How is Italy responding to the Ukraine refugee crisis?

As ever greater numbers of Ukrainians flee the Russian invasion in search of safety, what is Italy's part in handling the emergency?

How is Italy responding to the Ukraine refugee crisis?
Refugees from Ukraine are seen as they arrive at the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in Kroscienko, Poland, on March 3, 2022. - More than one million people have fled Ukraine into neighbouring countries since Russia launched its full-scale invasion just a week ago. (Photo by Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)

Since the first handful of refugees arrived from Ukraine into Italy at the end of February, the number of Ukrainians present in the country has risen to over 100,000.

5.9 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the conflict began, according to the UN refugee agency.

In Italy, the most recent government update places the numbers at 111,386 Ukrainian citizens entering the country since the start of the conflict, including 57,943 women, 15,082 men and 38,361 minors.

Where in Italy are most Ukrainians staying?

The majority of refugees entering Italy from Ukraine are concentrated in four Italian regions: Lombardy, Lazio, Campania and Emilia-Romagna, with most arrivals gravitating towards their respective capitals of Milan, Rome, Naples and Bologna, according to the latest government update.

Almost 40,000 Ukrainians have reported to the Lombardy regional authorities in recent weeks, according to the Repubblica news daily – which means that the northern region is currently hosting over one in three Ukrainian refugees present in Italy.

READ ALSO: Four Italian regions ‘under pressure’ as Ukraine refugee crisis grows

Young Ukrainian refugees with a dog sleep on a bench at the railway station in Zahony, Hungary, close to the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, on March 4th, 2022. (Photo by Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

The head of Italy’s Civil Protection agency, Fabrizio Curcio, has spoken of redistributing those who have fled from Ukraine to help “regions under pressure”, should the numbers continue to rise.

Irene Priolo, environmental councillor for the region of Emilia Romagna, told the news outlet Bologna Today that if the trend continued it would be “necessary to consider the placement of refugees in a more proportional way.”

What are the Italian authorities doing?

In late March, EU leaders approved the Temporary Protection Directive, granting Ukrainian citizens immediate leave to stay in the Bloc without a visa for one year in the first instance (with the possibility of an extension).

READ ALSO: Italy offers one-year residence permit to Ukraine refugees

Italy’s Civil Protection Department put out a call in April for third sector and religious organisations to apply to host refugees with government funding. Those that are selected will provide accommodation for an additional 15,000 people in total, and will receive a daily allowance of €33 per guest per day.

The measure follows a move by the government in late February to authorise the expansion of Italy’s extraordinary reception centres (CAS) to accommodate 13,000 additional people and the expansion of its national reception and integration system (SAI) centres by 3,000 spaces, as part of Italy’s initial response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the start of May, the Civil Protection Department also activated a portal that Ukrainian refugees in Italy could use to apply for three €300 payments, to be issued over the course of three months (plus three payments of €150 for each minor). Although the platform is now open for applications, the funds won’t start being disbursed until June, according to the financial publication Il Sole 24 Ore.

Refugees from Ukraine are seen as they arrive at the railway station in Przemysl, eastern Poland, on March 4th, 2022. (Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

These latest measures have met with criticism from non-profits and local groups organising refugee welcome initiatives, who say that funds are not coming through quickly enough, placing the burden on Italians hosting refugees in their homes to support them out of their own pockets.

How have Italians reacted?

As they wait for government funds to be made available, individuals, regions and towns have taken the initiative, rallying to provide spare rooms and beds to people in need.

Italy has one of the largest Ukrainian communities in Europe, with around 250,000 Ukrainians already resident in Italy before the start of the war, most of whom live in Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Campania, according to data from national statistics body Istat.

Almost 90 percent of the Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in Italy to date are being hosted by private individuals and families, according to the news outlet Milano Today.

READ ALSO: Kharkiv children fleeing bombs find refuge in Italy

Small towns and grassroots organisations across Italy have also taken it upon themselves to offer support and services to those refugees with nowhere to go.

A bus evacuates passengers from Donetsk on February 19, 2022.

A bus evacuates passengers from Donetsk. Photo by AFP

Some small towns in the Italian south in particular, which have suffered for decades from underpopulation, are welcoming Ukrainian refugees with open arms in the hopes that they will stay and revitalize their neighbourhoods.

READ ALSO: Can Ukrainian refugees save Italy’s ‘dying’ hill towns from extinction?

Francesco Trunzo, the vice mayor of San Mango d’Aquino in Calabria, said his town was allocating €2,500 to each Ukrainian household that agreed to stay for at least six months.

“It’s a little bit of assistance, to help them integrate, to rent a house, to bring their family members over here, to find a job,” he told the Local.

A project put together by individuals in the Calabrian hill town of Serrastretta to arrange for refugee families to travel from Poland, meanwhile, has raised over $40,000.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.