An Italian ambassador warned Monday illegal immigration poses a security risk to Europe as a whole. Migrants are pictured during sea rescue operation by the Italian navy off the coast of Sicily Nov. 28, 2013. Reuters/Marina Militare/Handout

An Italian ambassador has warned immigrants arriving illegally through the Mediterranean pose a security threat to Europe as a whole. This threat is part of the reason Italy has been successful in shifting the European Union’s agenda toward the subject of migration, said Alessandro de Pedys, Italy’s ambassador to Poland, in an interview published Monday on the news site Euractiv.

“Illegal immigration is a threat for the whole of the EU,” de Pedys said. “Many of these people cannot or do not want to be identified -- they are a potential security threat to the whole of Europe in terms of terrorist and criminal infiltration, besides the economic concerns.” The diplomat, who has served as Italy’s ambassador to Poland since July, said “uncontrolled, illegal migration” was now on the EU’s agenda as a result of a significant push by his government during its presidency of the continental bloc last year.

Italy is one of the EU states that has been hardest hit by a surge of illegal immigration to Europe prompted by conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. More than 200,000 refugees and migrants arrived to Europe by sea in 2014, compared to 60,000 in 2013, the United Nations refugee agency said in a December report. Of these refugees, 160,000 arrived in Italy, which saw an “astonishing” 14,700 arrivals per month.

Italy’s government has repeatedly called for greater EU assistance in handling the issue, including for its Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue mission, which was deployed in the Mediterranean to monitor the often unsafe sea crossings that many migrants undertake to reach Europe from Africa. The operation, which cost 9 million euros a month, was brought to an end in October due to its cost and replaced by an EU-backed mission at less than third of the cost, the Guardian reported. The new mission, dubbed Triton, has been criticized for only focusing on border surveillance rather than rescuing migrants at sea.