Foreign residents as a percentage of the regional population, 2011

In 2021, Istat estimated that 5,171,894 foreign citizens lived in Italy, representing about 8.7% of the total population.[1][2] These figures do not include naturalized foreign-born residents (about 1,620,000 foreigners acquired Italian citizenship from 1999 to 2020, of whom 130,000 did so in 2020[3]) as well as illegal immigrants, the so-called clandestini, whose numbers, difficult to determine, are thought to be at least 670,000.[4]

In 2021, around 6,260,000 people residing in Italy have an immigration background (around the 10.6% of the total Italian population).[5][6][7]

Starting from the early 1980s, until then a linguistically and culturally homogeneous society, Italy begun to attract substantial flows of foreign immigrants.[8][9] After the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, the 2004 and 2007 enlargements of the European Union, large waves of migration originated from the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe (especially Romania, Albania, Ukraine, Moldova and Poland). Another source of immigration is neighbouring North Africa (in particular, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia), with soaring arrivals as a consequence of the Arab Spring. Furthermore, in recent years, growing migration fluxes from Asia-Pacific (notably China,[10] South Asia, and the Philippines) and Latin America have been recorded.

Since the expansion of the European Union, the most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European states, particularly Eastern Europe, and increasingly Asia,[11] replacing North Africa as the major immigration area.[12]

Romanians made up the largest foreign community in the country (1,077,876; around 10% of them being ethnic Romani people[13]) followed by Albanians (433,130) and Moroccans (428,940).[14] The fourth largest, but the fastest growing, community of foreign residents in Italy was represented by the Chinese; as of 2021 there were 330,495 foreigners holding Chinese citizenship.[15][16] The majority of Chinese living in Italy are from the city of Wenzhou in the province of Zhejiang.[17] As of 2021, foreign citizens' origins were subdivided as follows: Europe (47,6%), Africa (22.25%), Asia (22.64%), The Americas (7.49%), and Oceania (0.04%).[18]

The distribution of foreigners is largely uneven in Italy: in 2020, 61.2% of foreign citizens lived in Northern Italy (in particular 36.1% in the Northwest Italy and 25.1% in the Northeast Italy), 24.2% in the Central Italy, 10.8% in the South Italy and 3.9% in the Insular Italy.[19]

The children born in Italy to foreign mothers were 102,000 in 2012, 99,000 in 2013 and 97,000 in 2014.[20]


Italy is home to a large population of migrants from Eastern Europe and North Africa.
Senegalese workers at the Potato festival in Vimercate (Lombardy) in 2015

On foreigners only, for more information dealing with foreigners who have subsequently acquired Italian citizenship refer to Eurostat site.

