Country facts

  • Population: 60.6 million
  • Over 700,000 asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Italy from 2014-2020
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 30 of 191

IRC response

  • Started work in Italy: November 2017

About IRC Italy

Italy is at the centre of the European refugee crisis. The IRC works across the regions of Lombardy, Sicily, Lazio, Piedmont, Campania, and Friuli Venezia Giulia working to enhance refugees’ safety, power, education, economic empowerment and mental health - with a focus on the most vulnerable, including women and children.

Increasing numbers of arrivals


In 2022, 105,129 people reached Italy through dangerous sea routes – 37,652 more than in 2021, amounting to a 56% increase. This follows the 98% increase in the number of arrivals observed in 2021 compared to 2020.

In the first two months of 2023, 14,433 sea arrivals were recorded, already registering an increase of 164% compared to the same period in 2022. 

As of February 2023, Italy hosts 19,422 unaccompanied children - a significant number and 8,221 more than the same period in 2022.

The number of people arriving through the Balkan route kept growing in 2022. Already in 2021 this number had doubled, with almost 9,400 people arriving by land from Slovenia compared to 4,100 people who arrived in 2020.

Even if no official national data is available on arrivals by land in Italy, in 2022 the IRC's team in Trieste reached 13,126 refugees entering from Slovenia, and 4,248 in the first 5 months of 2023.

Responding to the Ukraine Crisis


In 2022, Italy became also one of the main destination countries within the European Union for refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the end of December 2022, the Italian Ministry of Interiors had recorded about 173,589 Ukrainian refugees’ entries in Italy - mostly women (53%) and children (28%) since all able-bodied men between 18-60 have been barred from leaving Ukraine due to conscription.

The IRC's work in Italy


The IRC is responding to these ongoing crises with a three-folded strategy including:

  • direct support to clients;

  • capacity building of civil society organisations;
  • system strengthening of local processes and institutions.

Actions cover the impacted regions of Lombardy, Sicily, Lazio, Piedmont, Campania, and Friuli Venezia Giulia, and aim to enhance refugees’ safety, power, education, economic empowerment and mental health - with a focus on the most vulnerable, including women and unaccompanied children (UAC). 

The IRC's areas of focus in Italy include:

Women protection, empowerment and psycho-social support

Women and girls, among refugees, asylum seekers and migrants newly arrived in Italy, face severe risks and challenges. They range from gender-based violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, to discrimination based on origins and legal status, difficult living conditions in reception centres, social isolation, and lack of access to resources and jobs.

Women and children participating in a Women and Girls' Safe Spaces (WGSS) workshop in Italy
Women and children participating in a Women and Girls' Safe Spaces (WGSS) workshop in Italy.

Across Italy, service provider systems, methods and approaches are designed intrinsically to respond to the needs of Italian nationals and long-term residents. Since 2019, the IRC has partnered with local organisations to set up Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) in Rome, Palermo, Milan, Turin and Trieste. The WGSS approach is an evidence-based methodology where migrant women and girls can be engaged in creative activities and access psychological and case management services, supporting the development of social networks and promoting empowerment in a safe environment for them and their children.

In collaboration with Centro Penc and UNICEF, we are building the capacity of other local organisations in Italy and in Europe to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and empower women by training them in WGSS principles, providing technical guidance, as well as fostering exchanges by setting up a dedicated Community of Practice.

Moreover, the IRC is strengthening the capacity of local actors and professionals working to support clients equipping them with skills needed to support them and communicate with them using trauma-informed and transcultural lenses.

Thanks to roving teams of psychologists, case workers and cultural mediators, the IRC also performs vulnerability triaging and provides holistic case management services to promote clients’ well-being and safety and facilitate their early integration.

Since January 2023, IRC has taken over a mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) project for people fleeing Ukraine, mainly women and children, who are hosted in Rome's hotels dedicated to emergency reception for refugees. Here the multidisciplinary IRC team provides psychological first aid (PFA) and promotes access to health and other relevant services. Almost 150 unique beneficiaries have been supported in less than 6 months. 

Soon the intervention of roving teams will be integrated by the opening of a new Clinical Centre with transcultural approach and a new Safe Space, in the area of Termini station (Rome city centre).

Since May 2022, 501 unique beneficiaries have been reached through Safe Spaces and case management services. Furthermore, in Milan the IRC collaborates with Centro Penc to provide free ethno-psychiatric services, individual support and follow-up for migrants and asylum seekers, who have experienced traumatic situations before and during their journey to Italy. 

Anti-trafficking and labour exploitation

Italy is one of the most impacted European countries by human trafficking, where it is as hidden as a widespread phenomenon. Human trafficking can happen for various purposes, including labour or sexual exploitation and often affects the most vulnerable groups, such as women and unaccompanied children.

