The Italian island of Lampedusa has received nearly 7,000 migrants in less than 24 hours, according to local authorities and media reports. The influx of people seeking asylum or looking to move north to other European countries has overwhelmed the island’s reception facilities and sparked a humanitarian crisis.
The migrants arrived on board dozens of unseaworthy and overcrowded boats, mostly from Tunisia and Libya, starting from early Tuesday morning. Some of the boats were intercepted by the Italian coast guard and navy, while others reached the shore on their own. Many of the migrants were dehydrated, exhausted and in need of medical attention.
The mayor of Lampedusa, Toto Martello, said the situation was “out of control” and called for urgent assistance from the central government and the European Union. He said the island’s hotspot, a facility designed to host 250 people, was now hosting more than 10 times its capacity. He also said there was no space left to quarantine the new arrivals amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Italian interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, said she would visit Lampedusa on Wednesday to assess the situation and meet with local authorities. She also said she would contact her counterparts in Tunisia and Libya to discuss ways to prevent further departures and enhance cooperation on migration management.
The EU commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, said she was in contact with the Italian authorities and offered the bloc’s support. She also said she was “deeply concerned” by the increase in arrivals and urged for solidarity among member states to share the responsibility of hosting and relocating the migrants.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was sending a team to Lampedusa to monitor the situation and provide humanitarian assistance. It also called for a “predictable and humane” approach to deal with the arrivals and respect the rights of those in need of international protection.
The Mediterranean route is one of the most dangerous and deadly for migrants and refugees fleeing war, poverty and persecution in Africa and the Middle East. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 1,100 people have died or gone missing while attempting to cross the sea so far this year.