Total foreign resident population on 1 January[note 1]
Year Population
2002 1,341,209[21]
2003 1,464,663[21]
2004 1,854,748[21]
2005 2,210,478[21]
2006 2,419,483[21]
2007 2,592,950[21]
2008 3,023,317[21]
2009 3,402,435[21]
2010 3,648,128[21]
2011 3,879,224[21]
2012 4,052,081[22]
2013 4,387,721[23]
2014 4,922,085[24]
2015 5,014,437[6]
2016 5,026,153 [25]
2017 5,047,028 (8.34%)[26]
2018 5,144,440 (8.52%)[27]
2019 5,255,503 (8.7%)[28]
2020 5,039,637 (8.4%)[29]
2021 5,171,894 (8.7%)[30]
Foreign citizens (thus not including naturalized Italians and descendants) by country of origin [note 2][31]
Country 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022[32] Regions with significant populations
 Romania 625,278 Increase 658,789 Increase 726,151 Increase 782,014 Increase 834,465 Increase 933,354 Increase 1,081,400 Increase 1,131,839 Increase 1,151,395 Increase 1,168,552 Increase 1,190,091 Decrease 1,143,859 Increase1,145,718 Increase 1,576,412 Increase1,983,771 Lazio
 Morocco 365,908 Increase 368,608 Increase 388,406 Increase 400,695 Increase 408,667 Increase 426,791 Increase 454,773 Decrease 449,058 Decrease 437,485 Decrease 420,651 Decrease 416,531 Decrease 406,112 Increase414,249 Increase428,947 Decrease 420,172 Lombardy
 Albania 401,949 Increase422,142 Increase441,182 Increase450,190 Increase450,908 Increase464,962 Increase 495,709 Decrease 490,483 Decrease 467,687 Decrease 448,407 Decrease 440,465 Decrease 423,212 Decrease421,591 Increase433,171 Decrease 419,987 Lombardy
 Germany 156.519 Decrease154,066 Increase168,048 Increase184,173 Increase197,064 Increase223,367 Increase 256,846 Increase 265,820 Increase 271,330 Increase 281,972 Increase 290,681 Decrease 283,430 Increase288,923 Increase330,495 Decrease 300,216 Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
 Ukraine 132,718 Increase134,351 Increase150,527 Increase171,586 Increase180,121 Increase191,725 Increase 219,050 Increase 226,060 Increase 230,728 Increase 234,354 Increase 237,047 Decrease227,867 Increase228,560 Increase235,953 Increase265,307 Campania
 China 77,432 Increase85,682 Increase97,246 Increase109,177 Increase118,409 Increase128,903 Increase 142,453 Increase 147,815 Increase 150,456 Increase 151,430 Increase 151,791 Decrease147,153 Increase 153,209 Increase165,512 Decrease162,492 Lombardy
 North Macedonia 55,242 Increase60,433 Increase67,267 Increase 73,761 Increase 81,683 Increase 92,695 Increase 111,223 Increase 115,301 Increase 118,790 Increase 122,428 Increase 131,967 Decrease131,023 Increase138,895 Increase158,020 Increase159,003 Lombardy
 Switzerland 105,675 Decrease105,366 Increase112,642 Increase120,019 Increase129,188 Increase139,835 Increase 162,655 Increase 168,238 Decrease 165,900 Increase 166,459 Increase 167,859 Decrease158,049 Decrease157,665 Increase165,443 Decrease158,997 Lombardy
 Egypt 69,572 Decrease54,838 Increase58,587 Increase 62,400 Increase 66,932 Increase 76,691 Increase 96,008 Increase 103,713 Increase 109,871 Increase 112,765 Increase 119,513 Increase 119,864 Increase128,095 Increase139,569 Increase140,322 Lombardy
 Ecuador 49,344 Increase50,082 Increase 57,808 Increase 66,323 Increase 71,031 Increase 80,658 Increase 90,615 Increase 96,207 Increase 101,784 Increase 108,204 Increase 114,198 Increase 116,631 Increase121,609 Increase135,520 Decrease134,182 Lombardy
 Moldova 40,641 Decrease38,676 Increase41,486 Increase44,734 Increase48,220 Increase 56,476 Increase 66,833 Increase 71,158 Increase 77,264 Increase 88,533 Increase 106,069 Increase 114,096 Decrease113,049 Increase119,089 Increase119,435 Veneto
