MILAN — The number of Italians who moved abroad rose by more than 6 percent last year, according to new figures released Thursday that set off a debate about the root causes of the exodus.
A report by the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Migrant Foundation, citing official government statistics, put the net number of Italian emigrants last year at 107,529, with young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 comprising more than one-third of the total.
Opposition politicians blamed the government for failing to create economic opportunities at home, while Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the figures provide momentum for his reform policies.
“The young people who want to go have all the right to do so,” Renzi said in Turin. “We must create a climate that allows them to return.”
Northern League leader Matteo Salvini seized on the report to suggest Italians were being driven out by migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.
Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Benedetto Della Vedova, called the assertion “absurd” and said it created a culture of hatred.
“The reason for which Italian emigration is rising is the same for which immigration is going down, in heavy decline compared to a few years ago: a long economic crisis with serious implications for employment,” Della Vedova said.
The report Catholic Bishops report listed Germany as the top destination for Italian emigrants, followed by Britain. The prosperous northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto had the most people leaving, followed by Sicily.
The foundation said the outbound trend has been growing over the last decade, with the number of Italians living abroad growing by half since 2006 to reach 4.8 million as of Jan. 1.