According to statistics compiled by the UN refugee agency and the Italian government, almost 171,000 people have arrived in Italy from north Africa since the start of this year.
As reported by the British newspaper The Guardian, the vast majority of them arrived in dinghies and decrepit fishing vessels that set out from Libya and Egypt: while migration flows in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece have been drastically reduced, the central Mediterranean route remained the main migrant gateway into Europe.
The total of arrivals to Italy's shores as already surpassed the previous record of 170,000, set in 2014. Moreover, UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler recently indicated that there are roughly 235,000 refugees and migrants stranded on Libyan coastal cities, who "are just waiting for a good opportunity to depart for Italy".
Libya has become the main staging point for migrants from North Africa and the Middle East seeking to reach Europe, in particular after the Libyan civil war has weakened the country's capacity to tackle the problem of people smuggling, and worsened the living conditions of the migrants arriving there from Africa.
A recent survey of new arrivals in Italy by the International Organisation for Migration showed that 70% of respondents had been exploited to some degree during their journey to Europe. Enslaving, kidnapping, sexual abuses and even torture have been often reported to occur.
Many of the people who have reached Italy are Africans who are more likely to be economic migrants rather than victims of political persecution. They are supposed to be sent home but in practice repatriation has proved difficult, and a European Union relocation plan has faced strong opposition, especially from Eastern European states, and so far less than 1,300 have been transferred out of the nearly 40,000 refugees that were supposed to be relocated from Italy and settled in other European nations.