 Philippines 68,591 Increase85,327 Increase 99,867 Increase122,374 Increase132,175 Increase139,734 Increase 149,434 Decrease 147,388 Decrease 142,266 Decrease 135,661 Decrease 131,814 Decrease 122,762 Decrease118,516 Increase122,667 Decrease114,914 Emilia Romagna
62,620 Decrease60,364 Increase63,883 Increase 69,467 Increase 73,702 Increase 80,325 Increase 90,863 Increase 94,030 Increase 98,176 Increase 101,207 Increase 105,937 Decrease 105,227 Increase106,198 Increase111,092 Decrease 110,763 Lombardy
 Croatia 61,064 Decrease57,765 Increase61,955 Increase 65,270 Increase 71,573 Increase 79,530 Increase 95,007 Increase 100,558 Increase 102,316 Increase 104,908 Increase 107,967 Decrease 104,763 Increase107,598 Increase112,018 Decrease 108,069 Veneto
 Poland 93,601 Decrease79,205 Increase80,538 Increase81,068 Increase82,997 Increase88,291 Increase97,317 Decrease96,012 Decrease95,645 Decrease94,064 Decrease93,795 Decrease90,615 Increase93,350 Increase97,407 Increase99,002 Lazio
 Peru 70,755 Decrease72,319 Increase80,455 Increase88,850 Increase93,841 Increase99,173 Increase109,851 Decrease109,668 Decrease98,176 Decrease99,110 Decrease97,379 Decrease91,859 Decrease91,662 Increase96,546 Decrease94,131 Lazio
 Sri Lanka 90,218 Decrease77,879 Increase81,594 Increase83,160 Increase84,749 Increase88,839 Increase97,566 Increase98,694 Decrease97,986 Decrease97,062 Decrease95,727 Decrease88,803 Decrease86,743 Decrease77,779 Decrease74,981 Sicily
 Tunisia 68,542 Increase75,369 Increase79,347 Increase82,693 Increase85,834 Increase90,506 Increase96,421 Decrease92,378 Decrease88,076 Decrease83,579 Decrease82,105 Decrease77,408 Decrease73,909 Decrease73,629 Decrease70,348 Sicily
 Pakistan 73,235 Decrease69,362 Increase73,862 Increase78,172 Increase80,333 Increase82,791 Increase91,861 Decrease91,259 Decrease87,427 Decrease83,120 Decrease80,377 Decrease74,661 Decrease72,644 Decrease72,193 Decrease66,590 Lombardy
 India 78,090 Decrease65,809 Increase69,208 Increase71,315 Increase73,972 Increase76,608 Increase78,424 Decrease77,703 Decrease73,512 Decrease67,969 Decrease65,347 Decrease60,581 Decrease55,816 Decrease55,771 Decrease53,443 Lombardy
 Bulgaria 33,477 Decrease32,283 Increase35,818 Increase39,161 Increase42,000 Increase47,872 Increase54,932 Increase56,576 Increase58,001 Increase58,620 Increase59,254 Decrease56,593 Increase56,645 Decrease50,355 Decrease49,205 Lombardy
 Senegal 38,400 Decrease39,801 Increase41,127 Increase42,696 Increase44,364 Increase48,575 Increase51,602 Decrease50,414 Decrease48,637 Decrease48,138 Increase49,940 Decrease49,797 Decrease49,543 Increase50,778 Decrease48,280 Emilia Romagna
 Brazil 37,848 Decrease33,004 Increase34,505 Increase35,911 Increase37,567 Increase39,157 Increase43,202 42,587 Increase43,783 Increase45,410 Increase48,022 Increase49,445 Increase51,790 Increase50,666 Decrease47,318 Lombardy
 Russia 21,523 Decrease21,720 Increase23,808 Increase27,644 Increase28,604 Increase30,948 Increase34,483 Increase35,211 Increase35,791 Increase36,361 Increase37,384 Decrease36,512 Increase37,424 Increase39,746 Decrease36,982 Lombardy
 Ghana 40,163 Decrease35,991 Decrease35,681 Decrease35,272 Decrease34,936 Increase35,576 Increase38,136 Decrease36,749 Decrease36,661 Decrease36,660 Increase36,806 Decrease35,442 Decrease35,316 Decrease35,091 Decrease32,984 Lombardy
 Dominican Republic 18,591 Increase19,765 Increase21,263 Increase22,247 Increase23,020 Increase25,405 Increase28,623 Increase28,804 Decrease28,202 Decrease28,002 Increase28,451 Increase28,208 Increase29,111 Increase30,255 Decrease28,812 Lombardy
