As of 1 January 2017, there were 5,047,028 foreign nationals resident in Italy. This amounted to 8.2% of the country's population and represented an increase of 92,352 over the previous year. These figures include children born in Italy to foreign nationals (who were 75,067 in 2014; 14.9% of total births in Italy), but exclude foreign nationals who have subsequently acquired Italian nationality; this applied to 129,887 people in 2014. Around 6,200,000 people residing in Italy have an immigration background (around the 10% of the total Italian population). They also exclude illegal immigrants whose numbers are difficult to determine. In May 2020, The Times estimated them to number 600,000. The distribution of foreign born population is largely uneven in Italy: 59.5% of immigrants live in the northern part of the country (the most economically developed area), 25.4% in the central one, while only 15.1% live in the southern regions. The children born in Italy to foreign mothers were 102,000 in 2012, 99,000 in 2013 and 97,000 in 2014.
Since the expansion of the European Union, the most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European states, particularly Eastern Europe, and increasingly Asia, replacing North Africa as the major immigration area. There are 1,131,839 ethnic-Romanians living on Italian soil, making them the largest minority group in the country. As of 2013, the foreign born population origin was subdivided as follows: Africa (22.1%), Asia (18.8%), America (8.3%), and Oceania (0.1%).
|Country||2008||2009||2010 ||2011 ||2012 ||2013 ||2014 ||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||Regions with significant populations|
|Moldova||105,600||130,619||132,175||139,734||149,434||147,388||142,266||135,661||131,814||124,545||Lombardy, Lazio, Veneto|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||28,015||28,996||29,831||29,442||27,199||25,791||25,034||23,019||Umbria|
|Rest of Sub-Saharan Africa||133,272||151,841||158,142|
|Rest of Europe||117,416||116,645||119,361|
|Rest of Americas||92,927||97,707|
|Rest of North Africa and Western/Central Asia||81,147||86,019|
|Rest of East and South-East Asia||22,895||19,877|
|Rest of South Asia||1,516||1,630|
|Europe||2,601,313||2,588,451 (4.28%)||2,600,748 (4.31%)||2,609,690 (4,33%)|
|North Africa and Western/Central Asia||741,090||729,064 (1.21%)||735,681 (1.22%)|
|South Asia||474,736||488,486 (0.81%)||507,553 (0.84%)|
|East and South-East Asia||459,572||471,326 (0.78%)||478,417 (0.79%)|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||369,567||397,309 (0.66%)||444,058 (0.74%)|
|Americas||376,556||369,555 (0.61%)||373,354 (0.62%)|
According to the ISPI, the Italian prison population in 2018 counted 59655 and of those 34% were foreigners, with the largest groups coming from Morocco (3751), Albania (2568), Romania (2561), Tunisia (2070) and Nigeria (1453).
According to poll published by Corriere della Sera in 2019, one of two respondents (51%) approved closing Italy's ports to further boat migrants arriving via the Merranean, while 19% welcomed further boat migrants.
Due to the peninsula geographical position and close proximity to the North Africa coast, the crossing of the Merranean Sea has historically been the most used route for undocumented migrants. This route has become gradually more prominent as people flows through other routes to the EU gradually faded and political turmoil in Libya caused a general weakening of borders and coastal control, opening opportunities to people smuggling organisations.
The close distance between these islands and the African mainland has caused people smuggling organisations to employ boats and rafts otherwise hardly seaworthy, generally vastly filled above their capacity. Official reports list boats filled up to 2 or 3 times nominal capacity, including the use of rubber dinghies. This has led to several accidents at sea, as in 2007, the 2009, the 2011, the 2013, 2015. These accidents have become harder to document between 2014 and 2017, as people smuggling organisations changed their tactics: instead of aiming for a full crossing of the sea towards Lampedusa, their boats aimed just to exit Libyan territorial waters and then trigger rescue operation from passing mercantile vessels, seek and rescue organisations, Italian and Maltese coastguards and militaries. As per the United Nations Convention of the Sea, of which Italy is a subscriber, people rescued at sea have to be transported to the closest safe harbor: as Libya continues to be in political turmoil this means they are transported to Italy.
Once in Italy, the EU Dublin Regulation requires migrants to apply for legal residence, protection or asylum permits in the first EU country they cross into, effectively barring them from legally crossing internal EU borders until their case has been processed and positively concluded. As the vast majority of migrant people landing in Italy targets destinations in Central and Northern European States, there is a tendency to avoid filing permits applications in Italy and rather try a northwards land journey.
