Refugee arrivals to Italy have continued at a similar rate as to last year. The key difference is that fewer are able to move on to northern Europe, leaving Italy’s reception system buckling under the pressure and migrants paying the price. This year more than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. During recent summer months, as many as 10,000 migrants have disembarked from rescue vessels in a week.
The EU’s hotspot system, introduced late in 2015, was supposed to impose some order in the arrivals process. Under the hotspot approach, migrants are supposed to be identified and screened at ports by mobile teams or at one of four dedicated hotspot centres: two in Sicily, one on Lampedusa, and one on the mainland in Taranto. In reality, fewer than half of the new arrivals are channelled through the hotspot centres and the majority of disembarkations happen at ports outside hotspot areas. Above all, it was designed to rapidly weed out so-called economic migrants, who could be swiftly deported, from those with the right to remain and apply for international protection. The new approach was also designed to facilitate the relocation of asylum seekers from the overwhelmed frontline states of Italy and Greece to other EU member states that had agreed to take in 160,000 people over two years. But the relocation scheme has been an abject failure. By mid-July, only about 3,000 people had been relocated, and just 843 of them from Italy. In addition, many of those identified as economic migrants cannot easily be returned to their home countries due to the lack of readmission agreements. At the behest of the EU, all new arrivals are now fingerprinted, meaning they can’t apply for asylum in another EU country without the risk of being returned to Italy under the Dublin Regulation. This, combined with tighter border controls being implemented by Switzerland and France, means the number of asylum seekers in Italy’s reception system has doubled since last year, to 140,000.
Yasha Maccanico, an Italian researcher for civil liberties monitoring organisation Statewatch, says Italy has been placed in an “impossible and unsustainable” position. “Relocation was meant to be the justification for the hotspot system, but it simply has not happened,” he told IRIN. “And no matter what effort the state makes in providing adequate reception facilities, it will not be enough to match the numbers of migrants arriving.”