 France 30,803 Decrease25,893 Decrease25,217 Decrease24,445 Decrease23,985 Increase25,016 Increase29,078 Decrease27,696 Increase28,634 Increase29,281 Increase29,991 Decrease29,008 Increase29,721 Increase31,354 Decrease28,735 Lombardy
 Ivory Coast 17,132 Increase17,840 Increase19,196 Increase20,159 Increase20,878 Increase23,563 Increase25,953 Decrease25,362 Decrease25,056 Increase26,159 Increase30,271 Increase31,001 Decrease30,038 Decrease29,673 Decrease28,385 Lombardy
 United Kingdom 26,448 Decrease22,542 Increase22,563 Decrease22,411 Increase22,839 Increase23,744 Increase26,377 Decrease25,864 Increase26,634 Increase27,208 Increase28,168 Decrease27,857 Increase29,654 Increase30,325 Decrease28,355 Lombardy
 Spain 17,354 Decrease14,339 Increase14,443 Increase14,518 Increase15,129 Increase17,021 Increase20,682 Increase21,286 Increase22,593 Increase23,828 Increase24,870 Increase24,936 Increase25,954 Increase32,637 Decrease26,417 Lombardy
 Georgia 1,012 Increase1,330 Increase2,403 Increase5,612 Increase7,083 Increase9,123 Increase12,124 Increase13,688 Increase14,045 Increase14,603 Increase15,203 Decrease15,021 Increase15,667 Increase18,272 Increase22,907 Tuscany
 Gambia 748 Decrease740 Increase807 Increase878 Increase941 Increase1,244 Increase1,630 Increase3,271 Increase8,016 Increase13,780 Increase19,567 Increase22,075 Decrease21,336 Increase22,213 Decrease21,826 Sicily
 Cuba 14,581 Decrease14,290 Increase14,956 Increase15,637 Increase16,350 Increase17,538 Increase19,316 Increase19,999 Increase20,662 Increase20,986 Increase21,418 Decrease21,417 Increase22,311 Increase22,958 Decrease21,499 Lombardy
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 27,356 Decrease26,094 Increase26,850 Increase27,408 Increase28,015 Increase28,996 Increase29,831 Decrease29,442 Decrease27,199 Decrease25,791 Decrease25,034 Decrease22,944 Decrease21,911 Decrease21,442 Decrease21,234 Veneto
 El Salvador 6,144 Increase7,088 Increase7,599 Increase8,430 Increase9,235 Increase10,443 Increase11,809 Increase12,973 Increase13,007 Increase13,492 Increase14,626 Increase15,437 Increase16,270 Increase20,038 Increase20,608 Lombardy
 Greece 14,562 Increase14,579 Increase14,591 Decrease14,526 Increase14,552 Increase15,946 Increase16,470 Increase17,098 Increase17,369 Increase18,768 Increase18,834 Increase19,078 Decrease17,350 Increase20,015 Decrease20,008 Campania
 Colombia 17,890 Decrease15,713 Increase16,261 Increase16,764 Increase17,086 Increase17,880 Increase19,661 Decrease18,956 Decrease18,777 Decrease17,968 Decrease17,956 Decrease17,539 Increase18,053 Increase19,848 Decrease19,025 Lombardy
 Mali 862 Decrease825 Increase831 Increase858 Increase909 Increase1,002 Increase1,923 Decrease1,945 Decrease1,938 Increase2,217 Increase3,509 Increase18,780 Increase19,168 Increase20,999 Decrease18,930 Lombardy
 Algeria 22,672 Decrease19,834 Increase20,433 Increase20,577 Increase20,725 Increase21,801 Increase23,095 Decrease22,679 Decrease21,765 Decrease20,437 Decrease19,823 Decrease18,507 Decrease18,468 Increase18,538 Decrease17,998 Campania
 Bangladesh 21,308 Decrease17,662 Decrease17,332 Decrease16,967 Decrease16,708 Increase17,051 Increase17,999 Decrease17,375 Increase18,052 Decrease17,698 Decrease17,573 Decrease16,591 Decrease16,285 Increase17,362 Decrease15,754 Lombardy
 Cameroon 6,940 Decrease6,620 Increase7,438 Increase8,197 Increase8,830 Increase10,071 Increase11,880 Increase12,298 Increase12,738 Increase13,308 Increase14,529 Increase15,170 Increase15,329 Increase15,581 Decrease15,013 Emilia Romagna