Since 2021, IRC is working with several partners in Italy and Europe - including Red Cross, BeFree and anti-trafficking bodies - to enhance cross-sectoral practitioner capacity for early identification of trafficking survivors, as well as to strengthen the assistance for survivors ensuring trauma-informed care and ‘do no harm’.

FAST

The FAST (Foster Action and Support to Trafficked persons) project which ended in February 2023 aimed to strengthen the cooperation between partner organisations to reinforce the capacity to prevent the trafficking phenomenon and to improve the support to the potential victims and survivors. Thanks to European Union funds, prevention of sexual and gender-based violence has been intensified in recent years.

To enhance protective factors and prevent the risk of (re)trafficking and labour exploitation, the IRC has been providing over 100 unaccompanied boys and girls with accurate and actionable information on their rights in Italy and where to seek support, as well as facilitated access to available services.

A group of young people taking part in an info session at a reception centre in Italy
An information session in a reception centre for unaccompanied children asylum seekers in Partinico, close to Palermo, Sicily.

In 2023, IRC will continue to offer direct support to unaccompanied children and women at risk of trafficking and labour exploitation, as well as empower migrant-led organisations and equipping them with the skills and knowledge required to better support vulnerable groups.

Safe Hut

Safe Hut is a EU-funded project aimed to empowering and facilitating the social and labour integration of third-country national women and girls who were exposed to trafficking experience, including those who have not obtained an official identification, with the special focus on women and girls’ victims of trafficking and those at risk due to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The Safe Hut project directly involves 7 experienced partners from 6 EU countries (Italy, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria), some of which have been at the centre of mass migration from Ukraine in recent months.

Building on the WGSS model developed by IRC and based on practical experience of Centro PENC regarding the establishment of a WGSS in Palermo, the project will establish and pilot 4 new WGSSs in Greece, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria, and will include an additional childcare service in WGSS in Palermo. The project will also advocate for the long-term financial and resources sustainability of WGSS in 5 countries and its replication to different contexts.

DIRECT

Under DIRECT, a EU-funded 2-year project, IRC will continue to offer direct support to unaccompanied children and women survivors or at risk of trafficking, while enhancing the skills of migrant-led organisations and first respondents to identify and support survivors. The project also aims to strengthen the prevention of human trafficking through a cooperation with migrant-led organisations.

Holistic educational approach and transcultural perspective

Education is a right and key to a bright future, and displaced children often face difficulty in accessing and integrating into schools. The IRC partners with local education systems to enhance educators’ capacity to create environments that foster children's well-being and holistic development in safe, welcoming, and child-friendly settings. A particular focus is devoted to children experiencing or at risk of adverse childhood experiences, such as migrant and refugee children - by developing educational contexts where it is possible to identify and effectively respond to their needs and challenges.

An IRC Holistic Educational Approach session for migrant and refugee children taking place outside
An IRC Holistic Educational Approach session for teachers taking place outside.

The IRC Holistic Educational Approach offers tools, strategies and a range of practical activities to support educators, teachers and practitioners in enhancing children's positive and holistic development through essential cognitive and social-emotional skills, while embracing a transcultural perspective when working with children and families from different backgrounds and cultures.

Thanks to a long-lasting partnership with the Municipality of Milan, since 2021 over 900 educators, primary school teachers and school managers have been trained and supported by the IRC.

Economic empowerment

Economic empowerment is key to successfully promoting integration from the early stages and allow asylum-seekers to rebuild their lives and thrive in their new communities.

Since 2020, IRC in Italy works with refugees, migrants, and vulnerable populations to overcome barriers to entry into complex and unfamiliar job markets while ensuring that local community members see the value newcomers can bring to their economy. IRC prioritises the most disadvantaged population groups, including unaccompanied children and women, and works to support clients to achieve initial self-sufficiency and economic mobility over time.

Pillars of the economic assistance include:

  • distribution of cash vouchers to cover basic immediate needs of new arrived refugees;
  • one-to-one support;
  • social-emotional support, as well as basic and advanced digital skills for labour inclusion.

IRC has also supported migrant and refugee entrepreneurs by providing training on local business systems and financing options, including market analysis, business plan development, and networking support.  

Moreover, building upon its global expertise, IRC supports municipal job centres and other public employment service providers to ensure that newcomers can access labour market opportunities by offering capacity-building activities and assistance to develop specialised services for refugees and migrants, including cultural/language competency training, trauma-informed service training, support for building outreach activities to clients and to employers in the private sector.

Refugee.Info

Access to information is critical for displaced communities to make informed decisions and stay safe. Since 2018, IRC’s digital information service Refugee.Info (RI), part of Signpost, has provided refugees and migrants with multilingual, accessible, actionable and accurate information nationwide.

