CAGLIARI — Just over 280 kilometers (174 miles) of Mediterranean water separates the Algerian port city of Annaba from the Sulcis on the southwest coast of the Italian island of Sardinia. As Italy continues to crack down on trafficking routes linking Libya to its other major island, Sicily, attention is shifting to new routes. Algiers-based daily El Watan reports that the Sardinian regional government is worried about an uptick in arrivals on the island, and has vowed to put an end to illegal immigration from Algeria. A new proposal includes plans to convert a former prison into a detention center.
Unlike refugees arriving from Syria and other war zones, migrants from Algeria cannot seek asylum in Italy and must leave within seven days of receiving an expulsion notice from Italian authorities. According to Sardinian newspaper La Nuova Sardegna, some 1,000 Algerians enter Sardinia illegally every year, with the number of arrivals already more than 1,200 for 2017.
While 80% of migrants are intercepted upon their arrival, Sardinian officials say that too many fall through the cracks. With seven days on hand before they must be repatriated, many take a ferry to the mainland of Italy, often with ultimate plans to go elsewhere in Europe.
Now on the radar
With most of the focus on the increasing illegal migrant traffic coming from Libya and Tunisia, the Algerian route has gone virtually unnoticed. The case of Bachir Hadjadj, an Algerian terror suspected expelled from Belgium in May who later returned to Europe through Sardinia, has now put it on the Italian government's radar.
The regional government in Sardinia plans to convert a former prison in the central town of Macomer into a new detention center for migrants while they await repatriation. The project has run into opposition from locals, and the town's opposition parties have requested a referendum on the center against the wishes of the mayor.
Because most Algerians arriving in Italy do not plan on seeking asylum, they bypass the country's system of refugee reception centers and often go undetected by authorities. Sardinian leaders believe the new detention center could help stem to the influx of arrivals from Algeria. "People will be barred from leaving the administrative detention center while they await expulsion," said regional minister Filippo Spanu. "Its principal goal is to end the inflow from Algeria."