 United States of America 15,036 Decrease13,634 Decrease13,112 Decrease12,521 Decrease12,184 Increase13,165 Increase14,963 Increase14,145 Increase14,512 Increase14,649 Increase15,004 Decrease14,966 Increase15,393 Increase18,837 Decrease14,496 Lazio
 Burkina Faso 8,960 Increase10,031 Increase11,119 Increase12,124 Increase12,752 Increase14,007 Increase15,301 Decrease14,939 Decrease14,657 Decrease14,306 Increase14,435 Decrease14,051 Decrease13,979 Increase14,236 Decrease14,167 Lombardy
 Iran 6,913 Decrease5,922 Decrease5,877 Decrease5,830 Increase5,962 Increase7,273 Increase8,995 Increase9,813 Increase10,304 Increase10,794 Increase11,565 Increase11,837 Increase12,866 Increase14,255 Decrease14,009 Lombardy
 Afghanistan 1,063 Increase2,427 Increase2,863 Increase3,135 Increase3,512 Increase4,813 Increase6,635 Increase7,654 Increase8,574 Increase11,224 Increase11,738 Decrease10,600 Increase11,121 Increase12,199 Increase13,547 Lazio
 Bolivia 6,043 Increase6,123 Increase7,853 Increase10,694 Increase11,774 Increase12,357 Increase13,919 Increase14,568 Decrease14,243 Decrease14,076 Decrease13,955 Decrease13,277 Decrease13,141 Increase13,271 Decrease12,924 Lombardy
 Venezuela 5,219 Decrease5,119 Decrease5,017 Decrease4,904 Decrease4,787 Increase5,138 Increase5,506 Increase5,642 Increase5,849 Increase6,327 Increase7,347 Increase8,981 Increase10,316 Increase12,135 Decrease12,033 Lombardy
 Guinea 2,268 Increase2,467 Increase2,713 Increase2,994 Increase3,297 Increase3,896 Increase4,371 Increase4,490 Increase4,928 Increase6,897 Increase11,240 Increase12,728 Decrease12,213 Increase12,259 Decrease11,796 Lombardy
 Argentina 12,492 Decrease11,842 Decrease11,338 Decrease11,239 Decrease7,896 Increase8,025 Increase8,642 Decrease8,179 Increase8,270 Decrease8,009 Increase8,023 Increase8,169 Increase9,117 Decrease9,091 Increase10,522 Lombardy
 Belarus 4,265 Increase5,062 Increase5,952 Increase6,975 Decrease6,654 Increase7,446 Increase8,177 Increase8,195 Increase8,529 Increase8,636 Increase8,885 Decrease8,704 Increase8,808 Increase9,269 Decrease8,811 Lombardy
 Somalia 6,237 Increase6,663 Increase7,728 Increase8,112 Decrease4,586 Increase5,235 Increase6,878 Increase7,677 Increase7,903 Increase8,228 Increase9,102 Decrease8,626 Decrease8,515 Decrease7,629 Increase8,370 Lazio
 Netherlands 8,165 Decrease7,166 Decrease7,157 Decrease7,111 Increase7,163 Increase7,378 Increase7,856 Decrease7,851 Increase8,106 Increase8,243 Increase8,344 Decrease8,184 Increase8,283 Increase10,100 Decrease8,367 Lombardy
 Eritrea 11,386 Increase11,911 Increase12,967 Increase13,368 Decrease8,074 Increase8,752 Increase11,187 Decrease10,570 Decrease9,597 Decrease9,394 Decrease9,343 Decrease8,141 Decrease8,035 Decrease6,912 Decrease6,575 Lazio
 Turkey 21,000 Increase11,911 Increase12,967 Increase13,368 Decrease8,074 Increase8,752 Increase11,187 Decrease10,570 Decrease9,597 Decrease9,394 Decrease9,343 Decrease8,141 Decrease8,035 Decrease6,912 Decrease6,575 Trentino-Alto Adige
Rest of Europe 63,622 62,334 66,817
Rest of Sub-Saharan Africa 52,591 54,501 59,385
Rest of Americas 18,406 20,796
Rest of North Africa and Western/Central Asia 44,526 47,513
Rest of East and South-East Asia 22,895 19,877
Rest of South Asia 1,516 1,630
Europe 2,601,313 2,588,451 (4.28%) 2,600,748 (4.31%) 2,609,690 (4,33%)
North Africa and Western/Central Asia 741,090 729,064 (1.21%) 735,681 (1.22%)
South Asia 474,736 488,486 (0.81%) 507,553 (0.84%)
East and South-East Asia 459,572 471,326 (0.78%) 478,417 (0.79%)
Sub-Saharan Africa 369,567 397,309 (0.66%) 444,058 (0.74%)
Americas 376,556 369,555 (0.61%) 373,354 (0.62%)
Oceania 2,104 2,122 (<0,01%) 2,157 (0,01%)

