Italy is the destination of mixed influxes of migrants travelling through both the Central Mediterranean route and the Apulia and Calabria route. Whereas other Member States of the European Union are the final destination for a large number of migrants, Italy is nevertheless subjected to massive arrivals due to its geographical position.
The Central Mediterranean route – that connects Northern Africa to Italy and Malta across the Mediterranean Sea – is in the limelight because of the dramatic number of losses occurred in the last few years, especially off the shores of Lampedusa. In 2013, the main nationalities that travelled through this itinerary were Syrians, Eritreans and Somali, who arrived to Italy and Malta from Libya.
The important migratory flows that characterized this route throughout history stopped almost completely in 2009, following a bilateral agreement signed between the Italian government and Libya. In 2011, during the so-called “Emergenza Nordafrica” (North-Africa Emergency), the route brought 64,300 migrants to Italy, a number that strongly lowered in 2012 (15,900 people) and started to grow again in 2013 (40,000 arrivals). People who take the sea on unsafe and crowed fishing boats to be smuggled through the Central Mediterranean route are looking for better opportunities in Europe and often flee war and persecution in their country of origin. In 2013, 29,191 migrants were rescued thanks to the operations activated in the area.
The Apulia and Calabria route, instead, refers to flows of migrants coming from Turkey and Egypt and to secondary movements between Greece and Italy. On this route smugglers employ yachts rather than fishing boats. Usually smugglers are the only people visible during the crossing, sometimes together with women to avoid the attention of the authorities. Meanwhile, migrants are hidden below deck in unhealthy conditions due to overcrowding and lack of ventilation. Smuggling from Egypt is instead normally conducted with the use of larger “mother ships”, which carry a larger number of migrants and tow fishing boats behind them. Once the ship is close to the shore, migrants are transferred on the fishing boats for the remaining part of the trip, while the bigger vessel returns to port. In 2013, 5,000 people irregularly are reported to have crossed the border through the Apulia and Calabria route. Arrivals in Apulia are mostly related to secondary movements from Greece to Italy, while in Calabria detections are associated with departures from Turkey or Egypt across the Aegean Sea.
In Italy, the “Corpo delle Capitanerie di Porto-Guardia Costiera” (coastguard) is responsible for the rescue at sea together with other authorities involved (i.e. Guardia di Finanza, Marina Militare, Carabinieri). According to Customary Law of the Sea, every vessel, even if of private ownership, has the obligation to rescue people in danger on a nearby craft or to inform the competent authorities on its position. In practice, the warning often comes by the migrants’ relatives that are already inshore, or by the organizations taking part in the Praesidium project in Sicily. Praesidium is a multi-agency project established in 2006 by the Ministry of Interior; its scope is to strengthen the reception and treatment of “boat people” and it is one of the most important programmes for migrants’ assistance in Italy. The Red Cross, UNHCR, IOM and Save the Children take part in it.
(Contributor: Gaia Martinenghi)