Italy introduced strict rules on Monday to deter migrants after record numbers of boats from North Africa arrived in Lampedusa, overwhelming the country’s southernmost tip with new arrivals.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the cabinet would introduce the new measures on Monday, including extending the period from 135 days to 18 months that migrants who are to be kicked out of the country can be detained.
“This sends a very clear message to the whole of Africa: it means that if you rely on human traffickers to violate Italian law, you will be detained and repatriated,” she said in an interview on television.
Migrants who Italy says must be thrown out will be sent to so-called “permanent repatriation centers (CPR)”.
The largest amount of migrants arriving in Italy are sent to these centers where they stay until a decision is made on their request for asylum. Those earmarked for repatriation spent about 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 detention was eighteen months between 2011 and 2014 before it was shortened under Matteo Renzi’s rule. The existing CPRs can accommodate a total of 1,161 persons at any stage.
Nearly 6,400 people were in the CPRs in 2022, mainly from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Albania. Just over 3,150 have been repatriated, the authority added.
Meloni, who won last year’s election with a promise to crack down on immigration, said on Sunday that the Ministry of Defense would set up more repatriation centers “as quickly as possible”.
At the end of 2022, the government earmarked an amount of €42.5 million (more than R861 million) for new repatriation centres. The Ministry of Defense is expected to use existing sites in sparsely populated areas that can be converted into CPRs.
More than 127,000 people have arrived in Italy so far against the 66,200 people in 2022, according to the interior ministry.
More than 8,500 people – more than the population of Lampedusa – arrived in hundreds of boats last week, overwhelming the migration center built to house only 400 people.
Meloni appealed to Italy’s EU partners to share more of the responsibilities and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, visited Lampedusa on Sunday. Von der Leyen presented a 10-point plan to help Italy with the crisis. The plan is designed to combine a strong stance against smugglers by making it easier for people who are eligible for asylum to enter European territory legally.