Italy, the migrant crisis and the situation in Europe. A look at the numbers

July 6, 2018
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Much of the support for populist movements in Italy are based on the mantra ‘Europe has left Italy alone”. What is meant by that is the feeling that Italy experiences an excessive number of irregular migrants from Search and Rescue (SAR) operations off the Libyan coast. This impression is understandable given the pictures of ships with hundreds of migrants arriving in Italian ports.  These pictures have led the spectacular refusals to allow ships of some non-governmental organisations to land in Italian ports.

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that one has to be careful to assert that Italy is carrying an excessive burden.  It all depends whether one looks at the number of people crossing the border or at the number of asylum seekers, and finally those who effectively obtain protection.

Italian politicians like to point out that the country has had over 600 000 irregular migrants since 2014. This is a large number, but it represents only 1 % of the Italian population. But is this the best metric to assess whether Italy has been left alone? Figure 1 provides an overview of the share of Italy in a few of the key aspects of the problem. It is apparent that it very much depends on what figure you look at.

Italy has had indeed a disproportionate share of irregular arrivals: the 600 thousand correspond to 22 % of the EU total, which should be seen in relation to Italy’s share in the EU population of around 11 % (blue dashed line). Moreover, Italy’s share is also high (over 30 %) in terms of those registered under the EURODAC system as either having crossed the border or being found illegally in the country. In these two figures one sees the ‘front line’ position of Italy.

However, in terms of the number of people applying for, and obtaining asylum, Italy’s share is much lower. For Asylum seekers, one finds that about 10 % of the EU total made the first request in Italy, less than Italy’s share in the population. In terms of positive decisions, Italy’s share is even lower, only 7 %, if one considers first instance decisions. When one looks at the number who obtain a final positive decision for protection Italy’s share in the EU total is only 4 %, against over 45 % for Germany. The positions of Italy and Germany thus appear like mirror images: Irregular arrivals and registration for Italy on one side, and lodging of applications for protection and recognition of the status for Germany on the other side.

Figure 1 Role of Italy and Germany for the period 2014-2017

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Source: Own elaboration based on FRONTEX, EURODAC, and EUROSTAT.

The claim that Italy is the country accepting most refugees in the EU is thus false.

Finally, it is worth asking whether the irregular migrants that have arrived have actually let to an increase in the extra-EU citizens in the total population. Figure 2 thus shows the change between 2014 and 2017, of the share of extra-EU citizens in the total population. For Italy that ratio has been roughly constant, while Germany and Sweden registered more than one percent increases. There seems to be little danger that Italy is being over-run by foreigners.

Figure 2 Non-EU citizens: Change in share of total population, 2014-2017

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Source: Own elaboration based on EUROSTAT

The authors

Daniel Gros is Director of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Senior Fellow of LUISS School of European Political Economy and Member of the Advisory Board of The LUISS Center of Italian Mezzogiorno Studies


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Mattia Di Salvo is a Researcher at CEPS in the Economic Policy Unit


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