Migrant arrivals by sea on Lampedusa swell past 2,100
Several hundred more migrants reached a tiny Italian island before dawn on Monday, swelling to past 2,100 the number of arrivals in around 24 hours and fuelling calls from across the political spectrum for the Italian government to strengthen its migration policies. Italian state radio said four boats arrived at Lampedusa island after being escorted the last miles to port early Monday by Italian coast guard or custom police vessels. The 635 latest arrivals followed more than 1,400 who arrived on Sunday.
Human traffickers, mainly based in Libya, but also in Tunisia, often take advantage of calm seas to launch unseaworthy boats toward European shores. Many migrants slept on the dock after Lampedusa's migrant housing centre, which had been empty until Sunday, rapidly surpassed its 200-plus capacity. Hundreds more were being transferred to an unused passenger ferry offshore for quarantine until they can be tested for COVID-19. Another commercial passenger ship was being dispatched to Lampedusa to take on some more.
"The situation on Lampedusa is literally explosive," said a police union official, Domenico Pianese, in a statement which noted that some 2,150 migrants had stepped ashore on the island since before dawn on Sunday. ''If we have another day like yesterday, with an incessant succession of disembarking, it won't be possible to manage public and health safety,'' he said.
Sunday's steady stream of migrant boats arriving at the 20-square-kilometre island, which is closer to northern Africa than to the Italian mainland, was the biggest number of migrants to come ashore in a single day at an Italian port this year. This year's arrivals have already topped by far the number of migrants arriving via sea in the same period in each of the past two years.
Remembering the refugees of Lampedusa
Lampedusa is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. Although it belongs to Italy, it is closer to Tunisia than it is to mainland Italy. It is one of the main points of entry for African refugees wanting to get to Europe. Mamadou Ba is a Senegalese citizen who lives in Portugal. His poignant and thought-provoking photos highlight the fate of all those – living and dead – who have set off across the sea from North Africa in search of a better life.
Lampedusa Gate, Lampedusa. Mamadou Ba from Senegal has been living in Portugal since 1997. He is a human rights activist for the non-governmental organisation SOS Racismo. His images of Lampedusa are a haunting reminder of what happens to refugees who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of reaching Europe.
The graveyard of the boats on Lampedusa: hulls and broken parts of boats that have brought refugees from Africa to Europe pile up in Lampedusa's graveyard of the boats. Countless people have lost their lives in tragic circumstances, trying to make it to this tiny Italian island. The greatest of these tragedies unfolded on 3 October 2013, when 366 refugees were killed when their boat sank within sight of the Lampedusa coastline. On 11 January 2014, about 200 refugees were saved by the Italian navy.
Watery grave: the waters around the island have become a graveyard for so many migrants. "People die because they set out in search of a better life," says Mamadou Ba. In October 2013 alone, over 400 people were killed in two separate incidents on the stretch of water between North Africa and Lampedusa. Most of the dead came from Eritrea and Somalia.
Remnants of a journey that was filled with hope but ended in disaster: little is known about the people who did not make it across the sea to Europe, but died along the way. Most of them are just anonymous numbers in the statistics. Sometimes, the only trace of them that remains are clothes, such as these items that washed up on the island of Lampedusa.
Keeping the memory alive: a small museum has been set up on Lampedusa to exhibit the personal belongings of those who died when their boats sank. The exhibition includes passports, photographs and hand-written notes. "Although the people are dead, these objects help us remember them. Some of them show us that these refugees were just simple people with simple dreams," says Mamadou Ba.
Some migrants take straightforward necessities such as saucepans when they leave their native homes. It is not possible to say whether the saucepans exhibited in the museum belonged to refugees who never made it to Lampedusa or from survivors who lost all their belongings during the crossing.
Visitors are reminded of the refugees at many spots along the 9-km-long island. "These traces keep alive the memory of those refugees who lost their lives," says Mamadou Ba. Lampedusa is situated about 205 kilometres south of the Italian island of Sicily and only about 130 kilometres north of Tunisia. This makes Lampedusa the ideal springboard for those desperate to get to Europe.
