ROME (Reuters) - Italy will seek to deport more migrants who have no right to be in the country and will open new detention centers to hold them before their expulsion, according to a written directive and a ministry source.
Police chief Franco Gabrielli sent a two-page directive to stations across the country on Friday ordering them to increase efforts to identify and deport migrants a week after Berlin Christmas market attacker Anis Amri was shot dead near Milan.
The directive, seen by Reuters, says police should take “extraordinary action” before the “growing migratory pressure in an international context marked by instability and threats” to “control and remove irregular foreigners.”
Interior Minister Marco Minniti plans to open several new detention centers that hold migrants prior to their expulsion, a ministry source said, in line with repeated requests by European Union partners.
The tougher migrant stance, which several Italian papers ran on their front pages on Saturday, is the first major policy change made by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s government since it took power in mid-December, and comes on the heels of a record year of boat migrant arrivals.
It also comes less than a month after the Berlin truck attack by Amri that killed 12, including an Italian woman.
The Tunisian Amri came to Italy by boat in 2011. Italy later tried without success to deport him back to Tunisia. He was then released from a detention center and ordered to leave the country in 2015.
Gentiloni’s predecessor, Matteo Renzi, agreed to set up “hotspots” to identify and fingerprint migrants who arrived on Italian shores, but he refused to build large detention centers to hold migrants who did not qualify refugee status.
Only four pre-deportation detention centers with about 360 beds are now functioning. The Interior Ministry is aiming to open up about 16 more with at least 1,000 more spots, the source said. That would still accommodate only a fraction of migrants without permits of stay estimated to be living in Italy.
Of the more than 27,000 expulsion orders handed out in Italy in 2015, fewer than 5,000 were deported, according to Eurostat figures.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called for greater efforts to deport those who do not qualify for international protection, but the process is slow and expensive, and it requires bilateral agreements with the countries of origin.
Italy currently has bilateral agreements with only a handful of African countries.
Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Stephen Powell