Research studies

Combating Illegal Migration: MoU Between Libya and Italy


Prepared by the researcher  : Dr. Mustafa Abdalla Abulgasem Kashiem – Professor of Political Science at Tripoli University, Libya

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Political Trends : Seventeen Issue – December 2021

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin.

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN  2569-7382
Journal of Political Trends
:To download the pdf version of the research papers, please visit the following link


The Politics of irregular immigration in Italy is a dynamic process since the early 1990s when human trafficking and illegal migration became salient issues on the national, regional, and global levels. Italy’s migration policy interacts and adapts to the internal and external variables. Immediate questions may ask by scholars, such as what are the internal and external dimensions of Italy’s migration policy? Is the Libyan crisis affects the Politic of Irregular Immigration in Italy?  Is Italy’s national interest navigates its migration policy more than its regional and global commitments?

This study assumes that the Libyan crisis affects Italy’s migration policy. While this study deals with the Libyan crisis as the independent variable, Italy’s immigration policy deals with it as the dependent variable. Accordingly, this study is dividing into four main sections: Italy’s migration policy, the external dimension of Italy’s migration policy, the impact of Libya’s crisis on Italy’s migration policy, and a conclusion.


Italy witnessed two types of immigration since the late twentieth century. The first type of migration reflected the commitment of Italy towards the European Union “the EU”. Citizens of the EU are moving freely. According to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Schengen Agreement in 1995, the EU’s citizens move freely within the EU member states. Yet, the free movement of citizens may consider by some European countries as a threat to sovereignty, e.g., the United Kingdom “UK”. One reason for the withdrawal of the UK, e.g., the “preexist” from the EU, is the growing of the British negative attitudes towards immigrants belonging to Eastern European countries. (See Ford, 2013)

The second wave of migration is illegal in character on the one hand and it comes from North African states on the other hand. However, Italy is considering the most influenced European country by the illegal immigration dilemma since the 1990s.

[1] Not all illegal immigrants aim to remain in Italy because many of them are using it as a transit area to the other European states, e.g., Germany.

Data and Methodology

The EU member states blame Italy for its inability to stop the continuing waves of illegal immigration. Italy is also criticizing for its inefficient procedures of the asylum system and allowing migrants to be employed illegally. Some scholars criticized the politics of irregular migration in Italy by pointing out that Italy has “Strong Fencing and Weak Gate-keeping serving the Labour Market.“ Thus, Italy adopts a conflicting public policy that mismanages the illegal migration dilemma efficiently and effectively on the one hand and uses a firm border control system on the other hand. (See Triandafyllidou and Ambrosini, 2011)

The “Salvini decree” did not stop the influx of irregular immigration because the number of illegal migrants has increased. It is become harder for asylum seekers to obtain permission to stay. Thus, dealing with the status of irregular immigration is a rational option available to decision-makers in Italy. Procedure to speed the process of determining the position of immigrants may complicate further the migration crisis. (ANSA, 2019) Italy’s policy towards irregular migration reflects a dichotomy between internal and external dimensions. Abbondanza (2017) identified four phases of Italy’s migration policy: the absence of a legal framework, the execution of the EU regulations, increasing the number of illegal migrants, and Italy’s controversial approaches since 2004.  Abbondanza concluded, “What is noticeable is a dichotomy in Italy’s migration policies, with generally consistent internal measures and often contrasting external ones.” (See Abbondanza, 2017) The problem is with Italian public policy and not with the natural phenomenon of migration. Accordingly, Italy should improve its public policy and avoids restrictive procedures towards irregular immigrants at the same time. Callia argues that Italy policy of restrictive control versus the illegal migrants becomes an end in itself (Callia, et. al., 2012)

Scholars agree on the existence of the illegal migration dilemma that has faced Italy since the 1990s. However, Italy did not deal with the irregular immigration problem efficiently due to internal and external factors. Even domestic laws and decrees did not manage the irregularity of migration. By 2004, Italy adopted many legislations “internalization” deals with the problem of migration on the one side and sign agreements with other countries on the other side. Thus, this study aims to fill this gap by focusing on the impact of external variables “externalization” on Italy’s migration policy.

In this regard, many questions may be asked:  Is there a public policy of migration in Italy? What are the factors affecting the Italian policy of migration? To what extent the Libyan crisis affects the politic of irregular immigration in Italy?  Is Italy’s national interest navigates its migration policy more than its regional and global legal commitments? Accordingly, this study assumes that “the external variables affect Italy migration policy.” While Italy’s migration policy is the dependent variable, external factors are dealing with as independent variable.

