Why has Italy declared a state of emergency over migration? What does it mean in practice?

Italy has declared a state of emergency due to the sharp increase in the number of migrants arriving on its shores via the dangerous Mediterranean route. This is the first time Italy has taken such a drastic measure since the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2011. The Ministry for Civil Protection and Maritime Policies says the move is necessary due to the surge in the number of people arriving in Italy since the beginning of the year, which has resulted in overcrowding in facilities in hotspots such as the small island of Lampedusa. According to data from the Interior Ministry, over 31,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, which is more than triple the number from the previous year. Many of these people were either rescued by Italian military boats or humanitarian ships or reached Italy’s shores without any assistance.

The number of arrivals is expected to continue to rise as the weather improves in the spring and summer, with 3,000 people making landfall in the last five days alone. To address this, Italy has declared a state of emergency that will last for six months and will disburse an initial funding of 5 million euros. The right-wing government of Giorgia Meloni says the funds will be used to create new structures that are suitable for sheltering, processing, and repatriating migrants who do not have the necessary qualifications to stay in Italy.

The new facilities will allow Italy to identify and repatriate more people who are not allowed to stay, as the country continues its ongoing efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. However, these facilities have been controversial, with NGOs and human rights groups criticizing what they call inhumane and degrading conditions inside them.

While Italy has not declared a state of emergency over illegal immigration since 2011, it has done so recently over other issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The Italian government says the state of emergency is just a temporary solution to a problem that requires a European-wide solution. Matteo Salvini, now Deputy Prime Minister, has called for Europe to contribute to Italy’s efforts to cope with migrant arrivals, saying that rescue efforts, as well as processing procedures, are unsustainable for the country economically, culturally, and socially.

Meloni’s government is currently trying to pass policies that target migrants, including measures that would speed up the process of identifying and processing individuals who do not qualify to stay in Italy. The government is also considering abolishing or modifying rules around the “special protection” status granted to asylum seekers who cannot be considered refugees but cannot be expelled because they are considered at risk.

Italy says it has not yet received the support it needs from Europe to face the growing influx of migrants. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has acknowledged that migration is a European challenge that requires a European solution, but Italy says it still needs more support.

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