Refugees arriving in Salermo, Italy
Refugees arriving in Salermo, Italy

Thousands of migrants have reached the shores of Italy in recent years. How does Italy deal with the new arrivals and what does the Italian asylum process look like?

So far in 2017, a little under 97,000 migrants have arrived by boat in Italy, according to the Italian Interior Ministry. In total, around 600,000 migrants, mainly coming from African countries, have arrived in Italy via Libya since the beginning of 2014.

After a shipwreck in October 2013 that killed 366 people, the Italian government launched the Mare Nostrum naval operation to deal with the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. This operation ended in 2014 over criticism that it failed to stop the migrants. The Italian Coast guard, sometimes with the help of private NGO organizations, often coordinate rescue operations of migrants abandoned in the Mediterranean Sea.      

Asylum Procedure

In Italy there is just one asylum procedure and the asylum claim can be put in at the provincial police station (Questura) or a border police office. The police must inform the asylum seeker of his or her rights and duties. Migrants have eight days upon arrival to go to the authorities and submit their claim and will have their fingerprints as well as photographs taken. Due to international law, the authorities must allow a migrant to apply for asylum and request for international protection, even if the application is denied in the end.  They are encouraged to submit their claim as soon as possible.

After an asylum seeker is registered, the National Commission for the Right of Asylum (Commissione nazionale per il diritto di asil) interviews the applicant within 30 days after having received the application. During the interview, the asylum seeker will be asked why she or he left their country of origin. A decision is then made within the next three days. As an asylum seeker is waiting for his interview and his application to be processed, he or she is not allowed to leave Italy.  

Click here to read more about the asylum procedure 


There are five different outcomes of the regular procedure. The first is that the asylum applicant can be granted refugee status after which they are given a five-year residence permit for Italy. Refugee status is granted based on the standards of the 1951 Geneva Convention, which says that a refugee is someone with a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" and who fled his country due to this fear.

Subsidiary protection, where the asylum seeker doesn't fall under the criteria of being persecuted, but could face injury or death in their home country, is another outcome. This entails a five-year residence permit to stay in Italy. The third outcome is a two-year grant to stay in Italy due to health reasons.  

The last two outcomes are that the Commission can reject the application or claim it is manifestly unfounded. Migrants coming to Italy for purely economic reasons or due to poverty back home for example, do not qualify for asylum. In this case, the rejected asylum seeker may be put into a detention center where they will be kept before they can be deported back to their home countries.


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