As far as the data is concerned, this study adopts quantitative and qualitative sources. While illegal migration statistics on the national level reflect the quantitative dimension, decisions, agreements, and treaties represent the qualitative aspect.  Different techniques are using to examine the quantitative data and qualitative sources of this study, e.g., content analysis. Accordingly, this study is dividing into the following sections:

  • Italy’s Migration Policy
  • External Dimension of Italy’s Migration Policy
  • Impact of Libya’s Crisis on Italy’s Migration Policy
  • Conclusion: Results and Recommendations

Italy’s Migration Policy

Policy is a plane of action adopted by governments, e.g., laws, decisions, and treaties. Yet, policy reflects three levels: intentions, actions, and results. On the intention level, the Italian government may say it will combat irregular migration. But, when the government behaves accordingly, we can move from intention into action, e.g., signing a treaty to combat irregular migration. Finally, policy may view on its results. Therefore, we may say that the Italian policy to combat irregular migration succeeded or vice-versa. (Parsons, 1995) In short, Italy developed a public policy that reflects its intention, action, and consequences since the 1990s when illegal immigrants landed for the first time in the Southern seacoast of Mediterranean.

If we can distinguish between intention, action, and consequences on the theoretical level, they are more interdependent on the particle level. The Italian government has issued laws and decisions deal with the dilemma of irregular migration from different angles, e.g., legal, economic, and human dimensions. In this section, we will review the migration laws and decisions to see how they face the dilemma of illegal immigration.[2]

Italy’s migration policy is more oriented towards moderation. However, some laws reflect the right-wing. (See in this regard, Campani, 1993&1994, and Zaslove, 2004)  Shifts of migration policy towards liberal and conservative views respond to the Public opinion, political parties, civil society organizations, and mass media. (Davison, 2016: 1-5) Thus, when the Italian government adopts a conservative policy, migration policy may take a hard stand towards irregular immigrants and vice-versa.

The early waves of migration inflows to Southern Italy started in the post-oil crisis in 1973-1974 when many European countries closed their borders, e.g., Germany and France. During the 1980s, more than 300,000 entered Italy without valid documents because Italy lacked at that time an effective policy of irregular immigration. However, Italy recognized the burden of the illegal migration phenomenon by the late 1980s. By the 1990s, Italy has issued the first national law dealt with irregular immigration from different perspectives.

Thus, when the numbers of illegal immigrants have increased in the early 1990s, a shift in the Italians attitudes occurred. As a response to public opinion and other non-governmental organizations, the Italian government issued laws and decisions to deal with the new phenomenon of irregular migration. The development of migration policy reflects different stages. First, Italy’s migration policy before the 1990s may be described as inconsistent on the one side and imposing a soft control on irregular immigration on the other side. Second, when Italy has signed the Schengen Convention in 1990, the flow of European citizens increased. Here, a gap between public opinion and government began to exist. Opposing the Schengen system by Italians was a result of signing and executing the convention by the Italian government at that time. Third, migration policy became more concerned with irregular migration since the early 1990s. When the Parliament issued the Immigration Law (No. 39/1990), the Italian government transferred from intention into action. (See Campani, 1994: 33-49) Finally, the recognition of the externalization factor led the Italian government to sign treaties and agreements with North African countries since the 2000s.

A review of Italian migration documents reveals the existence of legislation and executive decisions. Due to methodological limitations, this study examines their development and content since 1990. During the last thirty years (1990-2020), the Italian government has developed a consistent public policy that responds to the internal and external milieu. Different Italian decrees that have been taken to combat irregular migration will be examined in this section according to their issuing dates:

First, the Immigration Law (No. 39/1990) aims to manage the dilemma of irregular immigration in Italy by determining a quota system consistent with job market demand. The Immigration Law (No. 39) was promoted by Legge Martelli and it aims to slow down the increasing flow of illegal immigration without affecting the demands on cheap labor by the Italian market. Here, employees, students, patients, and individuals who join their family reunion may renew their visa for two years. Illegal immigrants according to this law are persons without a visa, or with an expired visa, or any immigrants exceeding the quota system adopted by the Italian government. As with any national law, undocumented immigrants will be expelled within two weeks, either on their own or forcibly by police. Obviously, the Immigration Law of 1990 reflects a real political view rather than a humanitarian perspective. It is also delayed the problem of illegal migration to a later time because it ignored the impact of an external factor. Controlling the Italian border with other European countries is another negative aspect of the law.

