Moving Cities
About the city


A pioneer of inclusive policies

Key Takeaways

  • 1

    Bologna’s local administration has longstanding experience in designing solidarity migrant policies dating back to the mid-1990s. This expertise has provided an important foundation for today's concept of the “solidarity city”.

  • 2

    Citizens-led organisations have been an important and lively component of Bologna’s social life. They cooperate with the public sector and increase the reach of its innovative measures.

  • 3

    The left-wing, self-managed and autonomous Social Centres in Bologna provide crucial services to refugees through collective and volunteer work.

What is unique about the city?

A long history of pro-migrant policies: The city has had a long tradition of leftist governments and a pro-migrant agenda since the 1980's. Today, the city cooperates successfully with neighbouring municipalities, especially on health-related matters. Among the most important projects in the city are the civic-led medical clinic in the city centre and the first LGBTIQ welcome centre.

Bologna has always been a progressive city and plans to stay this way. [...] For the future, our aim is to live in solidarity with each other and to try and work together.

Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna (2011-2021)

What is the focus of local migration policies?

Consolidating social services: One of Bologna’s most innovative policy approaches has involved integrating different social services (access to housing, health and social support) into one municipal agency. This has made it easier to provide these services more effectively, especially to vulnerable and elderly people.

What are the key factors?

City and civil society working together: The collaboration between public as well as private organisations and an active civil society is an ongoing feature of the city's governance. This collaboration has been key to the introduction of Bologna’s inclusive and innovative policies, especially in health and social services, and in the city’s reception system.

Political activities and advocacy beyond the city level

An ad-hoc inter-municipal cooperation with municipalities around Bologna facilitates the exchange of both competencies and knowledge in several fields, including refugee inclusion. At the national level, the municipality adopted a more determined political position when in 2018 it objected to the anti-migrant security decree drafted by former Interior Minister Salvini. Internationally, the city gained visibility between 2016 and 2018 through its “Welcoming Bologna” project, dedicated to capacity-building in the public and private sector in order to “create welcoming cities for new citizens”.

Download the full city report

The city report contains more information about the city’s migration and inclusion policies and selected local approaches. Report from 2021, updated in 2023.

Download Report

Political context of Italy

Migration policy in Italy

Immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon in Italy, as is the development of migration and asylum policies. Alongside EU migration policies, reception is often secondary to border control and the “fight against irregular migration”.

The so-called “flow decree" defines the maximum number of foreigners who can be admitted on to Italian territory for employment purposes. However, regular migration channels have closed, and "irregular" migration has been increasingly criminalised in recent decades.

Until the introduction of the “hotspot approach” in 2015, asylum policies in Italy had increasingly aligned with EU policies. A new 2020 law has, at least in theory, reformed the reception system back to a single system for both asylum seekers and those granted international and special protection. Nevertheless, the system is still primarily addressed at beneficiaries of international protection and unaccompanied minors. Also, municipalities do not have enough space to meet the reception needs of all those entitled to it. To this end, local authorities can use financial resources made available by the Interior Ministry through the ‘national fund for asylum policies and services’.

Historical background

Having been predominantly a country of emigration until the 1980s, Italy has gradually transformed itself into a country of immigration. In the absence of any coherent regulatory framework, the situation was managed for years with ad hoc measures. In 1982 a ban on entry for employment purposes was introduced, leading to a trend of “irregular” entries for work, which was compensated by periodic regularisation every four years or so.

In 1986, the Foschi Law established full equal rights for foreign workers, but without simplifying conditions of entry. In 1990, the Martelli Law extended the asylum law and created legal entry channels that were strictly regulated in terms of numbers. At the same time, it introduced measures to control entry and deport irregular migrants. The 1998 Turco-Napolitano Law created a residence card to protect long-term residents, but also privileged quotas of labour migrants from countries that collaborate on repatriation. Temporary detention and assistance centres (CPTs) were then created to detain and identify undocumented migrants.

In 2002, the Bossi-Fini Law introduced the so-called “flow policy”, with stringent admission requirements. It shortened the duration of residence permits, instituted fingerprinting for all foreigners and increased the length of stay in CPTs from 30 to 60 days. At the same time, 650,000 permits were regularised, while the 2007 EU expansion facilitated the right to remain in Italy for over one million foreigners from the new EU member states.

In 2008-2009 the rules were tightened. Illegal immigration was officially recognised as a crime and the requirements for integration became stricter.

In 2017, the government used the Minniti-Orlando Law to expand the capacity of immigration detention centres in order to increase the rate of deportations. The same government also signed a new memorandum of understanding on cooperation with Libya to curb the flow of migrants to Europe.

Key developments of recent years

With the introduction of the “hotspot approach” in 2015, originally intended to promote voluntary redistribution between EU countries, Italy’s “selection” system upon arrival was reconfigured. Selections were now made on the basis of country of origin, and with the marked distinction between “potential asylum seekers” and unwanted “economic migrants”.

The Salvini Decrees on immigration and security closed ports to NGOs that carried out sea rescue missions, and allocated funds for undercover police operations to combat the facilitation of illegal immigration. Humanitarian protection was eliminated, affecting the majority of beneficiaries of international protection. A further consequence was that asylum seekers were then no longer able to register, drastically affecting both their ability to access to public services and their residency requirements. A 2020 Constitutional Court ruling later abolished this measure.

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, “quarantine ships” were created to isolate migrants before their entry into Italy. This measure inevitably evoked memories of the “floating hotspots” envisaged in 2016 by the then Interior Minister Alfano. A temporary decree on 19th May 2020 used emergency measures to house asylum seekers in accommodation centres normally reserved for those with subsidiary protection status and unaccompanied minors.

Progressive campaigns and their achievements

The Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Mediterranean Hope project have been the concept of “humanitarian corridors”, designed to serve vulnerable population groups.

2015 also saw the signing of the Charter of Palermo, which aims at “addressing the regulation of migratory flows in a completely new way, for example by proposing the abolition of residence permits, in favour of adopting a radical understanding of citizenship adoption as a tool for inclusion and participation in public life.” The Palermo process underpins the Palermo Charter Process Platform Process, which brings together actors and activists involved in sea rescue from all over Europe.