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Irregular migration needs a 'European answer,' says EU chief during visit to Lampedusa

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, front left, and Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, front right, visit the island of Lampedusa,Sep 17, 2023
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, front left, and Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, front right, visit the island of Lampedusa,Sep 17, 2023 Copyright Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse
Copyright Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse
By Euronews
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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived on the island of Lampedusa on Sunday morning amid growing tensions related to a surge in migrant arrivals.

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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni have arrived on the island of Lampedusa, which saw 8,500 undocumented migrants land on its shores this week.

Speaking at a joint press conference, von der Leyen said that "irregular migration is a European challenge and it needs a European answer."

Meloni said that the visit was not "a solidarity gesture of Europe towards Italy but rather a responsibility of Europe towards itself because these are the borders of Italy, for sure, but these are equally the borders of Europe."

On their way from the airport to the migrant reception centre at Imbriacola, local people blocked the convoy, prompting a promise of action from the Italian premier.

"We are doing everything we can", said Italian PM Giorgia Meloni.

Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse
European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, see boats used by African migrants. Lampedusa, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse

Later at the Favaloro pier where migrants are brought ashore, the two politicians saw some of the small abandoned wooden and metal boats provided by the people smugglers.

Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Italy's Premier Giorgia Meloni, at Favaloro pier, Lampedusa, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse

Television images showed Meloni speaking to islanders expressing their frustrations; she told them the government was working on a robust response, including 50 million euros ($53.4 million) to help the island. An unidentified person in the crowd said it wasn't just money that they needed.

New arrivals also have chafed at the long wait to be transferred to the mainland; TV footage on Saturday showed hundreds surging toward the gate as police used shields to hold them back. In other shots, single migrants climbed over the fence of the migrant centre. Some 2,000 remained this weekend after another 500 arrived on Saturday.

In the face of the crisis, Meloni has pledged tougher measures and is calling for a naval blockade of North Africa to prevent migrants on smugglers' boats from departing. Her interior minister on Saturday held a video call with counterparts from the European Union including France, Germany and Spain to seek a common line.

The crisis is challenging unity within the EU and also Meloni's far-right-led government.

Vice Premier Matteo Salvini, head of the populist, right-wing League, has challenged the efficacy of an EU-Tunisia deal that was meant to halt departures in exchange for economic aid. He is hosting French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen at an annual League rally in northern Italy later Sunday.

Most of the migrants arriving this week departed from Tunisia.

The number of migrants making the perilous sea journey to Italy has doubled over last year and is on pace to reach record numbers hit in 2016.

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