Meloni and von der Leyen land in Lampedusa as migrants continue to arrive

Desmigrants arrive at the port of Lampedusa before being sent to Sicily. Alessandro SERRANO / AFP

Ursula von der Leyen and Giorgia Meloni arrived on Sunday morning on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where the landing of migrants from the North African coast continued, as well as their transfer to Sicily and the continent.

The president of the European Commission and the head of the Italian government are meeting on this small, tense Mediterranean island where thousands of migrants have arrived this week, renewing a heated debate over how responsibility is shared within the European Union. Also on the trip were Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

Residents, unhappy with the massive arrival, greeted officials at the airport, threatening to block their procession. “We are doing the best we can,” Ms. Meloni responded, adding: “As always, I take personal responsibility.”

Georgia Meloni and Ursula von der Leyen went to the port where dozens of homemade boats are moored, on which candidates for exile board, most often leaving from Tunisia. They were due to address the press around 9:20 a.m. GMT (12:30 p.m. Beirut time).

The Italian Red Cross (CRI), which runs the Lampedusa hotspot (reception centre), said on Sunday that 1,500 migrants were still there out of a capacity of 400, and their transfer to Sicily and the continent would not fully offset the new arrivals. “More transfers are planned throughout the day,” CRI said.

Large NGO ships, such as Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) Geo Barrents, which have rescued some 500 migrants in 11 operations, are heading to major Italian ports. But dozens of small boats continue to cross the Mediterranean, arriving directly at Lampedusa, where the system for managing migrants has reached the brink of suffocation.

Intensive diplomatic activity

Some 8,500 people arrived on 199 boats between Monday and Wednesday, more than the entire population of Lampedusa, according to the UN migration agency. This migration crisis has been the subject of intense diplomatic activity for three days now. The conference call on Saturday included the interior ministers of France, Italy and Germany, the representative of Spain’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, and Ms Johansson.

The conference was proposed by French Minister Gérald Darmanin, who had already met on Friday morning with his Italian counterparts Matteo Piantedosi and German counterparts Nancy Faser. Mr Darmanin will travel to Italy “in the coming days”, Ms Meloni and President Emmanuel Macron agreed on Saturday, promising to “strengthen cooperation at European level (…) to find effective, immediate and longer-term solutions to this crisis”, – said Paris.

Lampedusa, less than 150km off the Tunisian coast, is one of the first stops for migrants crossing the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Europe. Every summer, tens of thousands of people go to sea on homemade boats. “The migration pressure that Italy has been experiencing since the beginning of the year is unsustainable,” Ms. Meloni, who heads a right-wing and far-right coalition, said on Friday. She estimates that “tens of millions of people” in Africa may want to leave their countries due to coups or famine, saying it is “obvious that Italy and Europe cannot accommodate this huge mass” of migrants.

In total, more than 127,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since the beginning of the year, almost double the number during the same period in 2022.

Source: L Orient Le Jour

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