The Italian island of Lampedusa, often the first European touchpoint for North African migrants, has witnessed an unparalleled influx recently. A staggering 7,000 individuals have landed within two days, dwarfing the island's native population.
This has led to concerns regarding the island's capability to handle such a massive inflow, especially since it has always been a pivotal element in Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis.
Mayor Filippo Mannino stated that this current surge had reached “the point of no return.” In an interview with RTL 102.5 radio, Mannino said that “In the past 48 hours, around 7,000 people have arrived on my island, an island that has always welcomed and saved in its arms.”
“Now we have reached a point of no return where the role played by this small rock in the middle of the Mediterranean has been put into crisis by the dramatic nature of this phenomenon,” he added, citing figures that were confirmed by the Italian government.
Meanwhile, the UN's refugee agency, through its representative Chiara Cardoletti, labeled the situation as "critical" and underscored the urgency of evacuating individuals off Lampedusa.
Approximately 5,000 migrants have been relocated from the island recently. Notably, political turbulence in Tunisia has been cited as the driving force behind many of these recent arrivals, diverging from past trends which saw many coming from Libya. Furthermore, the catastrophic flooding in Libya may exacerbate the situation, CNN reported.
In response to the surge of migrants, Germany has temporarily halted its intake of migrants under a European initiative designed to ease border pressures. Simultaneously, France notes an uptick in arrivals at its border, linking it to instability in Libya and Tunisia. Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin shared insights on the wider European migration patterns and the challenges faced, hinting at the need for negotiations with Britain.
As of September 14, 125,928 people had arrived in Italy, according to the Interior Ministry, a number that’s in line with those from 2016, when migrant numbers surged in the wake of the Syrian war. However, Flavio Di Giacomo, from IOM, said the number of arrivals in Lampedusa now was much higher than before.
A lack of Libyan Coast Guard presence due to the floods, and the high number of migrants in Libya (a transit country for migration to Europe) kept in detention centers who are now desperate to leave, could also affect arrivals in the coming weeks.
This week, Italy’s Minister of Infrastructure Matteo Salvini called the arrivals “an act of war” during a press conference with Italy’s Foreign Press Association.
He suggested the arrivals were being “orchestrated” and said the government would “stop at nothing” to curtail the arrivals, applauding Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s attempts to negotiate with Tunisia.