Second, the next Immigration Law (40/1998) differentiate between legal and illegal migrants based on valid and invalid documentations. This law was promoted by Turco-Napolitano. This law gives the right to legal immigrants to ask for a permanent residency and then apply for citizenship. Yet, undocumented migrants will be held in a detention center and then deported from Italy. The Turco-Napolitano’s Law recognizes a third category of migration called asylum seekers who are requesting political shelter. The asylum seekers wait for responses for their requests in contemporary detention centers. In short, this law regulates Italy’s migration policy regarding social integration by allowing immigrants to work after having residency permission and enjoying health care services on the one hand and strengthen the government control and deportation procedures vis-à-vis illegal immigrants on the other hand.

Third, the Bossi-Fini sponsored Law (No. 189/2002) was taken by the Italian government in 2002.  This law deals firmly with undocumented migrants coming to Italy from non-European countries. Thus, it is not allowing them to land in Italy. As we know, illegal migrants come to Southern Italy by sea. This law considers those immigrants illegal and refugees seeking shelter and protection. The Bossi-Fini-sponsored law takes a harder further step when it determines to return undocumented refugees to their first destination or where they come from. If the refugees landed safely in Southern Italy, they must be detained in short-lived centers for no more than two months and shall not return to Italy after ten years. The Law (No. 189/2002) also requires particular conditions for migrants who are employed by the Italians, such as the employer does not exceed a period between (3-12) months and at least a minimum wage of eight hundred EUR per month. The duration of residency for immigrants who already living in Italy has been shortened to two years instead of three years. Further steps have been taken by the Law (No. 189/2002). Fingerprints of all foreigners, codifying illegal residents by setting new income quota, and abolishing the sponsorship system by creating a unified procedure that permits a contract of employment reflected a new policy towards irregular migration in Italy.

The previous law is more affected by the right-wing position from the illegal immigration phenomenon. It reflects a compromise between the views of the extreme right-wing and moderate-right wing led by Berlusconi. The Italians attitudes towards illegal migration have shifted from a liberal into a conservative orientation. Thus, the popularity of the populist parties has increased. Also, a firm migration policy was adopted by the Italian government. (See Gomez-Reino, and Llamazares, 2013, and Zaslov, 2004)  Here, some scholar argues that the right-wing parties consider illegal migration as a threat to national security. The populist parties connect illegal migration with the loss of cultural identity, unemployment, and increasing public spending.  The Freedom Party or the “Lega Nord” support for firm policy towards illegal migration is based on reasons, such as a loose migration policy to protect the Italian national security. (Zaslov, 2004)

The Bossi-Fini sponsored law (No. 189/2002) was criticized on human and political grounds. The law ignores the rights of refugees to asylum and contradicts the regional and international obligations. It also denies the rights of immigrants for a family reunion in Italy. It exploits immigrant efforts in the business sector. Yet, the Bossi-Fini-sponsored law is conservative represents a large segment of the Italian public opinion. When the Italian public opinion shifted to the center-left, the new government attempted to alleviate the severity of extremism in the Law (No. 189) by harmonize it with other European countries on the other hand. The center-left government proposed a Directive (No. 83/2004), but this effort has failed.

Four, the Italian government issued a Security Set (94/2009) to enhance the country’s efforts to respond swiftly to the dilemma of irregular immigration. The Security Set considers illegal migrants a criminal act. The trafficking mafia and whomever housing and employ them without documents will be penalized.  The ranges of penalties extend from seizing in detention centers for more than six months and prison for up to three years. The penalties are not restricting to illegal migrants. But it extends to include those who help them to violate domestic laws. Here, the Security Set requires permanent residency permission for any money transaction by immigrants. Yet, the law exempts some services from money transactions, such as health care, school, and birth certificates. The law gives immigrants who married Italian a period of two years to become a citizen. The power to execute the law requires coordination and collaboration between unarmed citizens and patrol groups. The Security Set upgrades the migration policy in a new area, such as the role of civilians in the management of the migration dilemma. However, it is criticized on human and political grounds.

Five, when the center-right government was in power in 2008, it suggests a package of migration law consists of three acts:

  • Act (No. 125/2008) identified new types of crimes committed by illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers, such as imposing penalties on immigrants who given false information.
  • In addition, the parliament decree (No. 160/2008) limited the number of family reunions and increasing the income of the family members.
  • Act (No. 94/2009), which deals with public safety, tightening penalties, extending the detention periods to six months, introduced new economic regulations that complied with previous consents to entry, family re-unification, and renewal of residence permits. The Act (No. 94/2009) is considering the most restrictive solutions of the Italian migration policy. However, it was relaxed later on implementing decrees of the European directives’ Decrees (EC/115/2008, and EC/52/2009), which gives illegal immigrants more options.