Prison population

According to the Ministry of Justice, the Italian prison population in 2019 counted 60,769 and of those 32.7% were foreigners. The largest groups came from Morocco (3,651), Albania (2,402), Romania (2,386), Tunisia (2,020), Nigeria (1,665).

Amongst national origins counting more than 5,000 individuals at national level, Algeria, followed by Gambia and Tunisia, had the biggest proportion of detainees (with, respectively, 25.8, 23.7 and 20.7 inmates per 1,000 residents). On the other hand, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines had the lowest proportion of inmates per 1,000 residents (respectively, 0.13, and 0.50 for both Thailand and the Philippines).[33][34]

Public opinion

See also: Opposition to immigration in Europe

In 2018, a poll by Pew Research found that a majority (71%) wanted fewer immigrants to be allowed into the country, 18% wanted to keep the current level and 5% wanted to increase immigration.[35]

A 2019 poll by Yougov showed that 53% thought authorities should not accept more refugees from conflict areas, 25% were in favour of more refugees and 19% were undecided.[36]

According to poll published by Corriere della Sera in 2019, one of two respondents (51%) approved closing Italy's ports to further boat migrants arriving via the Mediterranean, while 19% welcomed further boat migrants.[37]

In 2021, 77% of Italians thought the current immigrant influx was too high, as underlined by a poll published by La Repubblica and carried out by YouGov.[38]

2000s Mediterranean Sea crossings crisis

Asylum seekers arrive in Sicily, 2015. The Arab Spring and the Syrian War created factors that led to a migrant crisis that saw hundred of thousands of boat-dwellers seeking refuge in Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

Due to the peninsula geographical position and close proximity to the North Africa coast, the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea has historically been the most used route for undocumented migrants. This route has become gradually more prominent, as flow through other routes to the EU gradually faded and political turmoil in Libya caused a general weakening of borders and coastal control, opening opportunities to people smuggling organisations.

The principal destination for sea crossings boats and rafts are the southernmost Italian territories, the Pelagie Islands. These islands are 113 km from Tunisia, 167 from Libya and 207 from Sicily.

The close distance between these islands and the African mainland has caused people smuggling organisations to employ boats and rafts otherwise hardly seaworthy, generally vastly filled above their capacity. Official reports list boats filled up to 2 or 3 times nominal capacity, including the use of rubber dinghies. This has led to several accidents at sea, as in 2007, the 2009, the 2011, the 2013, 2015.[39] These accidents have become harder to document between 2014 and 2017, as people smuggling organisations changed their tactics: instead of aiming for a full crossing of the sea towards Lampedusa, their boats aimed just to exit Libyan territorial waters and then trigger rescue operation from passing mercantile vessels, seek and rescue organisations, Italian and Maltese coastguards and militaries. As per the United Nations Convention of the Sea, of which Italy is a subscriber, people rescued at sea have to be transported to the closest safe harbor: as Libya continues to be in political turmoil this means they are transported to Italy.

Once in Italy, the EU Dublin Regulation requires migrants to apply for legal residence, protection or asylum permits in the first EU country they cross into, effectively barring them from legally crossing internal EU borders until their case has been processed and positively concluded. As the vast majority of migrant people landing in Italy targets destinations in Central and Northern European States, there is a tendency to avoid filing permits applications in Italy and rather try a northwards land journey.[40]

Refugees and migrants arriving in Italy by sea, 1997–2021[41]

As a reaction to the gradual increase in migration flows through the Mediterranean Sea, Italian governments stepped up cooperation with Tunisian and Libyan authorities to halt activities of people smuggling organisation on land, as well as to allow boats rescued from the Italian Military in international waters to be towed back to the port where they left from. This policy, enacted in 2004 and 2005, sparked controversies related in particular to the compatibility with Italian and EU laws, as numerous reports documented acts of violence from Libyan authorities on migrant people. The policy was openly criticised by the EU Parliament.[42]

In 2008, Berlusconi’s government in Italy and Gaddafi’s government in Libya signed a treaty including cooperation between the two countries in stopping unlawful migration from Libya to Italy; this led to a policy of forcibly returning to Libya boat migrants intercepted by the Italian coast guard at sea.[43] The cooperation collapsed following the outbreak of the Libyan civil war in 2011. In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by returning migrants to Libya, as it exposed the migrants to the risk of being subjected to ill-treatment in Libya and violated the prohibition of collective expulsions.,[44] thus effectively ending the policy.

