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Arrival in Europe


Italy receives more refugees and migrants each year than any other country in Europe. The International Rescue Committee is responding to the needs of the most vulnerable.

Country facts
  • Population: 60.6 million
  • Italy hosts an estimated 491,000 undocumented migrants
  • In 2017, 119,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy by sea
IRC response
  • Started work in Italy: November 2017

Crisis briefing

Italy receives the majority of refugees and asylum seekers who try to reach Europe. The number of those who have sought asylum in Italy in the past two years is 267,500. In total, Italy is estimated to be hosting over 491,000 people who are both undocumented and in desperate need. 

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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. An estimated 119,000 people landed on Italy’s shores in 2017 (this compared with just over 30,000 in Greece).  Absent sufficient support from other European Union Member States, Italy is bearing the bulk 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 any 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 across these centres varies significantly with some offering a holistic approach while others have been found to host asylum seekers in inhumane and degrading conditions, with limited hot water, scarce food, run-down infrastructure and no support.

The majority have experienced trauma on their journey to Italy. The route they have taken – from various parts of North Africa, through Libya and across the Mediterranean Sea – is a dangerous one. Far too many will have experienced some form of sexual abuse along the route.

Also included in this number are children travelling by themselves. An estimated 15,700 of those who arrived in Italy in 2017 were children travelling alone.

Access to accurate information about rights and services available is hard to come by. Many have been brought to Italy by unscrupulous smugglers who have duped them with the promise of a better life in Europe. For those who do achieve asylum in Italy, the services in place to ensure they have the best chance to integrate into their new communities are lacking. They need to be developed and resourced. 

How does the IRC help in Italy?

The IRC brings vast knowledge to assist in the response in Italy. Our focus is two-fold: protection – specifically the protection of the most vulnerable: children travelling alone, women and girls, and those who need psychosocial support; and integration. 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 well-versed in the needs of refugees who are starting over again and are sharing this experience with the Italian government and local municipalities.​

Refugee Info—a critical resource for refugees and migrants in Greece and along the Balkan Route, 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.

  • We are supporting partners in Sicily in their work to provide psychosocial support to refugees and vulnerable migrants at local reception centres.
  • Through the IRC’s “healing classroom” approach, we will equip teachers with the necessary skills to provide safe and positive learning environments for refugee children.
  • In cooperation with the Municipality of Palermo, we are designing a programme to support young adults with alternative care solutions.

What still needs to be done?

Much more needs to be done. The IRC will continue to work with municipalities, focusing initially on Milan and Palermo, to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees and migrants have access to the services they need. This means survivors of sexual assault can access medical care, psychosocial support and legal support; children travelling alone are given the care they need; the IRC’s “healing classroom” approach is adapted into the Italian classroom, and that all vulnerable migrants receive the psychosocial support they need.

Building on the IRC’s ongoing collaboration with The Rockefeller Centre’s 100 Resilient Cities, we are working closely with the city of Milan on their plans to successfully integrate refugee youth into the broader community.

This includes: 


  1. Supporting vulnerable migrant and asylum-seeking children with alternative care solutions, for instance by supporting their legal guardians, and expanding homes for children ageing out of care.
  2. Ensuring that survivors of gender-based violence can access quality medical care, protection case management and psychosocial support. 
  3. Expanding Refugee Info’s service mapping to the whole country. 


  1. Ensuring that survivors of gender-based violence and children travelling alone have access to specialised legal support to support their claims.


  1. Expanding the ‘Healing Classrooms’ approach to different age-groups and geographic areas.


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