The small Italian island of Lampedusa is being overwhelmed by the numbers of migrants arriving on its shores after thousands of people landed from North Africa on boats over the past two days, its mayor said on Thursday.
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Lampedusa sits in the Mediterranean between Tunisia, Malta and the larger Italian island of Sicily and is a first port of call for many migrants seeking to reach the European Union.
“In the past 48 hours, around 7,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa, which has always welcomed them with open arms,” mayor Filippo Mannino told Italy’s RTL 102.5 radio.
“However, we have now reached a point of no return and the island is in crisis,” he said.
“Europe and the Italian state must step in immediately with a rapid support operation and swift transfer of people.”
The island normally has a population of just over 6,000.
Some migrants on the island placed towels over their heads to shield themselves from the late summer sun as they waited to be processed by the Italian authorities.
Footage from earlier in the week showed queues of flimsy boats, full of migrants, waiting to dock at Lampedusa’s port.
The island’s reception centre has an official capacity of around 400.
Hundreds of migrants were transferred to Porto Empedocle in Sicily on an overnight ferry where they were greeted by volunteers handing out food.
The arrivals are a headache for Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government which took power last October with a promise to crack down on immigration.
Meloni has sought to improve ties with Tunisia, from where most of the boats are now leaving, and in July Tunis and the European Union signed a pact aimed at stemming migrant flows.
An Italian foreign ministry spokesman had no immediate comment when asked why the deal, which pledged 1 billion euros ($1.07 billion) of EU money to help Tunisia’s battered economy, was failing to produce results on migration.
Since the start of the year, almost 124,000 sea migrants have landed on Italian shores, almost double the number recorded in the same period in 2022.
The German government said on Wednesday it had suspended an agreement with Italy to voluntarily take in refugees, accusing Rome of failing to honour its side of the bargain.