Six, the Interior Minister issued an executive decree in 2011 to deal with reporters’ involvement in the migration affairs. The circular letter issued by the Interior Minister Roberto Maroni does not permit journalists and reporters to enter any Italian detention center unless they have official permission. This act aims to stop any leaks that criticize the officials’ treatment of illegal migrants during their stay in detention camps. Due to criticism of the circular letter on the ground of media freedom, the new Interior Minister Anna Maria cancellieri canceled the previous decree on 20 April 2012.

Seven, Law (No. 67/2014) authorizes the Italian government to punish immigrants with a fine range between (EUR 5,000-10,000). In cases of non-payment, the court may impose, at the request of the convicted illegal migrant, a labor option range between one-to-six months. If the illegal immigrants cannot afford to pay the penalties or work, the court may expel the convicted illegal migrant and prohibit him from entry to Italy for a period that may extend to five years. (See Figueroa, 2014)

Eight, Act (No. 46/2017), which developed rules concerning the protection and combating irregular migration by the specialized courts created for this objective. This Act also developed new procedures to protect illegal employees. Most of Italy’s migration laws aim to integrate legal immigrants within the society. The previous laws share the following principles: equal treatment, contact their home countries for the records, respecting international obligations, and relying on cultural activities exchanges.

Nine, Law (No. 47/2017) aims to protect foreign minors who enter Italy without their parents as a result of their vulnerability. The Law recognizes their rights to be treated as Italian and European Union minors. The law (No. 47/2017) defines a foreign unaccompanied minor as “a minor who is not an Italian or EU citizen…and is a subject to Italian jurisdiction, and who lacks the assistance or representation of his/her parents or other adults who would be responsible for him/her according to Italian legislation.” According to this law, foreign minors may never be rejected at the border.  Yet, an official inquiry must be made to define their personal and family history and protect them. (See Figueroa, 2014)

Ten, ‘Salvini Decree’ or ‘Security Decree’ (No. 132/2018), which takes a hard stand against illegal migration. This decree is different from the others in-term of substances and procedures aspects, therefore, it considers unconstitutional. The Security Decree is anti-human rights protection on the one side and it is also establishing new accelerating procedures for the detention of irregular immigrants who seeking asylum on the other side. The modality of reception is another changed by the Salvini Decree. In short, the Decree is more oriented towards the application of the security approach rather than humanitarian protection. (See Corsi, 2019)

The law aims to gather asylum seekers in large holding centers instead of distributing them across the country. While the rejected asylum applicants were 80,000 in 2019, the number of undocumented immigrants reached 680,000 in 2019. Those illegal migrants will be sent first to repatriation centers. Yet, the number of illegal immigrants exceeds the capacity of the detention centers in Italy. Moreover, sending them to their home countries will cost Italy a lot. The Salvini Law did not help Italy to manage the crisis of illegal immigration because it left them without a home or job. (ANSA, 2019) The current Italian government amended the Salvini Decree on October 2020 in-term of a low fine (EUR 59,000 instead of 1.1m). Yet, the expulsion system becomes more responsive to the political conditions of immigrants.

The aim of the previous laws and decision is to manage the phenomenon of a global crisis either on pragmatic or human grounds. While asylum-seeker may get permission to remain in Italy, the non-asylum-seekers are the focus of Italy public policy. Minors and women have a peculiar treatment consists of the European and international standards. The effectiveness of the previous laws and decisions depend on Italy’s swift responses to the external milieu; therefore, Italian policymakers are involved in bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements to combat the increased influx of illegal migration. The next sub-section will describe and analyze the external aspects of Italy’s migration policy.

The Externalization of Italy’s Migration Policy

Decision-makers recognize the impact of external factors on their countries’ policies. Thus, international relation is more independent than before. The issue of illegal migration becomes more externalized than before and countries are involving in bi-lateral and multi-lateral collaborations to manage and solve domestic issues. Italy recognized the externalization dimension of the irregular immigration phenomenon; therefore, it increased coordination and collaboration with transit and exporting countries of illegal immigration. In this regard, Italy inked many multilateral and bilateral treaties and agreements, such as:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
  • Refugee Convention, 1951.
  • Treaty of Friendship between Italy and Libya in 2008
  • Agreement between Italy and Tunisia in 2011.
  • Agreement between Italy and Egypt in 2011.
  • Agreement between Italy and Libya in 2012.
  • Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and Libya in 2017.

