ROME – More than 1,200 migrants in several decrepit, overcrowded fishing boats on Sunday reached a tiny Italian island in a span of 12 hours, as human traffickers exploited calm seas and warm weather to launch multiple vessels, the mayor said.
The first of the migrants arrived at 5 a.m., Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello told Sky TG24 TV at 5 p.m. It was the biggest number of migrants to come ashore this year in a single day at an Italian port.
“I’ve said all you need is a day of good weather to see (all) these boats,” Martello said. He appealed to Premier Mario Draghi to put migration on the agenda even as the government is heavily focused on guiding Italy’s economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
By late afternoon, at least nine boats full of migrants disembarked on the island, which has an initial processing center for migrants coming ashore and requesting asylum.
Italian news reports said Italian coast guard and customs police boats escorted the vessels to Lampedusa after they were spotted in the Mediterranean a few kilometers offshore. The island, which lives off tourism and fishing, is closer to northern Africa than to the Italian mainland.
A newspaper in Sicily, Il Giornale di Sicilia, said they arrived on wooden or metal boats. Many the migrants were reported to be from Bangladesh and Tunisia. Most of those reaching Lampedusa were men, but there were some women and children, including a newborn, the newspaper said.
Late spring, when weather is generally good, has seen Libya-based migrant traffickers launch many unseaworthy vessels toward European shores. In recent years there have been surges in the number of migrant arrivals, either being rescued at sea, escorted by military vessels or sailing unassisted directly to Italian shores when seas are calm. In recent years, a few thousand migrants rescued at sea arrived in one day.
Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, whose anti-migrant League party is part of Draghi’s coalition government, pressed Draghi to take action.
“A meeting with Draghi is needed, with millions of Italians in difficulty we can’t think about thousands of clandestine” migrants, Salvini tweeted. He added that some 12,000 migrants have arrived so far this year, many in recent weeks.
The last few governments before Draghi have insisted, largely in vain, that fellow European Union nations take in more of the migrants that step ashore in Italy. Many of the migrants, including those rescued at sea by charity boats, cargo ships or military vessels in the waters north of Libya, are economic migrants who are unlikely to be granted asylum.
Because Italy has so few repatriation agreements with countries whose citizens seek asylum, many of the migrants wind up staying in Europe, some of them heading north from Italy to other countries.
Source: Voice of America