An IRC Italy client holding mobile phone showing Refugee.info resource
IRC’s digital information service Refugee.Info provides refugees and migrants with multilingual, accessible, actionable and accurate information nationwide.
Photo: Daphne Tolis / Refugee.Info

Through instant messaging apps, social media and a website, we respond to clients’ information needs about their rights, documents, safety, support services and how to adjust to their lives in Italy.  

Through accessible digital channels and a peer-to-peer approach, RI provides timely, actionable, and accurate information, aiming to help communities regain the power to make informed decisions about their lives.

In 2022, 3.855 clients contacted Refugee.Info direct support, and around 41,000 accessed the website. In addition, our Facebook community counts 46.6k followers and 25.7k group members. The service is currently available in English, French, Dari/Farsi, Pashto, Arabic and Ukrainian.

Protection at the borders for new arrivals from the Balkan route

Initially set up in late 2021 as part of the emergency response to the crisis in Afghanistan, IRC consolidated protection programming to support asylum seekers and people on the move arriving in Trieste through the Balkan Route.

IRC staff provide information to young people at Trieste Central Station
IRC staff provide information to young people in front of Trieste Central Station.

Between January 2022 and May 2023, IRC supported 17,375 newly arrived people with Non-Food Items (NFIs), legal orientation on their rights in Italy, connectivity, as well as facilitated access to crucial services as food (soup kitchen), medical care, overnight shelter, legal helpdesk, etc.  The IRC also facilitated access to the asylum procedure and reception.

To ensure sustainability of the response, capacity building sessions in the field of protection and psychosocial support are offered in partnership with Centro Penc to a number of organisations active across the region.  

An IRC Italy staff person sits on the ground beside a newly arrived refugee to provide information
The IRC provides information and support for newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers to help them understand their legal rights and how to enter the labour market.

As part of the response, IRC has also been monitoring information needs and protection concerns of refugees and people in transit, to better respond to needs, improve protection programming, and to advocate for people’s rights with local and national institutions. IRC has also promoted the creation of a coordination mechanism that involves local and national NGOs with the aim of making better use of resources, creating common operational procedures, monitoring flows and trends, and acting accordingly.

Protection monitoring

Protection monitoring is the systematic and regular collection, verification and analysis of information over an extended period of time, in order to identify violations of rights and protection risks for populations of concerns, in order to enable prevention and inform effective responses. It means collecting primary and/or secondary data and analysing it over time to identify trends on the needs expressed and risks faced by the populations of concern.

Protection monitoring is an important tool for both interventions and advocacy. Collecting and sharing high quality information on these issues is essential to making sure that we are able to continue to improve our ability to respond to these needs through programming, referrals and advocacy activities.

IRC Italy produces quarterly protection monitoring reports - representing the result of IRC Italy's endeavours to enhance its protection monitoring activities, aiming to systematically and regularly monitor the protection situation of people met and assisted. Reports capture the profiles, vulnerabilities, protection risks, and needs of IRC clients in Trieste and the rest of Italy, together with significant migration-related context updates covering the whole country. It provides numbers and insights on clients of IRC's digital information service, Refugee.Info and individuals arriving from the Balkan route via land in the city of Trieste, at the border between Italy and Slovenia.

Advocacy

Since June 2022, IRC Italy has been strengthening its advocacy efforts to ensure that migrants and refugees’ rights are respected and upheld. Thanks to monitoring systems put in place in coordination with local actors, IRC has been able to monitor the obstacles that individuals seeking international protection face in formalising their application and accessing the reception system in breach of the EU and Italian legal frameworks - and, when possible, facilitate swift access to the asylum procedure and accommodation. 

Data and information collected at the field level is used to feed into IRC evidence-based advocacy priorities. In particular, IRC has contributed to discussions with institutional representatives to strengthen the reception and integration system for asylum seekers and refugees, both at local and national level. In response to the Ukrainian crisis, IRC has been interacting with institutional stakeholders to report uneven and discriminatory institutional practices towards both Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians and ultimately ensure that Ukrainians in Italy are able to claim and exercise their rights. Moreover, IRC has been contributing to joint advocacy initiatives by joining national and local networks including the Tavolo Asilo e Immigrazione (Asylum and Immigration Network) and working groups coordinated by UNHCR. Joint advocacy initiatives carried out within these groups have touched upon several issues, including selective disembarkation practices, policies for NGO rescue vessels and changes to the national protection legal framework.

The IRC is also part of the National Coordination Platform on Health and Migration (GrIS). 

Contact us

Susanna Zanfrini, Director, IRC Italy
[email protected]

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