Italy declares state of emergency as migrant landings soar

Elaine Allaby
Elaine Allaby - [email protected]
Italy declares state of emergency as migrant landings soar
Italy's cabinet has declared a state of emergency for immigration. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Italy's government on Tuesday called a state of emergency which it said would allow a "more effective" response to the sharply rising number of migrants arriving on its shores in recent months.


The government announced the national state of emergency as the number of migrant arrivals increased to four times that seen a year ago and thousands more people were rescued off the southern coast over the Easter weekend after attempting the perilous crossing from north Africa.

The move will allow the government "to provide more effective and timely responses to the management” of arrivals landing in Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, told news outlets on Tuesday evening.

Since the start of 2023, close to 31,300 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat, according to the latest figures from the Interior Ministry - a four-fold increase on the same period in 2022.

Between April 7th and 10th, around 3,000 people were rescued off the shores of Calabria and Sicily in southern Italy, while 38 people were killed and 18 missing in shipwrecks off Tunisia and Malta, national broadcaster Rai reported on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Italy's coastguard battles to save over 3,000 migrants at sea

The first quarter of 2023 was the most deadly for Mediterranean crossings since 2017, with 441 fatalities recorded between January and March, according to news agency Ansa - including more than 80 victims of a shipwreck off the Calabrian town of Cutro on February 26th.

The disaster occurred weeks after Meloni passed a controversial law that requires migrant aid ships to perform only one life-saving rescue mission at a time before heading directly to ports, which are often far away.

READ ALSO: 'More will drown': Italy accused of breaking international law on migrant rescues

In February, an Italian court ruled against a decree issued by the Meloni government in November that allowed only the most vulnerable to disembark in Italian courts, declaring it unlawful.

The reasons behind the sharp increase in the numbers of arrivals are complex and varied, but key factors include a rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation in Tunisia under President Kais Saied, and unusually mild weather conditions in the Mediterranean at the start of the year.


The state of emergency declared on Tuesday will last six months in the first instance, with five million euros allocated to addressing the situation.

It was not immediately clear how the money would be spent or what measures the government intends to take, though Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has called for a "repatriations centre" to be opened in every Italian region.

Italy is expected to appoint a special commissioner in the coming days to lead the emergency response, with Valerio Valenti, head of Italy's Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, named by press as a likely candidate.

Declaring a state of emergency allows the government to pass laws by decree, effectively bypassing the parliamentary approval process, for a predetermined period of time.

It must be done in accordance with Italy's Civil Protection Code, which allows the government to use additional "means and powers" in order to tackle "emergencies of national importance connected with disastrous events of natural origin or resulting from human activity."


During her election campaign last summer, Meloni pledged to impose a "naval blockade" to prevent migrants from entering Italy and to install migrant detention centres, referred to in Italy as 'hotspots', in North Africa to process asylum applications, though she has broadly reined in her anti-migrant rhetoric since taking office.

In February, Italy renewed its controversial pact with the Libyan authorities, first signed in 2017, to pull back migrant boats attempting to make the journey to Europe for a further three years.

Human Rights Watch criticised the move at the time, warning that it would make Italy and the EU complicit in "serious human rights violations."


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also