24th Oct 2021

Loophole: Italy's vaccinated migrants can't get Covid pass

  • The latest stumbling block is Italy's green pass — a certificate of vaccination needed to access everything from public transport to restaurants — which migrants, despite being inoculated, cannot access since they do not possess a national health card (Photo: Rebecca Ann Hughes)
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The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent policies implemented by the Italian government have shone a spotlight on the perilous situation for undocumented migrants in Italy.

Without residence permits, and therefore unregistered in the national health system, many refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have found themselves unable to seek medical assistance amid a health crisis.

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The latest stumbling block is Italy's green pass — a certificate of vaccination needed to access everything from public transport to restaurants — which migrants, despite being inoculated, cannot access since they do not possess a national health card.

As labour shortages amid the Covid emergency began to affect food supply chains, many European countries saw the importance of regularising undocumented migrants. Italy was particularly quick to take action in support of 'invisibles', foreigners without residence permits and often working illegally in sectors like agriculture and domestic work.

However, the regularisation scheme, launched in May 2020, soon transpired to have numerous flaws including the limited selection of eligible sectors, severe delays and excessive bureaucracy.

Open Democracy reported last week that only 12.7 percent of applications have thus far been processed, and only five percent of those have resulted in a residence permit being issued. Those still waiting remain vulnerable, without access to healthcare and, until recently, coronavirus vaccines.

Despite the Italian government's assurances that all people, regardless of legal status, have access to vaccination, in practice this has not been the case.

In order to reserve a vaccination slot, most regional booking systems require a code from Italy's national health cards, which are issued to those with residence permits.

Migrants, instead, are issued with a "temporarily present foreigner" (STP) code in order to facilitate access to health services, but the New York Times reported in June that only three regions were accepting it for jab bookings.

The situation means migrants themselves remain at risk and so does wider society - especially considering many undocumented foreigners work as helpers for the elderly.

After appeals from charities and migrant rights groups, the vaccination rollout for migrants began to pick up over the summer.

But just as quickly, another obstacle presented itself. In Italy, those who have received at least their first dose of the vaccine can access and download a "green pass" that acts as proof of inoculation (or proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the previous 48 hours).

The government now requires the green pass for access to numerous services including indoor dining, cinemas, museums and sports facilities. The green pass is also mandatory for accessing long-distance public transport and schools (students excluded).

But in order to download the green pass, the online national health system requires users to key in their national health card code (or use a document such as a passport or identity card or a tax code).

As such, migrants might be vaccinated, but they are unable to prove it and therefore remain excluded from many services they should be permitted to access.

Many have voiced anger over what is seen as a discriminatory situation. The Milanese branch of the Italian Confederation of Workers' Trade Unions criticised the difficulties for foreigners in the Lombardy region, while the Castel Volturno solidarity network has urged the Campania region to deal with the inadequacy of the system.

"For three weeks now, our operators have been helping hundreds of foreign citizens without a residence permit to download the green pass after the completion of the vaccination cycle," said the network dedicated to assisting foreigners in the area.

Migrant rights activist Aboubakar Soumahoro has called it yet another example of Italy's "hierarchy of rights" that penalises migrants. "The green pass cannot be another occasion to keep afloat discrimination," he said in a Twitter video. "This is my appeal: issue a residence permit during health emergencies to everyone forced to live invisibly to allow them to have a doctor, to be visible."

Author bio

Rebecca Ann Hughes is a freelance journalist in Venice.


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