Homeless and Rightsless

In Italy, the malfunctioning of administrative procedures represents a continuous source of bureaucratic dragging, demeaning periods of waiting and vicious downwards circles. One of the greatest problems relates to the police stations’ request for official residence documents and/or hospitality documents in order to be able to process the issuing or renewal of permits to stay, whether for asylum seekers or those with a status of international or national protection. The situation is more complicated still for those who are outside of the official reception system and are victims of precarious housing conditions. There are many police stations who erroneously consider a residency document as the precondition for the renewal of a permit to stay, forgetting that official regigstration is a right and duty of a foreign citizen for which a permit to stay is a pre-requisite and not vice versa.

Both official residency and hospitality papers are directly linked to the issuing and renewal of a temporary or definitive permit to stay for asylum seekers and holders of a status international or national protection, even if in order to enjoy the rights of this protection they have to overcome the application of disputable procedures. In fact, many police stations, as well as working under the belief that residency is a prerequisite for the issuing of a permit of stay for holders of a status of international protection, nevertheless refuse to accept vitural residency issued to the homeless, even while this is juridically the same as other forms of residency document. Furthermore, these illegitimate practices by police stations are made worse by local councils not actively registering residents in their own areas.


Local councils are meant to register in a national register those who have no fixed abode but can demonstrate their presence in the area; the type of housing cannot therefore be an obstacle to this. It has been clarified in the Court of Cassation (Civil Section, n. 449, 2000) that anagraphic registration is not a privilege to be concerede but a right of citizenship and an obligation on the part of an anagraphic office. The right to residency thus has to be protected including for those who do not have a fixed abode through the “virtual residency” – one that does not physically exist – that functions in the same way as a physical residency as far as juridical value is concerned.
In absence of an anagraphic registration, many services are suspended, such as enrollment in the national health service, the distribution of pensions, the recognition of invalidity, the possibility to access social services and related financial support, enrollment in housing lists, participation in applications for social housing, the issuing of a driving licence, the obtaining of an identity document and all related certificates.

The Procedures in Sicily

There are serious issues relating to the procedures adopted in the different Sicilian provinces for the issuing of virtual residency and consequently the pre-requisites for the renewal of the permit to stay. Virtual residency does not exist in the provinces of Caltanissetta, Enna, Trapani and Agrigento. For all those who are street homeless or in precarious housing situations, it is impossible to reigster a virtual residency with the local council. The procedure is partly simplified in Caltanisetta: those who are in possession of an expired permit to stay issued by the Caltanissetta police station do not need to present a residency document in order to renew their permit, but they cannot request a travel document.

In the provinces of Palermo, Syracusa, Catania, Ragusa and Messine, residency for the homeless is issued by the respective local councils, but always through a reference from an association active in the local area. In Palermo, virtual residency is regiatered in Via Cipro Lupo through the inter-medication of an accredited associations, but it not accepted by the local police station for the issuing and renewal of permits to stay. The local administration has published a tender for other associations, other than the parish of Santa Chiara, that can be entrusted to present requests for virtual residency, and simultaneously is working on a technical round-table to open a dialogue with the police station in relation to the issuing of permits to stay.


In Syracuse, residency is registered in Via della Casa Comunale, but only on presentation of a valid permit to stay and proof of a local address or that of the local ARCI headquarters, the association that also manages the relevant postal service. Since 2016, virtual residency is no longer accepted for the renewal of a permit to stay. If you have this kind of residency document, in order to renew a permit of stay you also need a document proving hospitality at a local residence, for which the landlord must accompany you to the police station.

In Ragusa, virtual residency for those with no fixed abode is registered in Via di Gelsomina, but never without some kind of complication. The local council requests a valid permit of stay in order to to do, as well as proof of where the person is staying or can be contacted – e.g. the Caritas – and in some cases also asks for a letter explaining the reasons for the residency request. In order to renew a permit of stay relating to international or humanitarian protection, the local police station also accepts declarations of hospitality: thanks to this simplification, those withou a fixed abode manage to renew their permits with the support of an association.

In Catania, virtual residency is registaered by the local council at Via dell’Accoglienza through indications from Centro Astalli and on presentation of a valid permit of stay. The document is accepted by the local police station for the renewal of the permit of stay, while for issuing of a permit, a declaration of hospitality suffices.

In Messina, residency is registered at the Via della Casa Comunale on presentation of a valid permit to stay and the support of one of the local asssociations. While awaiting a protocol with a list of the associations, access is currently granted through a help centre or the inter-mediation of a lawyer. Even with an expired permit however it is possible to register residency with a valid request for renewal of the permit and the receipt issued by the local police station.

Paradoxes of Security

It is increasingly concerning how immigration continues to be an issue used to forment panic and anger, providing space to a sick and obtuse search for security measures. It is thus a paradox that, in this context, this obsession nevertheless tolerates the existence of illegitimate procedures such as those connected to the issuing of permits to stay or the registration of residency. There is a very real lack of security, one augmented by illegitimate institutional procedures that are the root cause of the increasing number of “invisible” people, those forced into co-habitation or temporary solutions such as shanty towns, people forced into limbo and exile, exploitation and endless waiting – and this is not even to delve into the black market in residency papers “for sale”, a market that is simply increasing thanks to these illegitimate procedures.

Viola Gastaldi
Borderline Sicilia

Project “OpenEurope” – Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus

Translation: Richard Braude