Children whose parents are foreign migrants should be granted citizenship from birth, Pope Francis said on Monday in an address ahead of next year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
“The universal right to a nationality should be recognised and duly certified for all children at birth,” he said.
“The statelessness which migrants and refugees sometimes fall into can easily be avoided with the adoption of nationality legislation that is in conformity with the fundamental principles of international law.”
Referring to child migrants, Pope Francis said they must not be detained, foster care must be provided for unaccompanied children and they must receive regular primary and secondary education in host countries.
“Equally, when they come of age, they must be guaranteed the right to remain and to enjoy the possibility of continuing their studies,” he said.
The Pope’s comments came amid controversy in Italy over a hotly contested bill granting citizenship to the children of immigrants which led to the resignation in July of Regional Affairs Minister Enrico Costa.
According to the long-delayed bill, children born in Italy to non-Italians, or who arrive before their 12th birthday and spend at least five years in formal education, could be declared citizens.
One of the children’s parents need have a long-term residence permit before they can apply for citizenship, under bill, to which opponents have tabled 48,000 amendments.
Italy’s Premier Paolo Gentiloni has said the citizenship bill remains a government priority and has vowed to push it through parliament in September after the summer recess.
Immigration is one of the most controversial issues facing politicians in Italy, where over 600,000 foreigners have arrived in the past three years, mostly sub-Saharan Africans who landed by boat from Libya.