Examining the Costs of Emigration for North Africans to Italy


On September 14, 2023, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi released a decree stating that asylum seekers will need to pay a $5,000 (US) dollar fine to avoid waiting in a detention center while their applications are under review.[1] The decree was promulgated as a direct result of an influx of North African migrants into Italy, and notably, it does not allow asylum seekers to pay the fine through third parties.[2] Additionally, the decree requires receipt of the fine: (1) before border control processes the applicant’s biometric data; and (2) before an additional separate deadline.[3]  


Initially, the decree seems draconian. It requires payment of a fine – one that would be hefty even by first-world standards – by individuals landing on Italian soil with nothing but the clothes on their backs, with charities and humanitarian organizations unable to pay the fines on these individuals’ behalf.[4] These asylum seekers hail primarily from Tunisia and Libya, seeking refuge from the overcrowding, political instability, and food insecurity that plague these countries.[5] Despite the fact that more than 2,000 asylum seekers have died trying to traverse the Mediterranean – with 289 of the deaths being of children –, they continue to emigrate to Italy and other European countries in droves.[6]


However, North Africans are only half of the equation in the calculus that led to the promulgation of Piantedosi’s decree. Lampedusa, the primary point of arrival in Italy for fleeing Tunisians and Libyans, is a small island of 6,000 people; in September alone, native Lampedusans witnessed the arrival of 7,000 asylum seekers within the span of two days.[7] In their wake, these asylum seekers have littered the Lampedusan coast with debris, ranging from “rotting clothes” to “metal smugglers boats.”[8] This, coupled with the fact that the Italian government seems to be focusing on curtailing this influx, rather than eliminating outright, has caused the Lampedusans’ patience to wear thin. Out of fear that their economy of tourism and fishing will be negatively impacted, Lampedusans have begun to actively oppose their own government’s efforts; recently, they blocked a shipment of tents sent by the government meant to house extra migrants.[9]


With this context in mind, the ethical nature of Piantedosi’s decree becomes nebulous. Rather than a discriminatory tactic, it is instead an act of desperation by a government stuck in the impact zone of an unstoppable force and an immovable object. However, considering the uniqueness of the situation, and that asylum seekers will continue to emigrate to Italy whether the Italian government forbids it or not, Piantedosi may have taken the most appropriate measure possible while considering the interests of both Italians and migrants. Unfortunately for native Lampedusans, the Italian government can only do so much to combat an unprecedented international crisis, despite considering it an “absolute priority.”[10] If Piantedosi and the Italian government do not come up with a more permanent solution soon, weary Lampedusans are likely to take matters into their own hands, and unilaterally enact more drastic preventative measures beyond stopping tent shipments. 

[1] Amora Evans, New Italy Decree Requires Asylum Seekers to Pay Fee to Avoid Detention During Application Process, JURIST Legal News & Research Services, Inc. (Sept. 24, 2023, 10:56 AM), https://www.jurist.org/news/2023/09/new-italy-decree-requires-asylum-seekers-to-pay-fee-to-avoid-detention-during-application-process/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id. (the article does not mention the parameters of the second deadline).

[4] Id.

[5] Lidia Ginestra Giuffrida, On Lampedusa, The Lucky Few Who Made It Across the Sea Live in Misery, Al Jazeera Media Network (Sept. 28, 2023), https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2023/9/28/on-lampedusa-the-lucky-few-who-made-it-across-the-med-live-in-misery.

[6] Id.

[7] Barbie Latza Nadeau et al., 7,000 People Arrive on Italian Island of 6,000 as Migrant Crisis Overwhelms Lampedusa, CNN (Sept. 15, 2023, 8:51 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/15/europe/italy-lampedusa-migrant-crisis-intl/index.html.

[8] Ruth Sherlock, Desperate People from North Africa Landed on the Mediterranean Island of Lampedusa, NPR News (Sept. 22, 2023, 7:20 AM), https://www.npr.org/2023/09/22/1200994889/desperate-people-from-north-africa-landed-on-the-mediterranean-island-of-lampedu.

[9] Id.

[10] Nadeau, supra note 7.