Disembarkation in Palermo of 367 migrants rescued in the Strait of Sicily | ARCHIVE/ANSA/MIKE PALAZZOTTO
Disembarkation in Palermo of 367 migrants rescued in the Strait of Sicily | ARCHIVE/ANSA/MIKE PALAZZOTTO

According to figures released by the Italian government, 335 migrants landed in Italy between January 1 and March 15 this year, compared to 5,945 during the same period in 2018 - a 94 percent decline. Expulsions have quadrupled compared to arrivals during the same period, the vast majority of which were forced.

The Italian Interior Ministry has announced that migrant arrivals in Italy were down 94 percent in the first three months of 2019. While 335 migrants arrived between January 1 and March 15 this year, the number for the same period in 2018 was 5,945. The ministry also released figures regarding repatriations, which totaled 1,354 between January 1 and March 13. Of those, 1,248 were forced repatriations, while 106 were assisted voluntary repatriations.


The figures show that migrant expulsions in Italy are four times higher than arrivals. Interior ministry data Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the figures, including "only one body recovered in 2019," show that "we are moving from words to facts." Salvini had pre-announced the data a few days earlier during question time. He said two things had been decisive in the fight against illegal immigration: The security decree, which is named after him, and the revision of permits for asylum seekers. That revision increased denials from 57 percent to 79 percent.

Above all, the steep drop in arrivals this year compared to 2018 came in approvals for humanitarian permits, which went from 27 percent in the first three months of 2018 to just two percent in the same period in 2019. Although the drop in arrivals has undoubtedly corresponded to a drop in deaths, the number of victims among those who attempt to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean is nonetheless high. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN's migration agency, said 282 people died on the three main Mediterranean migrant routes so far this year (January 1 to March 19). Last year, there were 498 victims during the same period.

'Phantom' landings up

Albeit the 'official' nature of the numbers released by the Italian government, the true picture of migrant arrivals on Italian coasts is more complex. In recent days, Palermo prosecutor Marzia Sabella told the Antimafia Commission in parliament that "phantom" landings to Italy from the Tunisian route have increased, and that they are "worrisome."

Sabella spoke of Italo-Tunisian organisations able to guarantee "continuous journeys," the "non-identification of those being transported," and the transfer of migrants from Sicily, passing through northern Europe to other European cities. In fact, Tunisian migrants were the most prevalent among those who arrived on Italian shores in the first three months of 2019, totaling 67 of the 335 arrivals, compared to 57 Bangladeshis and 48 Algerians.
 

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