European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni visit the reception center for migrants, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, September 17, 2023. YARA NARDI / REUTERS
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of the Italian government, Giorgia Meloni, arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa on the morning of Sunday September 17. Thousands of migrants arrived there this week, relaunching the thorny debate on the sharing of responsibilities within the European Union. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson also made the trip.
Residents unhappy with these massive arrivals greeted the officials at the airport, threatening to block their procession. “We are doing everything we can,” Ms. Meloni replied, adding: “As usual, I take personal responsibility.”
Giorgia Meloni and Ursula von der Leyen went to the port where dozens of makeshift boats are moored on which candidates for exile embark, most often departing from Tunisia. They are expected to speak to the press around 11:20 a.m.
8,500 arrivals between Monday and Wednesday
The arrival of migrants from the North African coast continues, as well as their transfers to Sicily and the continent. The Italian Red Cross (CRI), which manages the Lampedusa reception center, announced on Sunday that 1,500 migrants were still there, for a capacity of 400 people, their transfer to Sicily and the continent not completely compensating new arrivals. “Other transfers are planned during the day,” said the CRI.
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Large NGO ships, such as the Geo Barrents of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) which rescued nearly 500 migrants in eleven operations, are directed to major Italian ports. Dozens of small boats continue their crossing of the Mediterranean and arrive directly in Lampedusa where the migrant management system has found itself on the verge of asphyxiation.
Between Monday and Wednesday, around 8,500 people, more than the entire population of Lampedusa, arrived on 199 boats, according to figures from the United Nations migration agency.
Gérald Darmanin expected in Italy
This migration crisis has been the subject of intense diplomatic activity for three days. A conference call on Saturday brought together the French, Italian and German interior ministers, a representative of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union and Ms Johansson.
Gérald Darmanin will go to Italy “in the coming days”, Ms Meloni and Emmanuel Macron agreed on Saturday, promising to “strengthen cooperation at the European level (…) to find effective, immediate and longer-term solutions to this crisis », According to Paris.
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Located less than 150 km from the Tunisian coast, the island of Lampedusa is one of the first stopover points for migrants crossing the Mediterranean hoping to reach Europe. Every year during the summer, tens of thousands take to the sea on makeshift boats.
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“The migratory pressure that Italy has been experiencing since the start of the year is unsustainable,” Ms. Meloni, who is at the head of a right-wing and far-right coalition, said on Friday.
She estimated that “tens of millions of people” in Africa could want to leave their countries due to coups or famine, deeming it “obvious that Italy and Europe cannot accommodate this enormous mass” of migrants.
A total of more than 127,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since the start of the year, almost double compared to the same period in 2022.
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