In the past years the Italian Antimafia has repeatedly confirmed the involvement of mafia groups in the management of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers entering Italy unauthorized. Investigations, in different parts of the country have specifically looked at mafia interests in the administration of migrant accommodation and temporary assistance, usually through criminal businesses developed thanks to public funding which is spent in times of emergency. Relying on fieldwork in the iconic border island of Lampedusa and the analysis of judicial documents and public sources relative to the case of the island’s and other national migrants and asylum seekers reception and detention centres, this article investigates how the involvement of mafia groups is facilitated by the almost permanent migration emergency interesting Italy – and Europe – from almost two decades. By drawing on the three relatively different cases of Lampedusa, Crotone and Rome, here we show how mafias enter the complex European multi-level governance of migration and asylum and succeed in accessing the substantial financial resources allocated for it. As we demonstrate, criminal groups are facilitated when new public funding became available over emergencies, when thus controls on transparency and due diligence tend to be overruled. This is especially true because of mafias’ pervasive control of the territory which is maintained thanks to a system of informal, clientelistic relationships in the governance of the local. Yet, as we discuss here, this is even more the case when funding is made available by geographically and institutionally distant authorities such as the European ones in Brussels.