Italy is committing to respect regional and international rules and principles regarding human rights and the protection of refugees because it is a member of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the European Union legal system, and the Refugees Convention of 1951. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that Italy protects vulnerable children’s rights and human rights defenders on the one hand and combats human trafficking on the other hand. The Italian government considers human traffics “a serious violation of human rights, a crime against humanity, and a threat to international peace and security.” Italy focuses in this regard on vulnerable victims and their rights, e.g., women and children. Also, Italy is committed to prevent organized crime, such as “suppress and punish trafficking in persons.” On the European Union level, Italy is a member of the Warsaw Convention against human trafficking. Italy inked the Warsaw Convention, known as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, on June 6, 2005, and entered into force on March 1, 2011. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2021)

Italy also signed the Refugee Convention on November 15, 1954, and the refugee Protocol on January 26, 1972. Obviously, Italy inked the Convention and its Protocol before the existence of the illegal immigration dilemma. (UNHCR, 2015) The Refugees Convention and its Protocol create legal obligations for Italy regarding the protection of refugees. (Brownlie, 2003:12) Thus, any mistreatments of immigrants violate the Refugees Convention of 1951 by Italy and other signatories’ countries. However, Libya, which exports illegal migrants use its territory to sail to Italy, is not a party to the Refugees Convention of 1951 and its Protocol.

Regional and international rules indicate that migration control should be combined with integration programs and an enduring strategy to tackle the dilemma due to war, persecution, and poverty in the world. Italy’s approach to controlling the problem of irregular migration is not always security directed. As we mentioned, some laws and decrees take into account the human factor, e.g., the treatment of minors. (Strati, 2017) Yet, the pragmatic approach towards illegal immigration led Italy to sign an agreement with North African countries to return their illegal immigrants. In this regard, Italy inked agreements with Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 and Libya in 2012. (See Paoletti, 2012)

The first two agreements dealt with returning the nationals of Egypt and Tunisia to their home countries within few days. Yet, the treaty of 2008 and the Memorandum of Understanding of 2017 between Italy and Libya manage the flow of illegal migrants from other nationalities, e.g., African and Asian states. In short, the last three agreements reflect the security approach rather than human rights considerations. (Paoletti, 2012)

The early collaboration to combat illegal immigration goes back to the late 1990s when Italy and Libya signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 2008. The treaty of 2008 focuses on different fields of collaboration between the two countries, such as economic and political areas. It aims to increase collaboration in the field of illegal migration. Article (19) stresses the need for the two countries to collaborate in fighting terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration. Furthermore, paragraph two indicates that Italy and Libya will establish a highly advanced system for monitoring the long Libyan borders. The Italian government and the EU will finance the high tech monitoring system equally. Italy and Libya will collaborate with the African countries, which export illegal migrants to combat the dilemma of human trafficking. (See the author, Kashiem, 2010: 10)

There are three other agreements were signed between Italy and Libya: on 13 December 2000, 29 December 2007, and 19 February 2017. The Agreement of 2000 focused on the war against terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration. The MoU of 2007 focused on collaboration between both countries to combat illegal migration influx. The agreement of 2017 is also aiming to fight migrant trafficking. The previous agreements between Italy and Libya are a part of a complicated process on bilateral, multilateral, and global levels to combat human trafficking.

The Memorandum of Understanding of 2017 emphasizes the importance of previous commitments between the two countries, especially the Treaty of 2008, which stressed the importance of joint efforts to eliminate illegal migration. The agreement of 2017 is a few pages in length, e.g., 2899 words and only eight articles. This study focuses on the Memorandum of Understanding of 2017 because it is the most recent document between Italy and Libya to combat the influx of illegal migration. Furthermore, Italy and the EU have strengthened their attempts to reduce the number of illegal immigration by externalizing migration control instruments and concluding agreements with Libya, e.g., the MoU of 2017. (See Palm, 2017)

To begin with, the MoU of 2017 is a continuation of prior efforts between Italy and Libya, e.g., the Agreement of 2000 and the Treaty of 2008. Yet, illegal migration is considering a common challenge to both countries; thus, the MoU and other agreements signed and ratified to combat illegal immigration. According to the MoU, Italy supports the creation of a detention center in Libya to shelter illegal immigrants until they can return to their homeland. Furthermore, Italy supports the Libyan border guards to combat human trafficking from Africa countries. Italy commits itself to complete the building of the high-tech controlling system to monitor the Southern Libyan border. The Italian Fund for African countries established because of the signing of the MoU of 2017 to finance Euro-African economic projects. Such projects will create an economic booming in the African countries. Thus, new jobs will remain many migrant workers at home instead of risky trips that may take their lives. Finally, the MoU of 2007 is renewable every three years. Italy renewed the MoU in 2020, and the two countries are continuing their collaboration in combating human trafficking for the next three years. The renewable duration of the MoU indicates the effectiveness of the MoU to counter illegal human trafficking; an assumption is testing empirically in the next section of this study.

