The Mediterranean island of Lampedusa is often the first point of arrival for people seeking asylum or looking to keep moving north to other European countries.
A migrant reception centre in Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa was overwhelmed Thursday as it coped with transferring thousands of migrants who arrived on small, unseaworthy boats in a 24-hour span this week.
The Red Cross said 4,200 migrants remained at the centre of the 6,800 who had swamped the tiny tourist and fishing island in a flotilla of some 120 boats arriving from Tunisia. Transfers to the mainland were ongoing.
“After a particularly challenging day like yesterday, today people are being continuously transferred,’’ said Francesca Basile of the Italian Red Cross. “The situation is certainly complex and gradually we are trying to return to normal.”
She said all of the migrants have been given food and camping beds were being distributed “so that they don’t sleep in the cold.”
On Wednesday, some migrants scuffled for food and bottles of water, according to Sicilian media. Others jumped into the sea to cool off.
Lampedusa’s mayor, Filippo Mannino, lashed out at Europe for leaving Italy alone to grapple with migrant arrivals by sea, saying it had “remained silent all these months.” He called for a structural solution to the migrant crisis and said that Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni had pledged her support in a phone call.
According to the Interior Ministry, nearly 124,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea this year through Wednesday, roughly double the number by the same time last year. On Thursday, another 180 migrants rescued at sea were brought to the port city of Salerno south of Naples.
Italy saw the highest-ever number of sea arrivals in 2016, when some 181,400 migrants arrived, according to figures from the UN migration agency.