Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has made a visit to a migrant reception centre on Lampedusa, an Italian island. This comes in response to a call from the country’s prime minister for European Union assistance in managing the flow of small boat arrivals.
In the past three days alone, the island has seen a large influx of more than 8,000 migrants. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has voiced concerns, noting that the situation is applying an “unsustainable pressure” on Italy.
Within this context, Ms. von der Leyen publicly acknowledged during a Sunday briefing that the migrant issue is indeed a “European challenge” and therefore, warrants a “European answer”. During a press conference attended by Ms. Meloni, she commended the residents of Lampedusa for their solidarity towards the migrants who, she stated, arrived on the island out of geographical necessity.
Ms. von der Leyen assured firm actions to ameliorate the dire situation, including bolstering efforts to safely relocate migrants from Lampedusa as well as curbing activities of human traffickers who facilitate perilous and illicit crossings.
Emphasising the severity of the situation, Ms. Meloni opined that Italy cannot address this crisis in isolation. She explained that the problem is presently impacting “the borders, the frontier countries” but soon, it would become a concern for all EU states.
On a somber note, during the weekend, the body of a newborn was retrieved from a migrant vessel. The infant’s mother is believed to have given birth while traversing from North Africa. Italian media reported that the child’s body was respectfully laid to rest in a cemetery in the Imbriacola district of Lampedusa.
Merely a week prior to this tragic incident, a five-month-old infant similarly succumbed during a rescue operation after a boat capsizing incident.
As the situation continues to deteriorate, Ms. Meloni is advocating for the implementation of a European Union naval blockade to deter vessels from crossing the Mediterranean and reaching Italian coastlines.
This surge has put immense strain on the Italian Red Cross, who have been catering to around 2,500 individuals in a facility designed for 400. Undeterred, volunteers and staff members are relentlessly serving thousands of meals daily and facilitating the transportation of new arrivals to Sicily and other locations.
This year has witnessed nearly 126,000 migrants arriving in Italy, a figure approximately twice that of the corresponding period from the previous year. An urgent appeal was made by Ms. Meloni to Ms. von der Leyen to “personally realize the gravity of the situation” and “immediately accelerate” the enactment of a pact with Tunisia.
Tunisia has emerged as the principal point of origin for African migrants seeking to get to Europe. An agreement with the EU was concluded in July, backed by €110 million of EU funds, to curtail smuggling, fortify borders and facilitate the return of migrants.
However, plans to construct a new tent camp to accommodate these migrants have met with local opposition, with residents protesting on Saturday. They expressed feelings of dread and exhaustion, uncertain about the future of Lampedusa.
Jasmine Lozzelli, Lampedusa-based activist, suggested that migrants should be transported to mainland Italy, asserting that the issue does not lie in the numbers, but rather in the management of the reception system.