Country facts

  • Population: 60.6 million
  • Italy hosts an estimated 491,000 undocumented migrants
  • Over 700,000 asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Italy from 2014-2020

IRC response

  • Started work in Italy: November 2017

Crisis briefing

Italy receives the majority of refugees and asylum seekers who reach Europe. Over 500,000 people have sought asylum in Italy since 2014, including tens of thousands of unaccompanied children.

What is the current situation in Italy?

Italy continues to receive the lion’s share of those who arrive in Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea using smugglers. Italy received over 40% of arrivals to Europe in 2020, 14% of whom are children traveling alone. Italy hosts an estimated 41% of displaced persons living in reception facilitates across Europe. Absent sufficient support from other European Union member states, Italy is bearing most of the responsibility for their welfare and is overwhelmed.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Italy?

Italy faces a multitude of challenges as it responds to the needs of refugees and migrants who have landed on its shores. An estimated 491,000 people are living in Italy without legal status, many of whom are seeking asylum. The asylum process is long and drawn out. While asylum seekers wait, they live in reception centres scattered across Italy.

The quality of care and services offered at these centres varies significantly, with some offering a holistic approach and others struggling with limited hot water, scarce food, run-down infrastructure and no support.

The majority of refugees have experienced trauma on their journey to Italy. Their typical routes—from various regions of North Africa, through Libya and across the Mediterranean Sea—are dangerous and invite sexual abuse and other exploitative behavior. Of particular concern are children traveling alone—an estimated 4,700 of them arriving in Italy by sea in 2020. Many of these children face ongoing difficulties with safety and integration as they transition to adulthood.

Access to accurate information about rights and available services available is hard to come by. Unscrupulous smugglers dupe refugees with promises of a better life in Europe, but few if any find such promises realised. Even those who gain asylum in Italy find few resources to help them integrate into their new communities. This is compounded by Italy being an international hub and hotspot for human trafficking.

How does the IRC help in Italy?

The IRC’s focus is two-fold: protection and integration. We specifically reach out to the most vulnerable, children traveling alone, women and girls, and those who need psychosocial support. The IRC has 80-plus years of experience assisting refugees and people seeking asylum, which includes more than four decades of work in refugee resettlement and integration in the United States. We are sharing this experience with the Italian government and local municipalities.


One key initiative, Refugee.Info, first developed to help refugees and migrants in Greece and the Balkans, was launched in Italy in March 2018. The online platform provides clear and timely information for refugees and asylum seekers in need of local support services, empowering them to make informed decisions about their lives. IRC supports vulnerable migrant and asylum-seeking children with alternative care solutions, supporting their legal guardians, and expanding homes for children aging out of care.

IRC is working with partners in Italy to enhance cross-sectoral practitioner capacity for early identification trafficking survivors, as well as to strengthen the legal assistance and basic support for survivors.


Through the IRC’s “healing classroom” approach, we are equipping teachers with the necessary skills to provide safe and positive learning environments for refugee children, where they can build their social, emotional, and academic skills in a classroom where they have a strong sense of belonging and stability.

Economic Wellbeing

Through a partnership with community mentors, the IRC is supporting asylum seekers to enter the workforce and achieve financial stability, a key to moving from surviving to thriving.


The IRC has partnered with local agencies in Palermo to support the psychosocial wellbeing of asylum seekers and frontline staff through ethno-psychiatric services, individual counseling, and group interventions.

What still needs to be done?

Much more needs to be done. The IRC will continue to work with municipalities, focusing initially on Milan as well as Palermo, to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees and migrants have access to the services they need. The IRC brings extensive experience in working with forcibly displaced persons, including unaccompanied children, and expertise in the areas of key service gaps including workforce development, child protection, education, psycho-social support, anti-trafficking, and information access. The IRC continues to build key partnerships to ensure asylum seekers, including children, have access to high-quality services that meet their needs. The IRC is prioritising:


· Continuing to expand alternative care arrangements for vulnerable migrant and asylum-seeking children to reach those in inadequate institutional care and those surviving without basic protections and care;

· Ensuring that men and women who have survived sexual violence and abuse can access specialized medical care, psychosocial counseling, and support from social workers;

· Expanding Refugee.Info to reach the entire country with additional language supports.


· Ensuring that survivors of gender-based violence and children traveling alone have access to specialized legal support.


· Expanding the successful “Healing Classrooms” approach to additional age groups and geographic areas, in partnership with school districts.

Economic Wellbeing

· Expanding workforce development opportunities and integrated economic services to more vulnerable migrants and asylum-seekers, including children aging out of care.


· Ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers are provided with basic mental health and psychosocial support at all stages of the asylum process.