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Italy Steps Up Deportations -- WSJ

21 Jan 2017 7:32 am
By Pietro Lombardi 

ROME -- As Italy looks for fresh ways to cope with the hundreds of thousands of migrants bottled up in the country, one solution is rising to the top of the agenda: deportation.

The pressure on Rome to ease its migration problem is growing after the country saw a record 180,000 migrants arrive by boat last year, bringing the total of seaborne arrivals to about half a million since the start of 2014. The revelation that the Tunisian man accused of a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market had evaded an Italian expulsion order also has given Italy new impetus to toughen its stance.

In response, the new government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni is set to unveil plans Wednesday to open 16 new detention centers throughout the country to hold migrants who receive expulsion orders, enabling Rome to raise the number of forced repatriations. They are also ordering police to intensify efforts to find illegal migrants.

Italy also plans to curtail the number of appeals migrants can lodge when their applications are denied and create special sections within the court system to process the appeals more quickly.

"Severe measures in dealing with illegal immigration allow us to be stronger in helping with integration," said Interior Minister Marco Minniti this month.

The moves come after Italy -- bowing to pressure from its EU neighbors -- stopped last year waving the migrants through to other countries. Before then, as many as two-thirds of the migrants landing in Italy traveled on to Northern Europe, according to government officials and migrant groups.

At the same time, Italian authorities have slashed by almost three-quarters the time it takes to review asylum requests and, since most arrivals are economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, they reject more than 60% of applications. While that has helped to resolve the status of migrants faster, the result has been a surge in illegal immigrants, now estimated to number around 435,000, up from fewer than 300,000 in 2013.

But forcibly deporting migrants is notoriously difficult. A single charter plane carrying 50 migrants and accompanying police costs EUR200,000. Italy has just a handful of repatriation agreements with African and Middle Eastern countries, and some of those nonetheless resist forced repatriations out of fear of political and social backlash at home.

Only 4,600 deportations were undertaken in the first 10 months of 2016, the latest figures available, out of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Italy.

With the current system, deportations "are a pointless waste of time," said Alessandro Pansa last year as then-head of Italy's police. Italy is just creating "throngs of people who don't leave."

To help push through such bottlenecks, Italy is striking fresh agreements with countries like Sudan to secure cooperation on issues such as identifying immigrants who ditch their identification before landing. Lack of documentation showing a migrant's country of origin has been another obstacle to many deportations.

Such cooperation with countries of origin could also facilitate Italy's plans to expand voluntary repatriations, which have seen some success in countries such as Sweden. The Nordic country pays immigrants as much as $3,000 to return home. Italy is now targeting 3,000 voluntary repatriations by 2018, using EUR11.6 million in combined Italian and EU funds created for the purpose.

The Italians' moves come amid other efforts in Europe to step up deportations. Germany is considering new detention centers and new rules that would make it easier to monitor, detain and deport asylum seekers believed to pose a terror threat. One measure would allow police to detain rejected asylum seekers deemed dangerous for up to 18 months.

This month, the EU border control agency created a 690-strong pool of "return" experts to help countries and has created a platform through which national authorities can see when seats are available on repatriation flights. Last year the agency coordinated more than 200 repatriation flights, compared with some 60 carried out in 2015.

But immigration experts say that deportations will have a minimal impact on the country's growing migration problem, without effective agreements to stop the flow from the countries of origin and transit.

"Repatriations cannot be the only answer to the migration problem," says Alfonso Giordano, professor of political geography at Luiss University in Rome.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 21, 2017 02:32 ET (07:32 GMT)

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