Hundreds of migrants land in Sicily, biggest arrival in years
A rusty and overloaded fishing boat carrying 686 people docked on the island of Lampedusa in the largest arrival of migrants to Italy in years, amid renewed diplomatic efforts by Mediterranean governments to ask for more European aid in the management of migrant flows.
Italian Coast Guard ships escorted the 45-foot boat to the port of Lampedusa in Sicily, an island closer to Africa than mainland Italy which is one of the main destinations for migrant smugglers based in Libya.
Rarely does such a large smuggler ship carrying so many people arrive in an Italian port. More often than not, smaller groups of migrants are rescued at sea for several days by aid groups after their fragile boats have taken on water. Rescue ships then bring the migrants back to shore together.
“This is the largest number of people arriving on a single boat in 2021,” the United Nations refugee agency noted. “Such numbers – in just one arrival – have not been recorded since August 2016.”
According to the Mediterranean Hope aid group in Lampedusa, the passengers included 658 men, 12 women and 12 minors. They came from Egypt, Morocco, Chad, Ethiopia, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal and had left from Zuwarah, Libya.
UNHCR said many of them suffered from scabies, a contagious skin disease, suggesting they were held in tight quarters in Libya before leaving. As is common, Bangladeshis and sub-Saharan Africans were held up on the lower deck of the ship, the agency said.
After the ship docked, the passengers disembarked and were taken to a reception center where they were being treated. Italy recently launched a program to vaccinate newly arrived migrants in Lampedusa against COVID-19.
The arrivals were the latest in a year that has seen a marked increase in the number of migrants arriving in Italy.
As of Monday, 44,778 migrants had landed in Italy this year, the main nationalities being Tunisia, Bangladesh and Egypt. The total is nearly double the number of arrivals in the first nine months of 2020 and five times the number in 2019, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
The arrivals added urgency to efforts by Mediterranean countries to pressure the European Union to develop a fairer migration policy that tackles the problem that pushes people to flee their countries of origin. and share the burden beyond the front-line European countries.
Home Secretary Luciana Lamorgese met her counterparts from Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus this week in Malaga, Spain, and said there was an “urgent” need to develop policy European Union that is fair and provides for “ambitious” funding for border patrols, redistribution and repatriation programs.