Migrant smugglers launched a score of boats from Tunisia at the weekend, and their passengers reached a tiny Italian island by the hundreds. A body was found in one of the boats, Italian news reports said, and passengers said many other people from that boat were missing.
Dozens of the migrants sat Monday morning near Lampedusa’s port awaiting transfer to the island’s overcrowded shelter or eventually to Sicily or the Italian mainland.
Earlier Monday, a fishing boat off Lampedusa aided a distressed migrant boat that contained 34 survivors and a body, the Italian news agency ANSA said. Survivors reportedly told rescuers that some 20 fellow passengers were missing from the boat that had set out from a Tunisian port on Saturday night.
On Sunday, with seas calm after four days of rough conditions, a total of 640 migrants reached Lampedusa, while 179 migrants stepped ashore from four boats early Monday. In many cases, Italian coast guard or other military vessels took on migrants when they approached the island, including transferring the 34 from the fishing boat.
Last week, Italian authorities used commercial ferries and military vessels to transfer some of the migrants who had been rescued earlier from Lampedusa to Sicily or to the Italian mainland. Those transfers brought Lampedusa’s migrant residence finally below its approximately 400-person capacity. But with the slew of boats arriving starting on Sunday, the number of migrants at the residence quickly swelled to nearly 1,100, and authorities were scrambling anew to make arrangement for more transfers off the island.
Although far-right Premier Giorgia Meloni has led a crackdown both on smugglers and on the charity boats that frequently rescue passengers from unseaworthy boats launched from Tunisia, Libya and Turkiye, migrants keep setting out on the dangerous voyage in the Central Mediterranean in hopes of finding work or relatives in Europe.
According to figures provided by the Italian Interior Ministry, by last Friday, nearly 36,000 migrants had arrived in Italy since the start of the year. That’s more than four times the number who arrived in the same period in each of the two previous years.
Italy denies the bids of most of the migrants for asylum because they are fleeing poverty, not war or persecution. But since barely a handful of countries have repatriation accords with Italy, the migrants who lose asylum bids often stay in Italy for years in a kind of legal limbo, or try to make their way to northern European countries.
Italy’s pleas to fellow European Union nations to take on some of the migrants have largely gone unheeded for years now.