Migrant arrivals in Italy more than quadruple in 1st quarter of 2023

Majority of 26,800 migrants who arrived in Italy by sea this year departed from Tunisia, says UNHCR

Rabia Ali  | 06.04.2023 - Update : 06.04.2023
Migrant arrivals in Italy more than quadruple in 1st quarter of 2023


Italy recorded a whopping 317% increase in migrants and refugees coming to the country by sea in the first three months of the year, compared to the same period in 2022, said an official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In January-March this year, around 26,800 migrants arrived in Italy by sea, compared to 6,400 in 2022 during the same months, Federico Fossi, senior public information associate at the UNHCR in Italy, told Anadolu.

"For the third consecutive year, we see an increase in the number of people arriving to Italy by sea," he told Anadolu. People fleeing war and persecution, and others escaping economic crisis, make up the composition of people on boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to get to the country.

Reasons for surge in arrivals

The UN refugee agency official explained that various factors contributed to the rising migrant influx to Italy.

While sea arrivals typically increased during the spring and summer, this past winter also saw a surge in migrant crossings as temperatures were higher than expected.

"We had a relatively mild winter. So, arrivals did not stop during the winter months as it happened, for example, (in) some of the years.

"Now, of course, there is an increase due to the good weather conditions," he said.

Another factor is the conflict and crisis arising in some of the refugees' and migrants' countries, as well as in transit nations.

Citing examples, Fossi said people fleeing war and persecution, rights violations, rampant inflation, economic crisis, food insecurity, and climate emergency were coming to Italy.

"There is the situation in the countries of origin of people who are forced to flee their homes or who choose to leave their homes. There is ... living conditions and the humanitarian conditions also in countries of asylum and countries of transit."

Tunisia main country for departure

The number of people getting on boats for Italy from Tunisia, the main country of departure, is on the rise this year, Fossi said.

Around 58% of all sea arrivals to Italy are from Tunisia, followed by 38% from Libya, which in the past had been the main country for departure.

"In the past Libya was the main country of departure that tells us that there is an influence of what is happening in Tunisia in terms of you know, the economic crisis and, you know, the crackdown on sub-Saharan nationals."

Tunisia is currently in the midst of political and economic turmoil. According to media reports, nationals of the Ivory Coast and Guinea are fleeing the North African country after the government claimed that the migrants were involved in criminal activities in the country. Now, many refugees fearing violence, arrest, and deportation are looking for ways to leave Tunisia.

Figures provided by Fossi also supported this perspective, noting that there had been an increase in the number of sub-Saharans arriving in Italy this year. He said that around 17% were from the Ivory Coast, followed closely by 16% from Guinea.

South Asians also make up a substantial portion of those coming from Tunisia, including 9% from Bangladesh and 8% from Pakistan.

Perilous route

The central Mediterranean route, which goes through Libya and Tunisia to Italy, is deemed the most dangerous sea crossing for migrating to Europe.

"Now, the central Mediterranean route is the most dangerous. And as an average, we say that from 70-80% of all victims in the Mediterranean are registered in the central Mediterranean route," Fossi said, noting that distance and unseaworthy vessels make the route even riskier.

Reaching Italy from Tunisia, takes about a night, while the trip can take up to five days from Libya, depending on which area of the country the migrants embark.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), around 441 migrants have gone missing or perished in the central Mediterranean so far this year.

Numbers likely to go higher

The official also indicated that the number of people arriving by sea would continue to swell because of the "good weather" and ongoing conflicts in countries from which refugees hailed.

"We have to say that unfortunately, the situation in the countries of origin and in the countries of transit of asylum is not getting better. We know that there are lots of conflicts. We do not see any solution to lots of conflicts."

According to the UNHCR, in 2022, around 105,000, refugees and asylum seekers came to Italy by sea. In 2021, the figure fell to 67,000. ​​​​​​​

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