Rescued male migrants are brought to southern Italian ports, 28 June 2015

In 2009, as the flow of migrants picked up again, the overcrowded conditions at the Pelagie Islands' temporary immigrant reception centre came under criticism by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The unit, which was originally built for a maximum capacity of 850 people, was reported to be housing nearly 2,000 boat people. A significant number of people were sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting.[45] A fire started as an inmate riot destroyed a large portion of the holding facility on 19 February 2009.

In 2011, as Arab Spring rebellions in Tunisia and Libya disrupted government control over borders and coasts, by May 2011, more than 35,000 immigrants had arrived on the island of Lampedusa from Tunisia and Libya.[46] By the end of August, 48,000 had arrived.[47] As migration and asylum policies are exclusive responsibilities of each member State, the increased migration pressure at the EU Southern border sparked tensions between EU States on how to differentiate between people migrating due to economic reasons, which in principle are regarded as unlawful immigrants and thus are forced to leave or deported, and people fleeing violence or persecution for religious, sexual orientation, political reasons, who can be granted asylum rights.[48] As the Libyan authoritarian governments struggled to keep control of the country, it allowed an increase in northbound migrant flows as a tactic to pressure Italy and the EU not to militarily intervene in the country, as Gaddafi feared his regime would be overthrown.[47]

Some Italian towns and cities disobeyed instructions from the national government to house migrants.[49] The Mafia Capitale investigation revealed that the Italian Mafia profited from the migrant crisis and exploited refugees.[50][51] The murder of Ashley Ann Olsen in her Italian apartment by an illegal immigrant from Senegal rapidly acquired political significance in the context of the European migrant crisis. The police chief of Florence addressed safety concerns and "assur[ed] the public that Florence remained safe" in the wake of the Olsen murder.[52]

Eritrean migrants in Messina, October 2015

Since 2014, thousands of migrants have tried every month to cross the Central Mediterranean to Italy, risking their lives on unsafe boats including fishing trawlers.[53] Many of them were fleeing poverty-stricken homelands or war-torn countries and sought economic opportunity within the EU.[54][55] Italy, and, in particular, its southern island of Lampedusa, received enormous numbers of Africans and Middle-Easterners transported by smugglers and NGOs operating along the ungoverned coast of the failed state of Libya.[54][56]

There were 153,842 Mediterranean sea arrivals to Italy in 2015, 9 percent less than the previous year; most of the refugees and migrants came from Eritrea, Nigeria, and Somalia, whereas the number of Syrian refugees sharply decreased, as most of them took the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece.[57]

The first three months of 2016 saw an increase in the number of migrants rescued at sea being brought to southern Italian ports.[58][59][60] In April 2016, nearly 6,000 mostly sub-Saharan African migrants landed in Italy in four days.[61] In June 2016, over 10,000 migrants were rescued in four days.[62] In 2016, 181,100 migrants arrived in Italy by sea.[63]

In April 2017, more than 8,000 migrants were rescued near Libya and brought to Italy in three days.[64] From January to November 2017, approximately 114,600 migrants arrived in Italy by sea.[65] Approximately 5,000 African migrants were rescued in waters off the coast of Libya between 18–20 May 2017.[66]

Since 2013, Italy took in over 700,000 migrants,[67] mainly from sub-Saharan Africa.[68]

