Official figures say that NGOs brought only 8 percent of migrants to Italy in 2019
For weeks the space that Italian newspapers dedicate to immigration, especially those on the right, focuses above all on non-governmental organizations that help migrants leaving Libya: on several occasions they have been accused (without evidence) of being in league with the traffickers of human beings and indicated as responsible for the alleged “invasion” that is taking place in Italy. In reality, the numbers say something different: the NGOs are only minimally responsible for migrants arriving by sea on the Italian coasts.
According to official data available to date and processed by ISPI researcher Matteo Villa, 3,073 migrants landed in Italy in 2019: only 248 arrived on board NGO ships, about 8 percent.
The other 2,825, that is 92 per cent of the total, arrived with less visible or at least less narrated methods: in a completely autonomous manner through the so-called “phantom landings”, that is those landings that take place on board inflatable boats or small boats that are difficult to identify ( in this way 737 people arrived from 1 January to the beginning of June) or in a semi-autonomous way; we are talking above all about small boats that reached the borders of Italian waters and then hauled into port by the Italian authorities’ ships.
“The NGOs are important only if we consider them important,” explains Matteo Villa, who has been monitoring their work for months. “Since the beginning of the year they have carried out only 7 missions, they have been active only 31 days out of 187, practically a non-continuous month on six,” says Villa, explaining that the perception of their activity is very much affected by the fact that “when they arrive at off the coast of Italy, there are a lot of days waiting to land ». The data, however, deny another commonplace, namely that the presence of NGOs encourages migrant departures: in the days when the NGOs were off the coast of Libya, there were 32 departures, while on days when there was no NGO were 34.
Even during the peak years of the flow from Libya, the NGOs have always performed only part of the relief effort. In 2016, when 178 thousand people landed in Italy rescued at sea and off Libya a dozen NGOs were active, the non-governmental ships rescued 46 thousand people, just over a quarter of the total. The rest were done by the ships of the Italian authorities – above all the Coast Guard – but also those of Operation Sophia, the European Union military mission to guard the Southern Mediterranean, and those of Frontex, the agency for the control of the external EU borders.
After the decline in departures started in the summer of 2017 and still in progress today – mainly due to the Italian government’s agreements with the Libyan militias that manage the detention centers in Libya – Frontex has progressively disengaged, while Operation Sophia has been de facto suspended by the new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
Even the NGOs were affected by this drop: in the first months of the year they were not very busy also because very few boats left Libya. Villa explains that among the 3073 migrants landed in Italy in 2019, “only 700-800 arrive from Libya. Even with this data alone we understand that most of them arrive independently, especially from Tunisia or Greece and Turkey ».
It is true that landings seem to have increased in recent weeks, also due to the arrival of summer and the improvement in weather conditions: at present, however, only four NGOs remain active in the Mediterranean, after many of them had left about one year ago both due to pressure from the Italian government and the aggressiveness of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.