A quantitative content analysis of the Memorandum of Understanding (of 2017) resulted in the data of Table: 1, which reflects the frequencies and percentages of words in the agreement text. The data of Table: 1 lead us to the following points:

1.       Italy (8.50%) and Libya (11.52%) are the most frequent words. Other words are also used in the text to mention both states, such as both parties (9.70%) and both countries (3.03%). Thus, the total frequencies that refer to Italy and Libya reached almost one-third of the total data (32.75%). Yet, Libya (11.52%) is more frequent than Italy (8.50%), which means it shares extra responsibilities vis-à-vis the illegal migration. The MoU of 2017 stresses the importance of Libya’s efforts in combating illegal migrants.[3]

2.  The MoU (6.67%) aims to combat illegal immigration (9.10%) and human trafficking (3.03%) from Libya to Italy; thus, their percentage reached (18.80%). In this regard, the MoU stresses that: “[It aims] to combat illegal immigration, human trafficking and contraband, and on reinforcing the border security between the Libya State and the Italian Republic. [Both countries] are determined to work to face all the challenges which have negative repercussions on peace, security, and stability within the two countries and in the Mediterranean region in general.” (MoU, 2017)

3.  Cooperation (4.24%) and controlling (2.42%) migration (1.21%) enables Italy and Libya to enhance (3.64%) peace (.61%), security (3.03%) and stability (1.21%) in the Mediterranean basin (0.61%). Also, cooperation includes the fight against terrorism (0.61%, fuel contrabands (2.42%) that Libya suffers from, as well as support border guards (1.21%), who combat the influx of illegal migrants in the Southern Libyan border (0.61%).

Table: 9-1

Content Analysis of MoU between Libya and Italy, 2017

% Frequency Word % Frequency Word
2.4242424 4 Control 11.515152 19 Libya
2.4242424 4 Fund 9.6969697 16 Parties
2.4242424 4 Financing 9.0909091 15 Illegal Migrants
2.4242424 4 Contrabands 8.4848485 14 Italy
2.4242424 4 Hosting Centers 6.6666667 11 Memorandum
1.8181818 3 Return 4.2424242 7 Cooperation
1.8181818 3 Health Conditions 3.6363636 6 Support
1.8181818 3 International 3.030303 5 Security
1.2121212 2 Guards 3.030303 5 Two Countries
1.2121212 2 Stability 3.030303 5 Human Trafficking
1.2121212 2 African Countries 3.030303 5 Development
1.2121212 2 Migration 2.4242424 4 The EU
1.2121212 2 Mixed Committee 2.4242424 4 Countries of Origin
6.06% 10 Other words
100.00% 165 Total

Data Source: the MoU, translated by Sandra Uselli, at <>

4.  Social, economic, and political elements of the illegal migration dilemma are recognized by the MoU. Therefore, the frequencies of health condition (1.82%), unemployment (0.61%), life standard (0.61%), and job creation (0.61%) reach (10.30%). The agreement of 2017 also indicates the importance of establishing hosting centers (2.42%) in Libya to shelter the immigrants before their returning to their home countries. Because the Libyan government lacks the resources to establish hosting centers; thus, the fund (1.21%) established by the Italian government along with the EU will finance such projects.[4]

  1. The MoU recognizes the regional and international aspects of the illegal migration dilemma. Consequently, words such as countries of origin (2.42%), African states (1.21%), international law and organizations (1.82), and the EU (2.42) are frequently mentioning in the text of the MoU.[5]
  2. Yet, some words are repeated only once in the text of the agreement, such as: eliminate terrorism, poverty, unemployment, and chronic diseases, enhancing peace and create jobs for needy peoples in Africa. (See the data of Table: 9-1)

The Impact of Libya’s Crisis on Italy’s Migration Policy

The Italian efforts to combat illegal immigration are affecting by political upheaval in Libya since the 1990s. Kaddafi used illegal immigration as a means versus Italy and the EU in the 1990s to end the United Nations boycott.  The Treaty of Friendship in 2008 was the first step to externalize the irregular migration dilemma. The Libyan crisis since 2011 increased the level of migration from Southern into Northern Mediterranean Sea. In this section, the focus will shift to the impact of the Libyan crisis on illegal immigration levels in Italy since 2000. The data published by the Italian Ministry of Interior indicates most irregular migration comes from the Libyan seashores.[6] Thus, this study assumes that the Libyan crisis since 2011 increased the number of illegal immigrants to Italy on the one hand and the signing of agreements control and decrease the influx of migration on the other hand. In this regard, the data of Figures: -9-1 and 9-2. Lead us to the following points:[7]

