Italy is set to unveil tough rules to deter migrants after record boat crossings from North Africa to Lampedusa saw the country’s southernmost tip overwhelmed with new arrivals.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the cabinet would sign off on new measures on Monday, including increasing the time migrants due to be expelled from Italy can be detained from a maximum of 135 days to 18 months.
“It means that — and I sent a very clear message to the whole of Africa — if you rely on traffickers to break Italian laws, when you arrive in Italy you must know that you will be detained and then repatriated,” she said in a television interview.
After landing, migrants whom Italy determines should be expelled are sent to so-called “permanent repatriation centres” (CPRs).
The vast majority of migrants who arrive in Italy, however, are sent to reception centres throughout the country where they stay while they await a decision on their asylum request.
Those earmarked for repatriation spent an average of 40 days in Italy’s nine CPRs last year, from Bari in southern Italy to Rome and Milan, according to data from the country’s prison watchdog.
The time limit for detentions used to be 18 months between 2011 and 2014, before being reduced under a centre-left government led by Matteo Renzi.
The existing CPRs can hold 1,161 people at a time.
Nearly 6,400 people passed through them in 2022, most of whom came from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Albania.
Just over 3,150 were repatriated, the authority said.
Meloni, who won the election last year on a vow to stop immigration, said Sunday the defence ministry would also be charged with setting up more repatriation centres “as soon as possible”.
The government allocated 42.5 million euros ($45.3 million) at the end of 2022 for new repatriation centres, and the defence ministry is expected to look for existing sites that can be reconverted into centres in low-population areas.
Over 127,000 people have landed in Italy so far this year against some 66,200 people in 2022, according to the interior ministry.
Last week over 8,500 people — more than Lampedusa’s population — arrived in hundreds of boats, overwhelming the migration centre, built to house 400 people.
Meloni has called on Italy’s EU partners to share more of the responsibility and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, visiting Lampedusa Sunday, offered a 10-point plan to help Rome deal with the crisis.
The plan is designed to combine a firm stance against smugglers by making it easier for people eligible for asylum to legally enter the European area.