[JURIST] The Italian Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Italian], the lower house of parliament, on Wednesday approved legislation [materials, in Italian] that would increase the penalties for illegal immigration by a vote of 297-255. The controversial legislation provides that an alien who enters or resides in Italy in violation of existing immigration laws shall be fined between 5,000 and 10,000 euros. Landlords who knowingly lease to illegal immigrants [AP report] may now face up to three years in prison. The legislation is aimed at lowering crime associated with illegal immigrants and would allow for the formation of civilian anti-crime patrols [EUobserver report]. Opponents of the legislation have criticized it as xenophobic, but Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile, in Italian] has defended [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] it as important for public safety. The measure still needs to be approved [Corriere della Sera report, in Italian] by the Senate [official website, in Italian].
Illegal immigration is an increasing problem [BBC report] in Italy that resulted in approximately 36,000 people arriving by boat last year, mostly from Africa. Last week, the Italian government sent 227 migrants back to Libya [AFP report] without asylum hearings in violation of the UN Refugee Convention [text]. The UN Refugee Agency [official website] urged Italian authorities [text] to reconsider their position, pointing out that Libya is not a member of the UN Refugee Convention and is lacking a functional asylum system. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized the actions [HRW report], maintaining that returning the migrants to Libya put them at risk for harm and inhumane treatment. In November, UN human rights experts expressed concern [JURIST report] for Italy's treatment of detained migrants and asylum seekers.