A new study by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), surveying 598 people who arrived in Italy within the last three months, reveals that people on the move face extreme challenges in meeting their basic needs, not only upon their immediate arrival, but also during the following months, when they can no longer access vital support. During the first nine months of 2023, 133,617 people landed in Italy by sea, marking an 87% increase compared to the same period last year.  

While the first reception points in Italy are already struggling to provide adequate response, particularly to women, people with disabilities and children, the IRC warns that beyond beyond Lampedusa and other first ports of arrival, support for people on the move is either difficult to access, or virtually non-existent as they continue with their journey inland. 

Women and children on the move are often targeted by traffickers and vulnerable to various forms of abuse, including exploitation and violence. “I am not feeling safe because there is much violence here,” a person sleeping in a reception centre in Rome told the IRC. Beyond safety, poor hygiene conditions are a big issue in overcrowded reception centres and in the streets, with other issues that persist as people move away from their initial points of arrival.  

In 2023, Italy experienced severe inflation, making it increasingly challenging for people to afford basic necessities like food. The plight of those residing outside the formal reception system, be it at train stations, soup kitchens, or other critical transit points, is of particular concern.

Susanna Zanfrini, IRC’s Italy Country Director, said:

“A decade has passed since the Lampedusa shipwreck claimed more than 360 lives and served as a brief wakeup call for the international community. This past September, the urgency surged as five times more people tried to reach Italy than in the same period last year. Despite the escalating frequency and magnitude of humanitarian crises, tragically very little has changed for those seeking safety and protection at Italy's shores since 2013.

“Urgent action and a reinvigorated commitment to humanity are more pressing now than ever before. With thousands of migrants and refugees leaving the hotspots just to fall outside of Italy's official reception system, it is crucial to intensify efforts to protect people from the perils of trafficking and exploitation. Fulfilling their basic needs and providing access to mental health support and information are fundamental steps in helping people regain control over their lives."

Imogen Sudbery, IRC’s Senior Director of Europe Advocacy, added:

"The IRC’s needs assessment in Italy shines a spotlight on the desperate situation faced by people seeking safety in Europe. People arriving in Italy not only struggle to access the most basic needs but also face grave challenges in accessing the asylum process. It can take months to file an asylum claim, leaving people trapped in a state of legal limbo whereby they struggle to access education, job opportunities, housing and healthcare. The report also underscores the ongoing challenges people encounter in accessing essential information and legal advice, crucial for understanding their rights and reclaiming control over their future.

“This dire situation could be prevented with a common European approach, rooted in solidarity and responsibility-sharing. As the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum moves to the final stage of negotiations, it is vital that the focus remains on relocating people away from Europe’s borders. Any financial forms of solidarity need to be invested in protection and upholding people’s rights. In addition to upholding the fundamental right to asylum, EU states must expand safe pathways for people to reach Europe so they are not forced to risk their lives on dangerous journeys in the first place.”

Over the past decade, the central Mediterranean has been the scene of continuous shipwrecks and accidents that have caused a total of at least 22,300 deaths. In 2023 alone, there are already more than 2,000 dead and missing along the route. 

Between September 22 and October 6, 2023, the IRC Italy team conducted a rapid multi-sectoral assessment in Sicily, Calabria, Lazio, Lombardy, and Piedmont to ascertain the needs and challenges faced by individuals who arrived in Southern Italy by sea within the last three months. Data was gathered through 538 household (HH) surveys and 25 Key Informant Interviews. Out of the 538 HHs interviewed, 475 had arrived via the Central Mediterranean route in the past three months and were included in the analysis. Among them, 35% were households living on the streets or without shelter, primarily found in train stations, soup kitchens, and other gathering places. The remaining 65% resided in formal and informal accommodations. The majority of those surveyed (n=227) expressed their intention to stay in Italy for the next 1-6 months, either in their current location (n=188) or in another city (n=39).