  1. The number of immigrants reached (110476) in 1997-1999 Yet, the number of asylum seekers was 10123 in the 1990s. By the 2000s, the numbers of landed migrants and asylum seekers increased noticeably. For example, the average of asylum seekers during 1990-2016 reached 23748. However, not all asylum seekers’ requests are examined either due to lack of information or due to other subjective reasons. (See Lunghini, 2016)
  2. The Italian dilemma of migration is not a threatening factor, as it seems to be when it compares with similar countries, such as the United States and Germany. The ratio of illegal migrants to the whole population does not exceed 1.55% in Italy. Yet, it reaches double that (3.41%) in the United States of America in 2016. Furthermore, the stock of migrants as a ratio of the population in 2013 is much higher in Canada (20.7%), the United States (14.3%), and Germany (11.9%) compared to Italy (9.4%). However, the annual growth of the population dismay Italy when it dropped from (0.6%) during 2000-2005 to (0.2%) in 2010-2015. Thus, youths and skilled illegal immigrants who fulfill the conditions of asylum may need in Italy. (See the HDR, 2015: 234 and 262; and Lunghini, 2016)
  3. The data show unstable levels of landed irregular immigration in 1997-2020. The annual average of illegal migration in Italy reached 49,469 during 1997-2020. The fluctuation level of illegal migration is due to several factors, such as the Arab Spring Revolutions in North Africa and the civil war in Syria.

Figure: 1

Development of Illegal Immigration in Italy, 1997-2020

Data Source: Ministero Dell’Interno, Dipartimento per le Liberta Civili el’ Immigrazione, at <>

  1. The worst wave of irregular immigration to Italy was in 2017. Yet, the lowest number of migration showed in the years that follow the singing of the Friendship treaty in 2008 and the MoU in 2017. While the number of landed migration did not exceed 4406 in 2009, the other lowest number (11471) also recorded in 2019. (See the data of Figure: 2)
  2. . African illegal immigrants are not intending to go back home; thus, the number of asylum seekers has increased, especially in 2011 and 2014-2016. Yet, many asylum seekers are from Arab Spring countries, e.g., Syrians. Asylum seekers outnumbered landed immigrants during 2009-2010 because many of them applied their requests outside Italy. Thus, asylum seekers may apply their requests in the Italian embassies and consulates abroad.
  3. The data of this study emphasize that few African countries are considering the major sources of migration to Italy. For example, Nigeria (21%), Eritrea (11%), and Gambia (7%) were the leading exporter of illegal migrants to Italy in 2016. While Eritrea (25%) is the first exporter of illegal migrants, Nigeria (14%) was the second exporting country in 2015. Eritrea is a former Italian colony; thus, its’ illegal immigrants want to stay in Italy for cultural reasons. Yet, the Nigerians use Italy as a transit country to settle in other European countries, e.g., Germany.
  4. There is a correlation between the signing of the Friendship treaty of 2008 and the declining number of irregular immigration after that date. In 2007 and 2008, the number of landed migrants in Italy reached 20,455 and 36,951, respectively. Yet, the number of landed immigrants’ dropped sharply from 36,951 in 2008 to 9,537 and 4606 in 2009 and 2010 after signing the Treaty of Friendship. When Italy canceled the treaty of Benghazi in 2011, because of participation in the international alliance against the Kaddafi regime, the number of illegal migrants has increased in 2011 by fourteen double. (See the data of Figure: 2) Of course, Libya’s instability and the fall of the Kaddafi regime are other reasons for this dramatic increase of irregular migration in Italy in 2011 and after that. (Zevi and  Meichtry, 2011)
  5. Figure: 2 also refers to the impact of MoU (2017) on the declining number of irregular migration in Italy. The number of landed immigrants has dropped from 119.369 in 2017 to 34.134 in 2020. The number of undocumented migrants dropped more than three times (350%) in 2020 compared with 2017 due to joint efforts between the two countries to combat human trafficking. The Salvini Decree may contribute to the declining number of undocumented migrants. Furthermore, the European Union has also contributed to the efforts of combating irregular immigration by launching the Sophia operation. Yet, the previous data may not confirm a causal relationship between the MoU on the one hand and the declining number of landed irregular immigration on the other hand. Thus, further research in this regard needs.

Figure: 2

Impact of Agreements on the Number of Illegal Immigration in Italy, 2008- 2017

Data Source: same as Figure: 1.

Conclusion: results and Recommendations

Italy’s policy of irregular migration is a dynamic process that deals with a very complicated dilemma that reflects different levels of analysis, such as national, sub-regional, regional, and global levels. On the individual, there is a shift in anti-attitudes towards illegal migration among Italians. Thus, the influence of the right-wing has increased since the 1990s. Therefore, the government has taken laws and decrees reflect the security rather than human approach.

