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

With the number of Ukrainian refugees in Italy now exceeding 90,000, regional authorities say they're feeling the strain as most arrive in just a few parts of the country.

Four Italian regions ‘under pressure’ as Ukraine refugee crisis grows
People queue to take a direct bus to Italy after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland in Medyka, southeastern Poland. (Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a total of 91,137 people have arrived in Italy so far seeking refuge according to the latest data from Italy’s interior ministry.

The majority of those are women and children, with men making up just over 10,000 of the total figure.

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

But with many arriving in just four regions – Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Lazio and Campania – local authorities now say they are struggling.

Authorities noted that just four destination cities are declared by the majority of arrivals from Ukraine upon entry into Italy: Milan, Rome, Naples and Bologna.

The Lombardy region alone has taken in 40 percent of all Ukrainian refugees in Italy, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Most of these are reportedly staying with friends or relatives, with just a small proportion accommodated in state-run reception centres.

READ ALSO: How can people in Italy offer Ukraine refugees a place to stay?

Under the Ukraine decree approved at the end of March, the government increased the number of places available in its refugee reception centres (Cas) and approved a package of financial support for those who have found independent accommodation, though local authorities in the areas receiving most arrivals say this is not enough.

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

“Obviously, if we can no longer manage these numbers, we will propose transfers,” he said.

Irene Priolo, environmental councillor for the region of Emilia Romagna, was among those sounding the alarm over the rising numbers of Ukraine refugees arriving in certain areas.

“There is great concern about the reception of such a large number of refugees,” she told local newspaper Bologna Today.

“It will also be necessary to consider the placement of refugees in a more proportional way. If the flow of refugees increases, more funds will also be needed, not only for accommodation facilities but also to allow the reception of refugees,” she added.

The councillor also advocated speeding up the payments that Ukraine refugees are entitled to – and to extending them.

Italy’s government approved a monthly payment of €300 for three months to Ukrainian arrivals who have found independent accommodation, with friends or family for example.

Ukrainians seeking refuge in Italy are also eligible for a special residence permit valid for 12 months.

The special permit doesn’t require holders to apply for a visa and allows them to work, access education and healthcare and claim social security benefits once they arrive in Italy.

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How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy's government has repeatedly said it plans to end its dependence on Russia for gas supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. But as the timeline keeps changing, when and how could this happen?

How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian gas, but has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as part of an effort to end this reliance in the coming years.

But it remains unclear whether Italy can really end its dependence on Russia for its gas supply – or when this might be feasible.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s Algerian gas deal mean for energy supplies?

The government has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including with a recent deal to boost supplies from Algeria.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week the country could be independent of Russian gas by the second half of 2024 – the latest in a series of changing estimates.

“Government estimates indicate that we can make ourselves independent from Russian gas in the second half of 2024,” Draghi told the Senate, while adding that the “first effects” of this plan would be felt by the end of this year.

He said his government was also seeking to boost its production of renewable energy, including by “destroying bureaucratic barriers” to investment, saying it was the “only way” to free Italy from having to import fossil fuels.

Explained: Why and how Italy will pay for Russian gas in rubles

In April, Italy‘s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani estimated the country would no longer need Russian gas within 18 months, following an earlier prediction that it could take until 2025.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest users and importers of natural gas, importing 90 percent of its gas supply with 45 percent of that coming from Russia – up from 27 percent ten years ago.

Italy now imports 29 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year, which Cingolani said in March “must be replaced” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Analysts have said there are “a lot of questions” about how helpful Italy’s gas deal with Algeria will be.

Despite its vast natural gas reserves, Algeria is already exporting at close to full capacity.

Draghi repeated his strong support for EU sanctions on Moscow last week, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil, although this is currently being blocked by Hungary.

“We must continue to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions, because we must bring Moscow to the negotiating table,” he said.

But for now, Italian energy giant Eni says it plans to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles, meeting a demand from Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear whether the plan would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.