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Italy to pass tougher measures to deter migrant arrivals

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ROME, Sept 18 (Reuters) – The Italian government, struggling with a surge in migrant arrivals, will pass measures on Monday to lengthen the time migrants can be held and to ensure more people who have no right to stay are repatriated, officials said.

The move comes after almost 10,000 migrants reached the southern Italian island of Lampedusa last week, dealing a blow to the credibility of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who won office last year vowing to curb illegal immigration.

In an bid to regain the initiative, the cabinet was set to lengthen the time migrants awaiting repatriation can be detained to up to 18 months from three at present, officials said.

Ministers will also approve the creation of more detention centres in isolated areas.

Under Italian law, migrants facing repatriation can be held if they cannot be immediately expelled.

More than 127,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, according to government data, almost double the figure for the same period of 2022.

Officials say a majority of migrants head to Italy for economic reasons and are therefore not eligible for asylum.

However, Rome only has repatriation agreements with some of the countries whose migrants come ashore in Italy, and even when there is a bilateral deal is in place, it can take months to send people home.

Highlighting the difficulties, data produced by the OpenPolis think-tank shows that only 20% of those targeted by a repatriation order left the country between 2014 and 2020.

Past efforts to hold migrants have also largely failed, with those detained repeatedly breaking out of centres and often heading straight to wealthier northern European countries.

The Italian parliament in April approved measures to create new migrant centres for people waiting to hear the outcome of asylum applications as well as more detention facilities for those facing expulsion.

As part of the package, it set aside around 20 million euros ($21.32 million) over two years.

Meloni, who put tackling illegal immigration at the forefront of her successful election campaign last year, visited Lampedusa on Sunday with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and asked Brussels to do more to help.

Von der Leyen promised a 10-point EU action plan to relieve the pressure, but the measures appeared similar to previous initiatives that have failed to make much impact.

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