Also, Italy recognized from the beginning the importance of externalization to deal effectively with irregular migration. Thus, it signed agreements and treaties with the North African states in general and Libya in particular. Thus, Italy’s policy of irregular immigration represents a package of national laws, bilateral and multi-legal frameworks that reflect domestic and foreign milieu.

In the conclusion, the results of this study may summarize in the following points:

  1. The dilemma of Illegal migration is a new complicated phenomenon. It goes back to 1990 when the first wave landed on the Italian seacoast.
  2. Italy’s migration policy reflects an evolutionary approach. Yet, the management of the migration dilemma has extended to three decades, and yet it is not solved.
  3. Italy’s immigration policy adopts a Machiavellian oriented method to deal with the problem, but partial success has been achieved.
  4. The realist politics towards illegal immigration do not necessarily mean the absence of humanitarian aspects in dealing with landed immigrants, e., g., saving the lives of immigrants in the Mediterranean basin.
  5. Italy’s migration policy responses to the public opinion orientations and non-government politics.
  6. The migration policy has been affected by the center-right, left on, and the extreme right-wing on the other hand.
  7. The externalization of the illegal migration phenomenon began in the early 2000s, when Italy recognized the role of transit countries in managing the migration problem, e.g., singing agreements between Italy on the one side and Libya (2008, 2012 and 2017), Tunisia (2011), and Egypt (2011) on the other side.
  8. Italy’s migration policy focuses on the transit and sources of illegal migration; therefore, more intention is given to Libya and sub-Saharan African countries, e.g., controlling the Libyan Southern border and establishing a fund to combat irregular migration influx.
  9. Italy’s membership in the EU, Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the Refugee Convention (1951) enter to direct conflict with its domestic laws and decrees; thus, Italy has been criticized on these grounds.
  10. The externalization of migration policy was followed by a decreasing number of landed immigrants in the Italian seashores, e.g., the treaty (2008) and the MoU (2017).

The results of this study support, largely, the underlying assumption regarding the impact of internal and external variables on Italy’s migration policy. Domestically, Italy responded to public opinion pressure and non-governmental organizations by issuing many laws and decrees to deal effectively with the problem of illegal migration. Externally, Italy inked treaties and agreements to manage the migration dilemma. Yet, Italy’s domestic laws and bilateral agreements are not always consistent with its international obligations towards protecting refugees and respecting human rights.

As far as the recommendations of this study are concerned, three points may mention:

  1. Italy’s migration policy is a complicated phenomenon that requires more coordination and collaboration among its internal and external actors.
  2. Italy should deal more effectively and positively with the African countries, which export irregular migration.
  3. Italy’s migration policy should focus on stability in Libya because it is the transit country of refugees.


[1] – The asylum seekers to Italy reached the peak in 2016; thus, there “were more than 123,000, the highest figure ever reached in the last twenty years: an average of 10,000 per month”.(Lunghini, 2017)

[2] – For more details on the dynamic process and crucial players of public policy, see Wayne Parsons (2003).

[3] – Libya also suffers from the influx of illegal migrants who intended to stay or use it as a transit territory.

[4] – Libya and more than forty countries are not parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Accordingly, Libya does not distinguish between migrants and refugees on the one hand, and it is not obligated to settle them on the other hand. The Libyan Anti-Illegal migration Law (Number 19) of 2010 penalizes illegal migrants (article 6) with jail, paying a fine of one thousand Dinars, and deportation. However, Italy and most of the EU members are parties to the 1951 Convention. Thus, they are obligated to treat illegal migrants accordingly. (See the Refugee Convention of 1951)

[5] – Italy and Libya signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which guarantees the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. As emphasized by the rules and principles of international law domestic law should not contradict regional and international treaties that were signed and ratified by a given state. Consequently, Italian domestic laws that deal with illegal immigration enter into a direct conflict with international law. Here, it may argue that the relationship between law and politics is not a clear-cut as the realist scholars’ mention. (See in this regard, for example, Morgenthau, 1985)

[6] – Data on illegal migration in Italy is available consistently since the early 1990s by the Ministry of Interior website. According to the Italian Ministry of Interior, most illegal migrants use the Libyan territory as a transit route to reach Italy. In 2014, more than 140,000 migrants came to Italy from Libya, while around 25% came from other ways. Other available journeys for illegal migrants to reach Italy are from Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Morocco, and Montenegro, and see the web site of the Ministry of Interior.

[7]– There are many reasons for the influx of illegal migration in Italy. Geographical proximity, a lower level of population growth rate (0.23%), and cheap labor are prominent reasons to approach Italy as a suitable destination. For more details, see for example: (Banulescu-Bogdan and Fratzke, 2015).


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