According to data released by the Italian Interior Ministry on Tuesday, the number of illegal migrants arriving in Italy by boat has more than doubled since last year, despite the supposed crackdown on migration by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Since the beginning of this year, a total of 89,158 illegal migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy. This represents a significant increase of 115% compared to the 41,435 migrants who made the crossing during the same period last year.
Although deportations have slightly increased this year, with 2,561 individuals being deported compared to 2,000 last year, this increase pales in comparison to the 70.59% rise in asylum claims. A total of 72,460 migrants have made asylum requests, further exacerbating the migration issue.
Giorgia Meloni, who was elected as prime minister last year on a populist platform that included a promise to crack down on illegal migration, implemented a comprehensive immigration package in April. The package includes stricter penalties for smugglers, such as a new offense that carries a 30-year prison sentence for people-smuggling resulting in the death of migrants. Additionally, migrant centers were established to house asylum seekers while their claims are processed.
However, the prime minister’s tough rhetoric on naval blockades has been replaced by financial agreements with countries used as departure points by the migrants. Last month, Meloni negotiated an agreement on behalf of the EU, agreeing to pay the Tunisian government €150 million to combat people-smuggling gangs. This agreement was hailed as a “model” for other northern African countries. Tunisia has replaced Libya as the primary departure location for illegal boats to Italy this year.
In response to the near-unprecedented increase in illegal migration, Italy declared a state of emergency in April. The first four months of this year saw four times as many illegal migrants arriving by boat compared to the same period in the previous two years. If current trends continue, it is predicted that 2023 will break the record set in 2016 for the highest number of illegal arrivals by boat, which stood at 181,000.
The influx of new arrivals has overwhelmed Italy’s main migrant processing center on the island of Lampedusa. The facility, originally built to accommodate a maximum of 450 people, now houses over 2,000 migrants. In addition to overburdening Italy’s asylum system and migrant shelters, the constant flow of rickety boats often results in dire consequences for the migrants themselves. Just last week, two Tunisians lost their lives when a boat carrying 20 people capsized in the Mediterranean. In June, approximately 500 would-be migrants drowned when their boat floundered after leaving Libya. Since 2014, it is estimated that about 22,000 people have died or gone missing while attempting the dangerous crossing, according to the International Organization for Migration.
In conclusion, despite Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s efforts to crack down on illegal migration, the number of migrants reaching Italy by boat has more than doubled since last year. The increase in asylum claims and the overwhelmed migrant processing centers highlight the ongoing challenges in managing the migration issue. The financial agreements with countries like Tunisia serve as a reminder that addressing the root causes of migration requires a multifaceted approach beyond strict enforcement measures.