ROME — Traffic noise floated through an open window as a Bangladeshi migrant named Nanue Matabor took a seat inside a tiny immigration office in central Rome. Only 19, Mr. Matabor had waited months for this hearing. He was asking for the right to remain in Europe. His life was in the balance. He stared at the floor, terrified.
First came the formalities. Mr. Matabor speaks only Bengali, so an interpreter explained the asylum system to him — and the possibility that his application could be denied. Then basic questions: Was his name spelled correctly? Was his birth date correct? Did he belong to a certain Bangladeshi ethnic group?
“I’m an orphan,” Mr. Matabor replied. “I don’t know my ethnic group.”
For the next 46 minutes, Mr. Matabor sat inside one of Rome’s Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection and pleaded for asylum to an audience of one — a smartly dressed Italian civil servant named Giorgio De Francesco. One man asking for protection; another man charged with deciding his fate.
Across the world, more than 65 million people migrated to escape conflict, hardship or persecution last year, either inside their own countries or across borders, the most since World War II. More than one million refugees arrived in Europe on smuggler boats, a fourfold increase from the previous year, as record numbers also applied for asylum — an exodus that has continued this year.