Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, made a visit to a migrant reception center on the Italian island of Lampedusa in response to a call for European Union assistance by Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni. This move comes as Lampedusa has seen a surge of over 8,000 migrants arriving on its shores over the past three days.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has expressed that Italy is facing “unsustainable pressure” due to the recent influx of migrants, prompting the call for European support. Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged the gravity of the situation, emphasizing that this is a European challenge necessitating a European solution.
During a joint news conference with Prime Minister Meloni, von der Leyen praised the people of Lampedusa for their support to migrants, who, she noted, arrived on the island primarily due to its geographical location. She also pledged to intensify efforts against people smugglers who facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys.
Prime Minister Meloni stressed that the issue could not be resolved by Italy alone, as it currently affects the border and frontier countries but is likely to involve all EU member states soon.
The situation took a tragic turn as the body of a newborn baby was discovered on a migrant boat. It is believed that the child was born during the perilous journey from North Africa, and the circumstances of the death are under investigation.
Earlier in the week, a five-month-old baby boy drowned during a rescue operation when a migrant boat capsized while crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.
Prime Minister Meloni has advocated for a European Union naval blockade to prevent boats from reaching Italian shores, a move aimed at curbing the influx of migrants.
The Italian Red Cross reported that they were handling around 2,500 people at a reception center designed for only 400 arrivals. Volunteers and staff have been providing meals and assisting in transferring new arrivals to Sicily and other locations.
The migrant arrivals in Italy have seen a significant increase, with nearly 126,000 migrants arriving so far this year, approximately double the number for the same period in 2022.
Prime Minister Meloni has urged Ursula von der Leyen to expedite the implementation of an agreement with Tunisia, the main departure point for African migrants attempting to reach Europe. The EU deal, signed in July and supported by €110 million in EU funding, aims to combat smuggling, strengthen borders, and facilitate migrant returns.
The surge in migrant arrivals led to protests by some Lampedusa residents against plans to construct a new tent camp to accommodate migrants. Concerns were raised about the island’s future, with residents expressing fatigue and a desire for alternative solutions, such as sending migrants to mainland Italy, to better manage the reception system.
Activists working on Lampedusa have argued that the issue is not solely about numbers but rather about how the reception system is managed. They advocate for rescues to be conducted with larger vessels and for migrants to be taken to the mainland rather than adding to the emergency situation on an island with a population of approximately 5,000.