By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) - Asylum seekers in Italy will have to pay 4,938 euros ($5,259) to avoid detention while their request for protection is being processed, the government said on Friday, in a measure apparently aimed at deterring migrants.
Facing a surge in new arrivals, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's coalition announced this week that it would increase the number of detention centres around the country to hold migrants ahead of their possible repatriation.
It also said that it would increase the amount of time people could be detained to 18 months from three months.
At present migrants to Italy who apply for asylum are free to move within the country while their application is reviewed, but the government decree published on Friday said they would have to pay a type of bail to stave off the threat of detention.
Human rights groups attacked the move.
"It is ridiculous. Who has got 5,000 euros?" said Anna Brambilla, a lawyer and member of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI) that focuses on migrant rights.
"They are looking to make detention for migrants the norm, but it is hard to see how they can do that," she told Reuters.
At present there are 10 repatriation centres in Italy, which have a current capacity of just 619. Meloni has said she wants to at least double the number, and place one in each of the country's 20 regions.
However, many regional presidents and town mayors from across the political spectrum have said they do not want to host new centres and questioned the efficiency of a mass lock-up.
"We are talking about emptying the sea with a bucket," said Luca Zaia, the head of the northern Veneto region and a senior member of the coalition League party, traditionally anti-migrant.
MIGRANT NUMBERS RISING
Latest interior ministry data says 132,867 migrants have reached Italy by boat so far this year against 69,498 in the same period of 2022.
Italy does not have repatriation deals with many of the nations where the migrants come from, meaning it cannot deport them even if it wants to. Highlighting the problem, Rome deported just 3,916 foreigners in 2022.
Italian officials say the vast majority of people coming ashore in boats from north Africa are economic migrants looking for a better life in Europe and not eligible for asylum.
In 2022 Italy reviewed 52,625 asylum requests, rejecting 53.5% of them, according to official data. The government this year tightened the rules, scrapping "special protection" residency permits that were offered to migrants who did not qualify for asylum, but who faced humanitarian risks back home.
Some 10,865 of these permits were granted in 2022.
($1 = 0.9390 euros)
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alex Richardson)