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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Migration in Europe and Italy: Statistical Data and Policies at National and European Union Levels
Nicoleta Nichifor, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
April 13, 2015


Italy has been a country of migration for a long time. According to Italy’s National Report to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, between 1876 and 1976 around 24 million people migrated from Italy to other countries. In the past three decades, however, Italy has transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. By 2008, 6.5 percent of the total Italian population (3.89 million people) was born in a different country. From 2007 to 2008, the growth rate of foreigners legally residing in Italy rose to 16.8 percent.

The flow of illegal immigrants entering Italy has become a significant source of concern both for the Italian government and for Europe. Because of its geographic location, Italy is both a transit and a destination country for the flow of irregular immigrants. Irregular immigration represents a challenge for the entire international community, which is why agreements and policies are important for promoting regular migration and fighting human trafficking.

A: Migration Policies and Procedures

According to the Italian Ministry of Interior’s official website, migration policies in Italy aim at welcoming immigrants and integrating them into Italian society, thus trying to encourage legal immigration. Only those who show a passport or an identity document at the borders are granted access to Italian territory.

Illegal immigrants might be expelled from the country, unless they require international protection and they apply for asylum. In this case, the applicant is assigned to a refuge center, where he or she waits for the decision of the application request. The state, regional and local municipalities cooperate with associations and authorities in the countries of origins.

The Italian Ministry of Labor and Social Policy has further information regarding integration policies in Italy on its website. In order to be efficient in integration strategies, there are several governing bodies in place. For example, the General Directorate of Immigration and Integration policies establishes policies to help immigrants in social and working integration. It provides a list of associations and institutions that work to promote the well-being of immigrants. In addition, this body establishes policies for the protection of foreigners who are under 18 years old and arrive in Italy without their parents.

The General Directorate is currently focused on a number of programs to promote the well-being of immigrants. ‘Autonomy and integration for young foreign women’ is one of these programs. Its goal is to promote tools that can help young women become independent. The project helps women integrate into schools, workplaces and eventually society. Additional help is given by individual tutoring. Every woman is assigned a tutor, who identifies her individual needs. Furthermore, cultural mediators provide women assistance in obtaining legal documents to reside in Italy, finding psychological support or health facilities, finding a house and engaging in local activities.

Other important migration institutions are the ten Territorial Commissions that process asylum-seekers applications. Italy’s reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council states that as of October 2008, five more sections were added in order to speed up the processing of applications. Over the last twenty years, the number of applications has considerably increased. From 1998 to 2008 there were 173,000 requests. Around 40 percent of applicants (which is around 69,000 applicants) received the status of refugee or humanitarian/subsidiary protection.

The System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) allocates its resources to the reception and protection of asylum seekers and refugees.

Not all migrants that reach Italy apply for asylum. According to a Migrants at Sea blog post from January 12, 2015, around 170,000 migrants arrived in Italy in the past 14 months, but very few of them applied for asylum. “Eurostat data through November 2014 indicate approximately 25,200 asylum applications from all nationalities were filed in Italy during the first six months of 2014; the number increased to approximately 27,000 during the period July-November 2014,” reads the blog post.

In Italy, unaccompanied foreign children are protected under the Consolidated Act on Immigration (Arts. 19, 32 and 33). As stated in Italy’s reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council, this act covers many procedures, including the requirements for release of a resident permit. Among the many tasks the committee has, it supports the reunification of foreign children with their families in the countries of origin. Once immigrant children are 18, and if they can prove they have resided in Italy for at least three years and have been part of integration programs for at least two years, they have the right to obtain a resident permit. As of July 2009, the committee reported that there were about 7,000 unaccompanied foreign children in Italy. Only 23 percent of these children had identity documents. In 2008, a National Program for the protection for unaccompanied foreign children was started.

In order to promote the return of migrants and thus fight against human trafficking, 31-bilateral agreements were signed between Italy and countries of origin. Italy cooperates with countries of origin and countries of transit and conducts rescue operations at sea, as it is aware of the tragedies happening in the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of people have been rescued by the Italian Naval Forces. From January 2007 to August 2009 there were more than 52,000 migrants recovered.

B: Statistical Data on Immigration

The flow of irregular migration in Italy is increasing exponentially. Statistical data provided by the UNHCR show that in 2012, there were 13,200 irregular arrivals by sea from North Africa, Greece and Turkey. The number rose to 42,925 in 2013. The UNHCR also reports that as of July 2014, there were 76,263 refugees, 22,200 asylum seekers and 350 stateless persons (persons who are not considered national by any state) residing in Italy.

A UNHCR article published in July 2014 reports that over 75,000 refugees and migrants reached Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta by sea in the first half of 2014, which is 25 percent more than the number of refugees and migrants who made the same journey in 2013 (60,000 people) and over three times the number of people who arrived in 2012 (22,500 people). Italy was the receiver of the largest number of immigrants (63,884), followed by Greece (10,080), Spain (1,000) and Malta (227).

The same source states that Italian and Maltese authorities, with the help of several commercial vessels, rescued 8,000 people one weekend in July 2014. Many refugees and migrants have paid smugglers to take them over, but the boats have very poor conditions: little space, no water or food and no life jackets. The journey can last between one and four days depending on factors such as weather, sea and boat conditions.

Instability in Africa and the Middle East has caused the flow of emigration of thousands of people who risk their lives to reach Europe.The tragedies that take place on the Mediterranean Sea result in numerous deaths. According to a BBC News article, in October 2013, 366 people died off Lampedusa, an Italian island. Another tragedy described in an article published on February 11, 2015 by the UNHCR states that about 3,500 people lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean on boats in 2014.

In order to prevent tragedies from occurring, rescue operations take place on the Mediterranean. An International Organization for Migration article published in January 2015 says that through the first 11 months of 2014 Italy reported that 163,368 migrants had been rescued in the Mediterranean. Syrians are the largest group of migrants, reaching almost 40,000 people by November 30, 2014. The second largest group is Eritreans, with a total of 34,000 people. During 2014, more than 3,000 people went missing during the trip across the Mediterranean and are presumed dead because of the unsafe boats that depart from North Africa. At the same time, the number of larger ships coming from Turkey with Syrian migrants onboard, has increased since late last year. Migrant testimonies gathered in other recent landings claim that smugglers use old and unsafe vessels. According to the article, experts say that the ships would cost between $100,000 and $150,000, which means smugglers can earn more than $3 million for trips that have around 900 people.

A UNHCR press release on February 12, 2015 announced another tragedy that took place, in which at least 300 people died or went missing. This case involved four boats departing from Libya, each carrying around 100 people. There is now a concern about whether or not the new border surveillance operation, Triton, which was launched by Frontex on November 1, 2014, is an efficient replacement to the previous Italian Mare Nostrum Operation.

C: Conclusion

Italy is exposed to high irregular migration mainly because of its geographic position. The number of irregular migrants that cross the Mediterranean increase exponentially each year. There are smugglers and criminal networks facilitating migration through irregular ways and unsafe means. After the Lampedusa tragedy in October 2013, the Italian Government started Mare Nostrum Operation that was conducting rescue operations on the Mediterranean. In 2014, Mare Nostrum Operation was replaced with Triton Operation, which is focused more on border surveillance, rather than rescue operations.

English translation from Italian sources done by NYU Florence student Alice Centamore

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