Italy’s Interior Ministry said on Sunday that over 119,000 refugees had landed on the country’s southern shores this year, a drastic fall compared to 2016 that saw a record of 181,000 arrivals.
It said that the flow fell by more than two third since July, four months after Rome reached an agreement with Libya’s internationally-recognized government and militia groups backed by it to stop departures from the country.
The agreement, which has gained the endorsement of the European Union and other Western governments, has faced fierce criticism from rights campaigners who say it has left hundreds of thousands of refugees across Libya in dire humanitarian conditions. The criticism exacerbated following the release of a video on the internet which showed Libyans trading refugees in a slavery market.
However, the Italian government and the ruling Democratic Party (PD) has boasted about the deal and its impact on refugee flow, especially now that it prepares for a national election in March.
Interior Minister Marco Minniti hailed the February agreement with Tripoli administration and said that the decline was really significant.
“We were able to govern the flow because we were the first to believe that an agreement with Libya was a turning point,” Minniti said in an interview published Sunday.
The route across the Mediterranean from Libya to the north has been the deadliest for refugees in the world. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 20,000 have died while taking the route over the past years. It said the deaths at sea fell by more than 38 percent in 2017 when 2,833 were killed compared to 4,581 in 2016.