The arrival of Africans in Italy has prompted President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to visit the Italian island of Lampedusa.
After Italy witnessed the disembarkation of another 6,000 individuals on the shores of Lampedusa on September 13th, additional people arrived in the night of September 19th, increasing the overcrowded hotspot by nearly 2,000 more. The island reached a critical point that finally drew the attention of Italian Prime Minister Meloni and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Out of the 1,761 people who arrived two nights ago, predominantly Bengalis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Syrians, and Tunisians, 443 were unaccompanied minors. These migrants are gradually being relocated to Sicily or other cities within the country.
Some individuals arriving from Libya have already been registered, which was a foreseeable situation following the flooding that devastated the Libyan city of Derna.
The island's facility, originally built for 600 people, has been struggling to accommodate migrants this month. After last week's arrival of 6,000 people in a single day, the police had a hard time keeping migrants within the overcrowded hotspot, and many escaped into the town.
Videos have been circulating showing migrants from Northern Africa participating in the local celebrations of the town's patron saint and dancing with tourists to the tune of "Jerusalema." From a local perspective, residents have complained that the island did not receive sufficient assistance from Italy or Europe, exacerbating the challenges the island has faced for years.
This mobilised Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who had always advocated for a naval blockade in her electoral plan and has now revived the idea more strongly than ever. The naval blockade would involve military action to prevent boats from crossing the Mediterranean to Italy.
After flying to the Mediterranean island and assessing the situation, Meloni issued a passionate appeal to von der Leyen, inviting her to visit Lampedusa and develop a plan for Europe.
On Sunday, September 17th, accompanied by Meloni herself and Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, von der Leyen visited the hotspot. After seeing the island, she later stated in a press conference, "Italy can rely on the EU," and reiterated, "The challenge of illegal immigration is a European challenge that demands a European response."
As reported by the Italian news agency Ansa, von der Leyen proposed a 10-point plan to address the migrant crisis.
These points include providing stronger support to Italy from the European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA) and the European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) to manage and process the high number of arriving migrants, transferring them out of the island to Italy or other European states, and facilitating their return to their countries of origin through improved cooperation and readmission efforts.
A priority of this plan is also to prevent departures by establishing new agreements with countries of origin to combat smuggling, including a special arrangement between Tunisia and Frontex, and imposing restrictions on vessels not fit for Mediterranean sailing.
Finally, the goal is to enhance sea and air border surveillance, both through Frontex and by supplying equipment and increasing training for Tunisian coast guards and other law enforcement authorities, according to Ansa's report.
Lampedusa, a small island with only 6,000 residents (before the arrival of migrants), lies in the Mediterranean, just 70 miles from Tunisia and 130 miles from Sicily. Due to its proximity to North Africa, Lampedusa has been one of the primary Italian destinations for African individuals fleeing their home countries.
Italy reached the milestone of 100,000 annual migrant arrivals to its shores in August (last year, this number was reported before Christmas). However, it ranks sixth in Europe in terms of the number of refugees or asylum seekers, with 296,181 in 2022, trailing behind Germany, Poland, France, Czechia, and Spain.
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