As a reaction to the gradual increase in migration flows through the Merranean Sea, Italian governments stepped up cooperation with Tunisian and Libyan authorities to halt activities of people smuggling organisation on land, as well as to allow boats rescued from the Italian Military in international waters to be towed back to the port where they left from. This policy, enacted in 2004 and 2005, sparked controversies related in particular to the compatibility with Italian and EU laws, as numerous reports documented acts of violence from Libyan authorities on migrant people. The policy was openly criticised by the EU Parliament.
In 2008, Berlusconi’s government in Italy and Gaddafi’s government in Libya signed a treaty including cooperation between the two countries in stopping unlawful migration from Libya to Italy; this led to a policy of forcibly returning to Libya boat migrants intercepted by the Italian coast guard at sea. The cooperation collapsed following the outbreak of the Libyan civil war in 2011. In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by returning migrants to Libya, as it exposed the migrants to the risk of being subjected to ill-treatment in Libya and violated the prohibition of collective expulsions., thus effectively ending the policy.
In 2009, as the flow of migrants picked up again, the overcrowded conditions at the Pelagie Islands' temporary immigrant reception centre came under criticism by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The unit, which was originally built for a maximum capacity of 850 people, was reported to be housing nearly 2,000 boat people. A significant number of people were sleeping outdoors under plastic sheeting. A fire started as an inmate riot destroyed a large portion of the holding facility on 19 February 2009.
In 2011, as Arab Spring rebellions in Tunisia and Libya disrupted government control over borders and coasts, migrant flows increased again. By May 2011, more than 35,000 immigrants had arrived on the island of Lampedusa from Tunisia and Libya. By the end of August, 48,000 had arrived. As migration and asylum policies are exclusive responsibilities of each member State, the increased migration pressure at the EU Southern border sparked tensions between EU States on how to differentiate between people migrating due to economic reasons, which in principle are regarded as unlawful immigrants and thus are forced to leave or deported, and people fleeing violence or persecution for religious, sexual orientation, political reasons, who can be granted asylum rights. As the Libyan authoritarian governments struggled to keep control of the country, it allowed an increase in northbound migrant flows as a tactic to pressure Italy and the EU not to militarily intervene in the country, as Gaddafi feared his regime would be overthrown.
This section needs expansion with: Add the disputes between Salvini and NGOs, and detail any change in policy under the Conte II cabinet. You can help by adding to it. (May 2020)
After 2015, as an increased use of unseaworthy vessels by people smuggling organisations caused a marked increase in accidents at sea involving loss of lives, several European NGOs have started seek and rescue operations in close coordination with Italian Navy and coast guard units. These operations often happen close to Libyan territorial waters at the same time in order not to unlawfully enter Libyan jurisdictions and yet ensure migrants' safety. As per UNCLOS, rescued people are brought to the closer safe harbor, which is in most cases on Italian shore. This effectively means NGOs vessels are covering most of the distance between Libyan and Italian coast. Right-wing Italian newspapers and activists picked on that to make various claims, among which that NGOs active in migrants' assistance and rescue at sea would reap financial profits from their collaboration with the Italian authorities, or that some NGOs are part of unlawful people smuggling operations in coordination with operatives on Libyan coast, and funded by international criminal groups and financial institutions interested in developing political turmoil in Italy. The Italian Parliament investigated these claims and has found them to be unsubstantiated, with no further actions. Regardless of this, right-wing newspapers have continued campaigning against Italian and foreign NGOs.
In August 2017 the ship "Iuventa" operated by the German NGO "Jugend Rettet" (youth to the rescue) was impounded on the island of Lampedusa on the order of an Italian prosecutor on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration. Jugend Rettet is one of the six out of nine NGOs which refused to sign a new code of conduct by the Italian government covering migrant rescues in the Merranean. The prosecutor alleged that there were "contacts, meetings and understandings" between the boat's crew and the smugglers. No crew members from the "Iuventa" had been charged and the prosecutor admitted that their motive was likely humanitarian. (Five out of eight refused to sign the new code of conduct, according to a Guardian article, the others refusing to sign being MSF, the Germany groups Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye and Jugend Rettet, and France’s SOS Merranée '[all of whom] abstained'. 'MSF, SOS Merranée and Jugend Rettet... called for clarification of the rules' while MOAS and Spanish group Proactiva Open Arms agreed to the conditions, and Save the Children 'backed the measures'.)
On 2 August 2017 Italy's parliament authorized a limited naval mission to Libyan waters aimed at supporting the country's coastguard in the fight against illegal migration. Italy sent two patrol boats at the request of the UN-backed government in Tripoli and insisted it had no intention of violating Libyan sovereignty. However, General Khalifa Haftar, who controls most of eastern Libya, threatened to use his own forces to repel the Italians.