Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Italy On Track To Receive Record Number Of Migrants This Year


Italy is on pace to take in a record number of migrants this year. In fact, the number of arrivals on Italy's shores may soon equal or surpass those headed for Greece. Italy has long been a destination for migrants and asylum seekers. Joining us to discuss this latest surge is NPR's Rome correspondent Sylvia Poggioli.

And, Sylvia, first of all, why is Italy receiving so many migrants right now?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, you know, after Turkey shut down its coast to smugglers earlier this year, they shifted their operations to Libya. And they have a free hand there because it's in a state of lawlessness. And Italy is the closest European shore to Libya. Actually, most migrants are picked up even before they reach Italy because after many big shipwrecks in the last few years in which hundreds of people died, Italy and other European countries, as well as several NGOs, started organizing search-and-rescue missions. But the ships cannot enter Libyan territorial waters, and that's where most of the shipwrecks and drownings take place.

CORNISH: What's happening to the migrants once they get to Italy? I mean, how is this different, in terms of how they're coping and caring for them, compared to Greece?

POGGIOLI: Well, first of all, you don't have that visual image that was so incredibly dramatic of seeing people basically washing up on the shores. As I said, these ships go out and rescue them at sea, so - and they arrive at ports. And generally, reporters are kept pretty far away from the migrants. They are taken to these so-called hotspots, where they're identified, fingerprinted. And then the Italian Interior Ministry basically distributes them to various towns and regions, where they have to sort of find a shelter. And many towns say they just can't handle the numbers anymore and tensions are rising.

There was a very ugly incident a couple of weeks ago in this town, Goro, on the Adriatic Coast, where local residents prevented 12 African women and their children from taking up residence in the local hostel. They had to be moved to another town.

CORNISH: As we mentioned earlier, the U.N. says Italy may surpass Greece by the year's end, in terms of being a destination for migrants. But is Italy any more prepared economically than Greece to handle the influx?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, Italy has been sort of dealing with this migrant crisis for some 10, 15 years. There was a huge influx in 2011 during the Arab Spring. And as soon as the Libyan strongman Gadhafi was overturned, lawlessness began in his country. And so thousands of sub-Saharan African migrants, who had been detained there for years, began arriving in Italy. As for being better prepared, Italy did not have as severe an economic crisis during the Eurozone crisis as Greece did a few years ago. But still the numbers are now really quite overwhelming, and it is having trouble coping. In July, Italy was sheltering more than 140,000 migrants. Now tens of thousands more have arrived since. Just in October, 27,000 migrants arrived. For instance, in Greece, there were only 2,600 migrants in October.

The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has been very vocal in criticizing some European countries that he says are not helping in dealing with the crisis. He singled out, in particular, Hungary and Slovakia that have made it very clear they do not want migrants or refugees of any kind.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Sylvia, thank you.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.