Migrant surge turns Italian island of Lampedusa into ‘powder keg’

Migrant surge turns Italian island of Lampedusa into ‘powder keg’
Migrants from Tunisia arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa in the middle of the Mediterranean. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 25 July 2020

Migrant surge turns Italian island of Lampedusa into ‘powder keg’

Migrant surge turns Italian island of Lampedusa into ‘powder keg’
  • Lampedusa mayor warns of ‘explosion’ after latest wave of Libyan arrivals

ROME: Tensions on Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean, are at breaking point following the arrival of more than 250 migrants from Libya in the past two days, with the island’s mayor describing the situation as “explosive.”

The latest group of migrants landed in small boats on Saturday, placing further strain on Lampedusa’s already overcrowded holding center.

A wave of more than 1,000 migrants has reached the island from Libya in the past three days.

“The situation now is unmanageable. It is an emergency,” Salvatore Martello, Lampedusa’s mayor, told Arab News.

“If the government doesn’t proclaim a state of emergency, I will,” he said.

The migrants were either rescued at sea or managed to avoid detection by the Italian and Libyan coast guards.

All the arrivals — some traveling in dinghies carrying only six to eight people — were sent to the holding center on the island, known as the “hotspot.”

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Designed to hold about 100 people, the facility now houses 10 times that number.

Local officials on Saturday ordered an emergency transfer of about 300 migrants to another center in Sicily.

“The hotspot is no longer able to welcome migrants,” Martello said. “The responsibility for this emergency should not fall on the mayor, the municipal administration and the people living in the island.”

He said: “It seems impossible to stop this wave. We have already transferred some migrants to Sicily, but by the time they leave the island there are even more arriving, so the hotspot remains overcrowded.

“Today no transfer to Porto Empedocle (in Sicily) is planned, but five dinghies have already arrived from Tunisia.”

Lampedusa is about 100 km from the Tunisian coast.  

Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese is expected go to Tunis on Monday for talks with Tunisian authorities on a joint strategy to prevent migrants leaving the country for Italy.

“The Tunisian government has to do something, they must cooperate to stop this wave. Italy cannot be left alone,” Anna Maria Bernini, a Forza Italia senator told Arab news.

“We understand that people want to flee from Libya where there is no peace, but Tunisia is safe as far as we know. So they must do something and quickly, otherwise Lampedusa will explode,” she said.

The Tunisian Statistic Institute has said that it will collect data until March 2021 to help define the country’s migration policies.

Meanwhile, Italy’s foreign ministry has allocated funds to support the International Organization for Migration in Tunisia, which helps voluntary repatriation of migrants.