The tiny Italian island of
is grappling with a surge in migrant boats arriving from North Africa, with the number peaking at 7,000 people, equivalent to the entire local population.
The island’s reception center, designed for fewer than 400 individuals, was overwhelmed with men, women, and children who were forced to sleep outside on makeshift plastic cots, many wrapped in metallic emergency blankets.
Recent good weather has led to a significant increase in arrivals across Italy, with over 5,000 people landing in the country on Tuesday and nearly 3,000 on Wednesday, according to updated figures from the interior ministry.
Lampedusa is situated in the Mediterranean, positioned between Tunisia, Malta, and the larger Italian island of Sicily. It often serves as the initial destination for many migrants aiming to reach the European Union.
Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino told Italy’s RTL 102.5 radio that in the last 48 hours, approximately 7,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa, a place that has traditionally welcomed them with open arms. He emphasized that the island has now reached a critical juncture, facing a crisis.
Matteo Villa from the ISPI think tank described the number of arrivals over 48 hours on the island as an “absolute record.”
Local authorities declared a state of emergency, and tensions flared on Wednesday during food distribution at the center, prompting police intervention.
On Thursday, hundreds more migrants arrived, but many were transferred off the island for processing in Sicily, and the Red Cross said that the situation was “more under control.”
Cots were set up both inside and outside the Lampedusa center for overnight accommodation, while during the day, others sought shelter from the sun’s heat in the shade between the buildings.
Some young men ventured into Lampedusa’s historic town center, with a few scaling the high perimeter fence. An AFP photographer found some of them waiting in line for ice cream on Wednesday evening, with several expressing hunger.
Most of the migrants arriving on Lampedusa are rescued at sea by the coastguard from fragile boats. Tragically, many do not survive the perilous journey, and this year alone, more than 2,000 people have lost their lives attempting to cross from North Africa to Italy and Malta, according to the UN migration agency. Among the recent casualties was a five-month-old baby who reportedly fell into the water early Wednesday.
Lampedusa’s migrant “hotspot” has faced ongoing challenges in handling the arrivals for years, with humanitarian organizations highlighting shortages of water, food, and medical care.
The Italian Red Cross took over management of the center in June, pledging to provide a more “dignified” reception. Francesca Basile, the organization’s head of migration, expressed that the situation is complex but efforts are underway to return to normality, with food distribution and necessary provisions provided to everyone.
Italy’s hard-right government allocated 45 million euros ($48 million) to Lampedusa earlier this month to assist the island in managing the migrant situation. However, Prime Minister
, who was elected a year ago on a promise to address mass migration, has called for more support from the European Union.
Migration is not the solution to the continent’s demographic crisis, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday as she met right-wing ally Viktor Orban in Budapest.
“We live in an era where everything that defines us is under attack,” Meloni said, adding that defending the traditional model of the family and God was part of “a great battle” to protect humankind and the rights of people.
In response, the European Commission noted that it had already offered 14 million euros in emergency aid to help manage arrivals, along with deploying hundreds of border, security, and immigration officials on the ground. A spokesperson for the commission emphasized their readiness to support Italy.
So far this year, almost 126,000 migrants have arrived on Italy’s shores, surpassing the 66,500 arrivals during the same period last year. Although the numbers have yet to exceed those of 2016, when over 181,000 migrants arrived during a surge in irregular migration to Europe, the issue of migration remains a significant political concern, especially ahead of European Parliament elections next June.
Matteo Salvini, the deputy of Prime Minister Meloni and a member of the anti-immigration League party, referred to the recent arrivals as “an act of war” against Italy.
(With inputs from agencies)