A small boat with migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa on August 11, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/Elio Desiderio
A small boat with migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa on August 11, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/Elio Desiderio

Migrant arrivals on Italian shores increased significantly between mid-2019 and mid-2020. There were fewer rescues at sea during that period, but autonomous arrivals of small boats and rubber dinghies increased massively, according to new figures from the Italian interior ministry.

Arrivals on Italy's shores rose dramatically over the past year, according to statistics released by the Italian interior ministry on August 15.

A total of 21,618 migrants arrived between August 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020 -- compared to 8,691 people in the previous year, between August 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019. The increase represents a 148.7% increase in arrivals. 

The figures were released during a press conference held by Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese on Saturday.

A total of 2,886 unaccompanied minors arrived on Italian shores, an increase of 157.9%. The majority of them (16,347) arrived through autonomous landings. (When migrants arrive on the Italian shore without the help of a state authorities or migrant rescue NGOs, this is referred to as an autonomous landing.)

A total of 5,271 migrants were rescued in the Italian search-and-rescue (SAR) area, 4,066 of whom were rescued by NGO ships.

The majority of migrants departed from Tunisia (8,984) and Libya (8,746). The largest national groups were citizens of Tunisia (34.3%) and Bangladesh (11.9%).

Coronavirus slowed repatriations

Between mid-2019 and mid-2020, a total of 622 asylum seekers were relocated from Italy to other European countries, an increase of 167% compared to the previous year. France and Germany were the main destination countries.

Repatriations, on the other hand, were down, with a total of 4,408 -- a 35.8% decrease compared to the previous year. The interior ministry said this figure was influenced by the partial suspension of repatriation procedures from January 31 to May 31, 2020, due to the COVID-19 emergency. During that period, only 592 people were expelled from Italy.

Over 4 million foreigners legally in Italy

As of July 31, 2020, there were a total of 86,330 foreigners being hosted by the migrant reception system in Italy, a decrease of 17% compared to July 31, 2019.

A total of 949 people were being hosted at hotspots, 61,972 in reception centres, and 23,409 in the Siproimi system for international-protection holders and unaccompanied minors.

The number of asylum applications examined dropped significantly due to the coronavirus pandemic. Between mid-2019 and mid-2020,  71,695 applications were processed. The year before, that  number was 121,064.

Refugee status was granted to only 11.6% of applicants, and 53.2% of applications were denied.

Overall, the number of foreigners legally present in Italy is now 4,016,129. That's a 4.2% decrease compared to a year before, the interior ministry said.

Tunisia in crisis, many headed to Italy

"Immigration numbers aren't extremely high, although they are certainly higher than last year," Lamorgese said. "However, they always must be put into context. We currently have Tunisia in a serious economic and social crisis, and we have therefore seen entire families departing, hoping to find better living conditions in Italian territory."

To face the emergency, the interior minister is scheduled to visit Tunisia along with foreign minister Luigi Di Maio and European commissioners Oliver Varhelyi and Ylva Johansson, who, she said, will accompany her to "show Europe's solidarity" and face the problem of small boat landings.

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