LONDON: Some 70,000 migrants in Libya are waiting to take the precarious sea crossing to Europe, Italy’s intelligence service has claimed, prompting discussions of a naval blockade.
The claim follows some 2,150 migrants reaching the small Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday and Monday.
Around 800 of those who had risked their lives to cross the sea traveled in two large fishing boats.
“Our migrant center has space for 200, so they were sleeping outside the center’s gates last night,” said Salvatore Martello, the island’s mayor.
Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that the Italian intelligence service assessed that 50,000-70,000 migrants are now ready to take the same route.
Many EU states agreed in 2019 to take in proportional redistribution of migrants as Italy endured thousands of arrivals, but few states have maintained their commitments.
Some 13,000 migrants have landed in Italy so far in 2021, triple the 4,184 that arrived at the same time last year.
Local fishermen claimed that some of the migrants in Lampedusa sailed from Tunisia in larger ships before making the final trip in smaller boats, but the majority of the 2,150 sailed from Libya.
Over 500 people have died on the naval route from Libya to Italy this year, a rising trend that has been exacerbated by smugglers putting migrants onto precarious, weak dinghies.
Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said Libyan militias are using human trafficking and migration as leverage against the EU.
“These are groups which fought against General (Khalifa) Haftar in the recent Libyan conflict and are angry that the new unity government has appointed people close to Haftar,” said Mezran.
“That makes them angry with Europe, which backs the government. They have enough influence on the coast to stop trafficking or allow it, and right now they are allowing it to show their displeasure.”