The number of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores has nearly doubled compared with last year.
Almost 41,000 people have arrived in Italy by sea since January, compared with 21,000 over the same period in 2020.
The jump in numbers is not a one-off. Crossings during last year’s pandemic-affected summer were higher than in 2019.
Warm summer weather and political instability in North Africa have been linked to the rising number of crossings, with Libyan coast guards stopping three times as many people as last year.
Tunisian nationals made up more than a quarter of those who arrived in Italy this year. More than 33,000 of them set off from Libya or Tunisia.
Some took longer routes to Italy, with 5,000 travelling via Turkey, 800 setting off from Algeria and 600 from Egypt.
The most common port of entry was on the island of Lampedusa, but others arrived on Sicily or at the southern tip of the Italian mainland.
Lampedusa has a housing complex for migrants who reach the island after being rescued from boats launched by smugglers based in Libya.
Fishing boats or rubber dinghies crowded with migrants sometimes reach the island unaided after setting off from Tunisia’s coast.
The crossings have continued into September, with 548 people arriving on the Italian coast last Wednesday and another 283 on Thursday.
Although three quarters of this year’s arrivals were men, there were thousands of women and children, including more than 6,000 unaccompanied minors.
At least 20,000 people have applied for asylum this year, but many have been rejected. Asylum requests are often denied by Italy unless people can show they are fleeing war and persecution rather than poverty.
As of this summer there were more than 53,000 asylum cases pending in Italy, according to figures from the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.
The EU and Italy have provided support to Libyan coast guards in an effort to reduce illegal migration to their shores.
But an EU watchdog this week criticised the bloc’s efforts to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers, which it said were encouraging illegal migration.
Efforts by Brussels to persuade non-EU countries to take back migrants have “yielded limited results,” said the European Court of Auditors.
It said EU officials could not even agree on the size of the problem, with border guards giving different figures to the bloc’s statistics agency on how many people had been ordered to leave.