"Fortress Europe": this bunker, which dates from the Second World War, is symbolic of the European Union's attempt to keep its borders firmly closed. In February, about 400 representatives of civil society protested against the EU's refugee policy and called for a new European immigration policy. In view of the many people who have lost their lives at EU borders over the years, they demand greater respect for the human rights of refugees.
The sea around Lampedusa: the inhabitants of this small Mediterranean island hope for better days. However, only very few believe that the flood of immigrants – and the tragedies that go hand in hand with their attempts to reach the island – will end without a radical overhaul of Europe's immigration policy.
According to Interior Ministry figures, by 10 May 2019, just over 1,000 people had arrived by sea; by the same date in 2020, 4,184 had arrived, and this year so far nearly 13,000 have arrived. The numbers, though, are far lower than those earlier in the past decade, when hundreds of thousands of rescued migrants were brought to Italy within the span of a few years.
Il Giornale di Sicilia, a Sicilian daily, said just before midnight on Sunday, a boat dispatched by the port captain's office aided a fishing boat with 352 migrants aboard, some 9 nautical miles (16 kilometres) from the island. A few hours later, another coast guard motorboat took aboard 87 men in a boat farther out at sea, while successive hours saw more boats, some of them rusting fishing vessels, reach the island, the newspaper said. Among the latest arrivals were at least 13 women and eight children, the daily said. Among those arriving on Lampedusa since Sunday were Somali, Eritrean, Sudanese and Bangladeshi migrants, U.N. refugee agency officials said.
The island's mayor, Salvatore Martello, renewed urgent appeals to the Italian government to deal with the sea migrant issue. Lampedusa lives off tourism, and Italy has just launched a national campaign to quickly vaccinate residents of tiny islands against COVID-19 ahead of the looming holiday season.
Right-wing anti-migrant leader Matteo Salvini, whose League party is part of Premier Mario Draghi's three-month-old wide-ranging coalition, kept up his pressure for a government huddle. Giorgia Meloni, a far-right opposition leader, insisted that Italy immediately set up a naval blockade to thwart Libya-based traffickers from launching more vessels.
Political leaders on the left also pressed for effective management of the migrant arrivals. Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, a former premier, said there was no choice but to convert a European military mission, now tasked with enforcing an arms blockade against conflict-wracked Libya, into one that can manage rescue operations.
Letta urged the government to press the European Union to make good on pledges to have many of those rescued migrants who land in Italy transferred to other EU nations. "Draghi's the right person, because on a European level he is listened to because he saved the euro (currency),'' Letta said referring to last decade's financial crisis.
In Brussels, the EU's top migration official, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, appealed to member countries to help Italy out by taking in some of the migrants. "There is a need for solidarity towards Italy and I call on other member states to support with relocation,'' she told reporters after talks with the head of the U.N.'s refugee agency. "I know it's more difficult of course in the pandemic times, but I think it's possible to manage.''
But past efforts in which some EU nations pledged to take in some of the migrants reaching Italy or Malta saw some countries fail to honour promises promptly, if at all, Italian officials have lamented.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the EU must come up with a system for coping with migrant arrivals by sea, after years of wrangling over who has responsibility for them. "Yes, there were several boats coming, but we're talking about manageable numbers. Through a rational and agreed mechanism, this would be very manageable, in our opinion,'' Grandi said.
Many migrants are fleeing poverty in their African or Asian homelands and are eventually denied asylum. With the notable exception of Tunisia, most countries whose migrants are rescued in
the central Mediterranean and brought to Italy don't have repatriation agreements with Rome. So many denied asylum never leave Italy.
Among those arriving on Lampedusa since Sunday were Somali, Eritrean, Sudanese and Bangladeshi migrants, U.N. refugee agency officials said.
Last month, a rubber dinghy deflated in the Mediterranean north of Libya, and passengers' phone calls for help, relayed to Libya, Malta and Italy, failed to save them. About 130 migrants were believed to have perished in that shipwreck. (AP)