reform of Italy's citizenship law. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

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 on 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 favour 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 centre-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 centre-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 ten 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 neighbours - from Belgium and Britain to France and Portugal - where the law already applies in various forms.

By Franck Iovene


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