Migrant arrivals to Italy soar, but still below highs

By: AFP      Published: 05:57 PM, 15 Aug, 2020
Migrant arrivals to Italy soar, but still below highs

Migrant arrivals to Italy increased by nearly 150 percent over the past year, with the majority of those arriving from Tunisia, Italy's interior ministry said on Saturday. 

Italy has been struggling in recent months to deal with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants to its southern shores, a task complicated by security measures imposed by the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

With frustration growing among local mayors, the government has chartered massive ferry ships to hold migrants under quarantine and called in the army in some cases after some migrants who tested positive for coronavirus escaped from welcome centres.

From August 1, 2019 to July 31, 2020, 21,618 migrants arrived at Italy's shores, 148.7 percent higher than the 8,691 landings the year before, according to data presented by Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Saturday in Milan.   

Despite the sharp rise, the number of migrant arrivals is still far below numbers recorded in recent years. From 2016 to 2017, Italy recorded 182,877 migrant arrivals. After Italy signed a deal with Libya for its coast guard to prevent migrant departures, the number fell to 42,700 in the 2017 to 2018 period.

Some 41.6 percent of the migrants departed from Tunisia, followed by Libya at 40.5 percent. Over a third of those who arrived listed Tunisian as their nationality, versus Bangladesh at 12 percent and Ivory Coast at 7 percent of migrants. 

Tunisia is battling high unemployment and political instability, pushing more so-called economic migrants to cross to Italy. Lamorgese said she planned to make a trip to Tunisia on Monday with Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and two European Union commissioners. Lamorgese travelled to Tunis in July, meeting with President Kais Saied and her counterpart Hichem Mechichi. 

"It's an important moment and a sign of attention for a country in difficulty," Lamorgese told journalists, without providing more details on the trip's agenda. 

The interior ministry data showed that 622 asylum-seekers were relocated to other European countries during the period from September 5, 2019 to July 31, up 167 percent. Most, 395 asylum-seekers, went to France, while 132 migrants were sent to Germany and 42 to Portugal.