Migrant arrivals to Italy by sea fell by a third in 2017 compared to a year earlier, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday, as Libyan authorities helped to slow departures during the second half of the year.
More than 119,000 reached Italy by boat in 2017 after a record 181,000 made the crossing in 2016, the ministry said in a statement. Since July, arrivals have declined by more than two thirds versus a year earlier.
In February, Italy signed an agreement with the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, promising aid, equipment and training in exchange for its help in fighting people smuggling. The deal was endorsed by the European Union.
Since then, armed groups supported by the Tripoli government have forced smugglers in the city of Sabratha – a key hub on the western coast – to stop sending out boats. Italy has also bolstered the Libyan coastguard’s ability to turn back boats.
More than 20,000 are estimated to have died attempting the crossing to Italy, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates, making it the deadliest border for migrants in the world.
But deaths at sea have declined as well, according to the IOM, with 2,833 in 2017, down more than 38 percent from 4,581 in 2016.