Controversies regarding NGOs

After 2015, as an increased use of unseaworthy vessels by people smuggling organisations caused a marked increase in accidents at sea involving loss of lives, several European NGOs have started seek and rescue operations in close coordination with Italian Navy and coast guard units. These operations often happen close to Libyan territorial waters at the same time in order not to unlawfully enter Libyan jurisdictions and yet ensure migrants' safety. As per UNCLOS, rescued people are brought to the closer safe harbor, which is in most cases on Italian shore. This effectively means NGOs vessels are covering most of the distance between Libyan and Italian coast. Right-wing Italian newspapers and activists picked on that to make various claims, among which that NGOs active in migrants' assistance and rescue at sea would reap financial profits from their collaboration with the Italian authorities,[69] or that some NGOs are part of unlawful people smuggling operations in coordination with operatives on Libyan coast, and funded by international criminal groups and financial institutions interested in developing political turmoil in Italy.[70] The Italian Parliament investigated these claims and has found them to be unsubstantiated, with no further actions.[71] Regardless of this, right-wing newspapers have continued campaigning against Italian and foreign NGOs.

This map shows the journey of Aquarius Dignitus in June 2018, which was refused to dock in Malta and Italy before being granted access by the recently installed left-wing government in Spain.[72]

In August 2017 the ship "Iuventa" operated by the German NGO "Jugend Rettet" (youth to the rescue) was impounded on the island of Lampedusa on the order of an Italian prosecutor on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration. Jugend Rettet is one of the six out of nine NGOs which refused to sign a new code of conduct by the Italian government covering migrant rescues in the Mediterranean. The prosecutor alleged that there were "contacts, meetings and understandings" between the boat's crew and the smugglers. No crew members from the "Iuventa" had been charged and the prosecutor admitted that their motive was likely humanitarian.[73] (Five out of eight refused to sign the new code of conduct, according to a Guardian article, the others refusing to sign being MSF, the Germany groups Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye and Jugend Rettet, and France's SOS Mediterranée '[all of whom] abstained'. 'MSF, SOS Mediterranée and Jugend Rettet... called for clarification of the rules' while MOAS and Spanish group Proactiva Open Arms agreed to the conditions, and Save the Children 'backed the measures'.)[74]

The Conte I Cabinet, influenced by hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, refused to let migrant ships dock in its waters. On 10 June 2018, Salvini announced the closure of Italian ports, stating that "Everyone in Europe is doing their own business, now Italy is also raising its head. Let's stop the business of illegal immigration."[75] The vessel Aquarius, which is operated jointly by Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Méditerranée and carried more than 600 migrants, was refused a port of disembarkation by the Italian authorities despite having been told to rescue the migrants by the same co-ordination centre. The Italian authority told the vessel to ask Malta to provide a disembarkation port, but Malta has also refused.[76] On the following day, the new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accepted the disputed migrant ship.[77] On 12 June 2019, the Sea Watch 3 ship picked up 53 migrants in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast. Sea Watch 3 rejected an offer to dock at Tripoli, which is considered unsafe by humanitarian organizations, and headed toward Lampedusa. According to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and NGOs this was the nearest safe harbor per maritime law. On 14 June, Italy closed its ports to migrant rescue ships. Salvini refused to allow the ship to dock until other European nations had agreed to take the migrants. Ten of the migrants, including children, pregnant women, and those who were ill, were allowed to disembark. On 29 June, without authorization, ship's captain Carola Rackete decided to dock. The motivation for this was that according to her the passengers were exhausted. Rackete was arrested by the Italian authorities after docking. Matteo Salvini accused Rackete of trying to sink an Italian patrol boat that was attempting to intercept her, calling the incident an act of war and demanding the Netherlands government intervention. However, on 2 July, Rackete was released from house arrest after a court ruling that she had broken no laws and acted to protect passengers' safety.[78]

In August 2019, Salvini announced a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Conte, after growing tensions within the majority.[79] Salvini's alleged gambit failed, as Conte successfully negotiated the formation of a new cabinet with centre-left Democratic Party, which completely changed the immigration policy of the previous government,[80] returning to receive NGO ships in Italian ports.[81]

Italian naval mission to Libyan waters

On 2 August 2017 Italy's parliament authorized a limited naval mission to Libyan waters aimed at supporting the country's coastguard in the fight against illegal migration. Italy sent two patrol boats at the request of the UN-backed government in Tripoli and insisted it had no intention of violating Libyan sovereignty. However, General Khalifa Haftar, who controls most of eastern Libya, threatened to use his own forces to repel the Italians.[73][82]

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Further reading