About the city


A migration hotspot developing long-term solutions

Key Takeaways

  • 1

    Milan exemplifies a complex and multifaceted collaboration between public authorities and civil society on inclusion policy.

  • 2

    Integrated social services: The city is reorganising its social services around the concept of vulnerability and inclusion, to include the entire population.

What is unique about the city?

From emergency measures to long-term solutions: The main challenge for Milan over the last few years has been the need to shift from an emergency response to long-term inclusion solutions. Milan has responded with a strategy that later became known as the “Milan model”, a reception system that is significantly more open and efficient than the national average. As a city with a long migration history because of its socio-cultural and economic resources, Milan has also become a hub for migration movements. The last two left-leaning administrations have invested in a range of social and economic policies directed at supporting migrant and refugee inclusion.

Milan is a community of peace and tolerance, seeking to become a capital of freedom where the responsibility to welcome and include migrants is a top priority.

Giuseppe Sala, Mayor of Milan

What is the focus of local migration policies?

Innovation in multiple areas: Milan has an active administration and civil society that has experimented with innovative approaches in multiple areas: from the reception of migrants and refugees, service provision, health and social support, access to jobs, and collaborations with central government in the local management of reception centres.

What are the key factors?

A leftist administration meets civic engagement: The development of Milan’s reception system has been made possible by the mandates of two consecutive left-leaning administrations. The first was overseen by former mayor Giuliano Pisapia (2011-2016), followed by the current mayor Giuseppe Sala (2016-), with the active participation of an engaged third sector. The public administration in Milan is committed to working on inclusion strategies and to responding to the changing demands of refugees arriving and residing in Milan. Close cooperation between public institutions, local NGOs and migrant communities is considered essential to improving social support and local services.

What are the greatest achievements so far?

Increased access to job markets and special programs for minors and families: Increased access to the job market and special programmes for minors and families: Celav (Centro di Mediazione Lavoro) centre) supports the introduction of foreign workers into the job market and targets all unemployed residents of Milan, with a special focus on particularly disadvantaged groups such as persons with a disability and members of ethnic minorities. Second, a Service Centre for Unaccompanied Migrant Minors is an innovative, multifunctional centre entirely dedicated to unaccompanied minors’ needs. And third, a family reunification service supports family members who have been granted approval for family reunification, as well as newly reunited families in Milan.

Political activities and advocacy beyond the city level

Milan has invested in building a public image of itself as an inclusive city internationally, profiting greatly from exchanges with other municipalities in Europe and worldwide. The city has positioned itself against the restrictive policies of former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and in 2018 joined the “Comuni Disobbedienti” (Disobedient municipalities) campaign. The city is part of several national and international networks in favour of more inclusive migration policies. It also joined the EU Urban Agenda Partnership on Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees in 2020.

Member of the following networks

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.

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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.