The Italian government wants to limit immigration, but a record number of refugees have arrived in Lampedusa

The Italian government wants to limit immigration, but a record number of refugees have arrived in Lampedusa

Rescue ship Louise Michel in the port of Lampedusa. Last weekend, 2,045 refugees arrived on this island in one day.Photo: Elio Desiderio/ANP/EPA

On the night from Friday to Saturday, 267 immigrants arrived. The news agency reported that 1,778 refugees had already been counted on Friday morning, afternoon and evening. ANSA said a number of boats had encountered problems in the Mediterranean and had received assistance from a rescue ship and Italian government vessels.

On Saturday, the Italian coast guard seized the rescue ship of the German relief organization Louise Michel after a rescue operation off the Libyan coast. The ship is now chained in the port of Lampedusa. “We know that dozens of boats are currently in danger off Lampedusa, but we cannot help,” the organization wrote on Twitter. “this is unacceptable!”

Lampedusa is the southernmost part of Italy and is relatively close to the coast of North Africa. Migrants from Tunisia and Libya attempt the crossing in boats, usually made of rubber and unseaworthy, to Lampedusa or other nearby European islands. The trip costs many lives. At least 191 migrants died in the first months of this year, and another 186 people are missing.

The number of migrants arriving in Italy via the Mediterranean Sea is increasing rapidly. This year alone, there are more than 20 thousand. In 2022, a total of more than 100,000 refugees will cross the Mediterranean into Italy.

Turkish way

Most from North Africa come ashore on Lampedusa, but the “Turkish route” is also getting crowded: larger ships sail from Turkey, eastern Libya or Egypt to the coast of Calabria. At the end of February, this ship sank near the town of Cotro. At least 91 people were killed, including at least 35 minors. Also last weekend, one of the many boats en route from Tunisia to Lampedusa sank. 19 people on board drowned, according to Italian media, from countries south of the Sahara.

Large crowds in Lampedusa are making waves in Italy, where the hope of emigration is high on the political agenda, especially since the recent debacle in Cutro. An investigation is underway into the actions of the coastguard there, which opposition parties say could have done more to save the ship.

Calm down again

In response, in part, Interior Minister Matteo Bentedosi said on Saturday that “public opinion” is responsible for the arrival of so many migrants: “It is touching that people accept this phenomenon in Italy.” There is no evidence for this claim. The large number of boats this past weekend was probably primarily related to the calm weather in the Mediterranean, the only consistent attraction that emerged from research into this migration route.

The packed reception in Lampedusa comes at an uncomfortable moment for Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni: on Friday she returned empty-handed from Brussels from a meeting on immigration. The right-wing Italian government believes more needs to be done at the European level to stop migrants and refugees.

Prime Minister Meloni, for example, said after the Cutro disaster that she wanted to deal with “people smugglers all over the world”. During Prime Minister Rutte’s recent visit to Rome, the focus was also on tougher action against people smugglers and on making agreements similar to Turkey’s with other countries of departure.

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