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Arrival in Europe


Italy receives more refugees and asylum seekers 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 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, regardless of their legal status, are 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 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 travelling alone—an estimated 15,700 of them arriving in Italy in 2017.

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.

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 travelling 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.

We are aiding 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 are equipping teachers with the necessary skills to provide safe and positive learning environments for refugee children.

In cooperation with the city 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 as well as Palermo, to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees and migrants have access to the services they need. Among our chief goals: to provide children travelling alone and survivors of sexual assault with medical care, psychosocial support and legal support; and adapt the IRC’s “healing classroom” approach to Italy’s educational system.

Building on the IRC’s ongoing collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, we are working closely with the city of Milan to integrate refugee youth into the broader community. These efforts include:


  • Supporting vulnerable migrant and asylum-seeking children with alternative care solutions, supporting their legal guardians, and expanding homes for children ageing out of 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.


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


  • Expanding the “Healing Classrooms” approach to different age groups and geographic areas.


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

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