Italy struggles with record migration as 5,000 arrive in one day
The Sicilian island of Lampedusa saw more than 5,000 people arrive in a single day this week, raising alarms about humanitarian conditions. Italy’s right-wing government has vowed to crack down on migration, but Mediterranean crossings continue to rise.
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As Italy struggles to accommodate arrivals from North Africa and the Balkans, the country’s Red Cross sounded the alarm Wednesday about humanitarian conditions for migrants.
More than 5,000 people in more than 100 different migrant boats arrived in one day on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, according to the Associated Press, with smugglers in north Africa taking advantage of calm seas to set off.
At least one baby died near shore as a boat capsized, state radio said.
Dozens of new arrivals crouched on the rocky jetties of Lampedusa’s port, while others sheltered in the shade of a nearby camping ground as the island’s lone migrant welcome center, which has a capacity of around 400, overflowed with more than 6,000 people, the AP reported.
Lampedusa’s former mayor, Giusi Nicolini, who has long advocated for migrants, said in a social media post so many people had arrived it seemed impossible to even count them all, according to the AP.
Despite the “record numbers,” local police chief Emanuele Ricifari told reporters last month that the authorities were in control of the situation.
In Trieste, near the border with Slovenia, Mayor Roberto Dipiazza was less sanguine as he complained to the Corriere della Sera daily about an unprecedented “invasion of migrants.”
“I have been dealing with problems related to migrants since the 1990s, I have seen everything and more, but I could not imagine such a thing. The city is in an emergency,” he said.
So far this year, more than 115,000 people have arrived by boat, many of them from countries like Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Tunisia. That’s nearly double the 63,000 in the same period last year or the 41,000 in 2021, according to interior ministry statistics cited by the Associated Press.
The spike has partly been driven by an increase in the ranks of unaccompanied minors making the perilous sea journey to Italy. More than 12,000 have arrived since Jan. 1.
In Lampedusa, incoming sea migrants are crammed in a so-called “hotspot” with an official capacity of a few hundred places, before being transferred to the larger island of Sicily.
The facility, which is routinely overcrowded, was taken over by the Italian Red Cross on June 1, replacing a cooperative that had been criticized for failing to provide adequate care.
“Days ago there were more than 4,000 people and we were talking about a record, today we are talking about a record of landings,” the Red Cross’ national director Rosario Valastro said in a social media post cited by the AP. The issue isn’t a competition about records, he said, but about finding solutions to an emergency.
The Red Cross has urged the Italian government to quickly transfer the migrants to the mainland, saying their personnel had managed to keep the situation under control but that the disembarkation from more than 100 boats was pushing the limit. Medical personnel were focusing attention on the most fragile, but the group warned that maintaining adequate humanitarian conditions was dependent on keeping the numbers below a critical threshold.
State-run RAI radio said a five-month-old baby drowned during a boat capsizing off Lampedusa early Wednesday; the other 46 passengers including the mother were rescued by a nearby Italian coast guard ship, the AP reported.
Mr. Valastro has previously called for “a different way of welcoming and different migration policies.”
“I hope that not only Italy but the whole European and international community will be able to respond effectively and not give in to chaos,” he said.
The Italian government has vowed to go after human smugglers and has restricted the activities of charity rescue ships, impounding several of their vessels last month.
But with the country facing a shrinking population and labor force shortages, it has also raised entry quotas for non-EU migrant workers to 452,000 for 2023-2025 from around 83,000 in 2022.