Italy: Linking administrative records to analyze refugee mobility and duration of stay

Drafted in collaboration with the Italian National Institute of Statistics.


According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), there has now been a progressive and significant reduction in the number of arrivals of people seeking protection following the peak of asylum requests that occurred during the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean [1]. Despite this downward trend, more than 500,000 people have sought asylum in Italy since 2014 [2]. Contrary to earlier understanding, many of these people are not temporarily passing through the country but have remained (or are likely to remain) there for many years.

In this context, ISTAT has been working together with the Ministry of Interior to improve statistics on refugees and related populations. Together, they aim to produce quality data for better informed national policy, starting with analytical work on their duration of stay and mobility within the country. More recently, ISTAT has been working to better integrate administrative data into their national statistical system in order to enumerate refugee and asylum seekers among university students. Preliminary results on this exercise will be available shortly.



Linking administrative records to improve statistics

In order to produce and disseminate statistics on refugees, asylum seekers and related populations, ISTAT has elaborated a new database with information from different sources using record linking techniques. During this process, ISTAT has combined data from two different administrative registers that include information on relevant populations. One of these registers contains data collected by the Ministry of Interior on residence permits, including those granted on the basis of asylum, those granted to recognized refugees and those granted for other humanitarian reasons.

The second database is the national population register, including information on vital events such as births, deaths and marriage. The institute then works to link relevant information from both registers in order to produce a new database that contains important information on asylum seekers, refugees and related populations.

This new database allows for analysis on key topics including ongoing work to study the internal mobility of refugees in Italy and their length of stay for those who arrived during the 2014 – 2016 crisis. This topic is relevant for both central and local governance as the entry point for many asylum seekers occurs in the south of the country, including on the country’s various islands, following which they often move to the center and north of the country to seek better work and housing opportunities.

Data quality challenges associated with the original registers has limited the possibilities of ISTAT’s analytical work. It is, for example, currently difficult to use data collected on the profession or education levels of the populations of concern.  As explained by Cinzia Conti from ISTAT, “to transform administrative data into official statistics, it is necessary to invest in the quality at the data collection stage. As data collectors often do not know how the data will be used subsequently, data quality of apparently non-essential fields can suffer.”


“To transform administrative data into official statistics, it is necessary to invest in the quality at the data collection stage. As data collectors often do not know how the data will be used subsequently, data quality of apparently non-essential fields can suffer.”

Ms. Cinzia Conti, senior Researcher, Italian National Institute of Statistics


Despite these challenges, the database designed by ISTAT presents a concrete opportunity to strengthen policy-relevant analysis on forcibly displaced populations. Both topics (the stability of refugees’ presence in the country and their internal mobility patterns) will inform the development of a report that will contribute to understand the level of integration of refugees. The report is expected in 2022.

The use of the international recommendations

The design of the ISTAT initiative employed the definitions of refugees and related populations used by the European Regulation No 862/2007[3], which are aligned to the Refugee Convention and therefore also with the International Recommendations on Refugee Statistics (IRRS).

In addition, the adoption of the international recommendations had a significant impact on ISTAT’s work in this area. The IRRS’ focus on variables and indicators to measure integration – including for recent arrivals – prompted a shift in understanding within ISTAT. The institute started to work with the assumption that many refugees in Italy were not only temporary migrants but had come to the country to settle. Consequently, ISTAT started exploring opportunities to assess the level of integration of these vulnerable populations with guidance from the IRRS.


This case presents an interesting example of enhancing the use of existing administrative data for official statistics on forced displacement. The record linking technique used by ISTAT was made possible through effective coordination and data sharing between organizations and has contributed to deepening the cooperation between the Ministry of the Interior and ISTAT in practice.

Thematically, ISTAT’s work constitutes an exciting example of country-level implementation of the recommendations given its policy-relevant focus on integration, although limited by data quality. With the available guidance from the IRRS and the shift in understanding about the intended length of stay of refugees and asylum seekers, ISTAT, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, is exploring new ways to enhance its analysis of the integration of these populations into society.