More migrant arrivals fuel local anger in Italy’s Lampedusa

Residents protest against the continuing landings of migrants on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, 30 August 2020. About 450 migrants aboard an old fishing boat disembarked overnight between 29 - 30 August, on the island of Lampedusa, located in southern Italy, Italian agencies reported. [Elio Desiderio/EPA/EFE]

A fishing boat carrying nearly 370 migrants landed overnight on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the country’s news agencies said on Sunday (30 August), fueling anger from local officials over a recent rise in illegal arrivals.

Italy has been struggling in recent months with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants leaving from North Africa to its southern shores, a task complicated by security measures imposed by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Local Lampedusa Mayor Toto Martello called for a general strike on the island from Monday to protest the national government’s “frightening silence” on the issue.

“Lampedusa can no longer cope with this situation. Either the government takes immediate decisions or the whole island will go on strike,” Martello told ANSA news agency. “We can’t manage the emergency and the situation is now really unsustainable.”

The boat carrying 367 people, which was in danger of sinking due to high winds, was escorted by the Italian coast guard and police to the island’s port, ANSA news agency said.

Those onboard included 13 women and 33 minors.

They were met at the port by a demonstration organised by the far-right, anti-immigrant League party.

The migrants, whose nationalities were not known, underwent temperature checks before they were taken to an emergency reception centre on the island which now houses some 1,160 people, ten times its planned maximum capacity, Martello told ANSA.

About 30 other small boats, mostly from the Tunisian coast, had already reached the island since Friday carrying a total of around 500 migrants, the Italian press reported.

“If a fishing boat of this size with hundreds of people arrives here and nobody notices it, it means that there are no controls in the Mediterranean,” Martello said. “But what do the military vessels do? We are not at war, why not use them for security interventions at sea and to transfer migrants.”

Nello Musumeci, the right-leaning leader of sister island Sicily, on Sunday wrote on Facebook that he would ask the government for a meeting on the “humanitarian and health crisis”.

“Lampedusa can’t do it anymore. Sicily cannot continue to pay for the indifference of Brussels and the silence of Rome,” he wrote.

Musumeci issued a decree last week ordering the closure of migrant centres in Sicily to curb the spread of coronavirus, a move that was rejected by the Italian courts.

Mayors on the island have voiced fears that the presence of migrants could discourage tourism.

Thousands of people are thought to have died making the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean to flee conflict, repression and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

The migrant crisis has divided the European Union. Italy two years ago closed its ports to rescue boats, until in 2019, France and Germany agreed to share intake of migrants landing in Italy and Malta.

‘Traumatic injuries’

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, attempts by migrant boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe have increased this year, up 91% from January to July over last year’s figures, to more than 14,000 people.

The Italian coast guard on Saturday also transported 49 people who had been rescued in the Mediterranean by the MV Louise Michel, a vessel funded by the British street artist Banksy.

The 150 other passengers on that ship were transferred late Saturday to the humanitarian rescue boat Sea-Watch 4, which now has some 350 people on board and is looking for a port of disembarkation.

The crew of the vessel chartered by German NGO Sea Watch and medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wrote on Twitter that it was treating people for “fuel burns, dehydration, hypothermia & traumatic injuries”.

The German-flagged Louise Michel had said it needed aid after helping a boat carrying at least one dead migrant in the sea that divides Africa and Europe.

Its crew said the 31-metre (101-foot) Louise Michel had become overcrowded and unable to move, warning that some of the migrants had fuel burns and had been at sea for days.

The rescued migrants later said three people had died at sea before the arrival of the Louise Michel.

Banksy, who keeps his identity a secret, explained in an online video that he had bought the boat to help migrants “because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans”.

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