After the new Italian government turned away a rescue boat with hundreds of migrants aboard, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said he wants to expel 100,000 migrants from the country. Asylum experts are skeptical Salvini can achieve his ambitious target.
Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, took a strong stance against migrants during the election campaign. Now that he is in his new job, he stood by his campaign promise, rejecting the Aquarius and Lifeline boats from docking in Italy just a few weeks into the job.
But that is just the beginning. During the campaign, he promised to deport at least 100,000 migrants who are currently living in the Mediterranean country.
"Over the next weeks, we'll start working on increasing expulsions," Salvini told his fellow Lega Nord (Northern League) party supporters earlier this week.
No small task
Though Salvini's plans to prevent migrants from entering Italy has been successful, removing migrants will prove to be much more difficult.
About 600,000 migrants from several countries have arrived in Italy over the past few years, many of them by boat from northern Africa. The vast majority of them applied for asylum in Italy, according to AP.
As of June 15, there were 133,815 asylum requests that were still pending. About 60 percent of asylum seekers did not receive any sort of protection, including refugee status or humanitarian residency permits, according to the interior ministry. The ministry did not respond to AP requests for the number of migrants who were ordered expelled and who were actually expelled, but EU statistics say Italy expelled 7,045 migrants last year. Sources close to Italy's asylum and expulsion operations told AP that there may be as many as 150,000 migrants awaiting expulsion.
"I think that it's understandable that the government will want to try and make this move, but the numbers that have been floated by Mr. Salvini are going to be very difficult to achieve," Frederico Soda of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told AP.
Agreements not in place
On top of the number of migrants arriving in Italy, there are few bilateral agreements in place to return migrants to their original country. Just four countries (Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia) have formal expulsion agreements with Italy.
Tunisia agreed to accept expelled migrants via charter flights. There are 40 expelled migrants on these flights, which occur twice per week. But Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria require expelled migrants to return with commercial flights. There are two police officers that accompany each expelled migrant on these flights. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has estimated that it costs about 8,000€ (about $9,300) to repatriate each migrant.
Soda told AP, "in the absence of a lot more (bilateral) agreements, it's quite difficult to step up these efforts," for expulsions.
Salvini was not concerned about the effort needed to get his plan in action. "We need to do in a year what others didn't do in many years," said Salvini at a news conference this week, without offering further details on what can be done.
Change the rules
Italy's populist politicians have considered extending the maximum amount of time one can stay in a detention center from 6 months to 12 months or more. Current law dictates that migrants who sit in expulsion centers for at least 6 months are allowed to leave the centers. Critics have said this will lead to overcrowded repatriation centers if few people are expelled.
The process to expel a migrant can take upwards of several months. Each migrant's identity must be confirmed by an embassy's council and the supporting documents must be carefully examined.