More than 600,000 migrants have arrived by boat in southern Italy over the past four years - seeking sanctuary from war, persecution and extreme poverty across the Mediterranean.

At first, most Italians were as tolerant and patient with the new arrivals as any other European might have been - or at least gave shrugging acceptance to their country's place in the front line of the refugee crisis.

But frustration at the continuing (if not declining) influx, the heavy burden it's believed to have placed on the country's struggling economy and anger at other European nations for not doing more to help, has seen public attitudes harden significantly.

Italy's most demagogic politicians have taken full advantage. After inconclusive general elections in March 2018, there's now a new government in Rome - a coalition of the far-right Lega party and the populist Five Star Movement - which has made plain its determination to start closing the door on the country's "uninvited" guests.

Yet not everyone will be so eager to see the welcome mat removed, particularly those for whom the migrant flow has proved to be a hugely profitable enterprise.

On landing, arrivals are funnelled straight into a network of over 7,000 mostly privately-run emergency reception centres - some housing just a dozen people, some giving sanctuary to hundreds.

Large or small, these shelters are jointly funded by Italy and the European Union and operate under contracts issued by prefectures, the regional offices of the Italian Ministry of Interior.

So far so good, but as this episode of People & Power reveals, the sheer numbers of arriving migrants in recent years, compounded by inadequate monitoring of the way the centres are run, have left the system wide open to corruption and exploitation.

In fact, it's grown into a hugely profitable business worth over 4 billion euros ($4.6bn) a year, in which every migrant is valued at roughly 35 euros (roughly $40) a day. Such sums are a magnet for ruthless entrepreneurs and organised crime.

It's no wonder, as one Italian politician told producers Emanuele Piano and Alessandro Righi, that to the Mafia, "migrants are now worth more than narcotics."

In this disturbing film, we investigate claims that Italy's migrant reception network is being widely abused by those who see the helpless as little more than commodities.

Source: Al Jazeera