Thousands of illegal migrants delivered by people smugglers from the North African coast landed on Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa this past week, sparking a warning Sunday from Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni the “future of Europe is at stake” if the human flood tide is allowed to continue.
At a press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a visit to the besieged island, AFP reports Meloni said the European Union (E.U.) needed to come together to face the challenges of uncontrolled migration with common purpose.
It is “the future that Europe wants for itself that is at stake here, because the future of Europe depends on Europe’s capacity to face major challenges,” Meloni warned.
Between Monday and Wednesday, an estimated 8,500 people — more than the island’s entire local population — arrived aboard 199 boats, according to the U.N. migration agency.
Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland which has long made it a target for illegal arrivals coming by boat.
“Irregular immigration is a European challenge that needs a European response,” von der Leyen said, calling on other members of the bloc to take in some of the migrants but declining to address the source of the crisis.
Transfers of migrants to Sicily and the mainland have not kept up with the flow of new arrivals, although further transfers were expected to be made Sunday, the Red Cross said.
The AFP report outlined officials were met on arrival at the airport by residents unhappy with the mass arrivals, threatening to block their motorcade.
“We are doing everything possible,” Meloni had said in response.
She spoke as large vessels operated by NGOs like the Geo Barents by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which have rescued nearly 500 migrants in 11 operations, continued to head for major Italian ports to offload their human cargo before turning around and heading back out to sea.
According to Interior Ministry statistics, nearly 126,000 people have arrived in Italy so far by boat this year compared to 66,000 this time last year and 42,000 in 2021.
If the trend continues, this year could be on track to near the record in 2016, when by the end of September about 132,000 migrants had arrived. The year 2016 holds the recent record for migrant sea arrivals with a total of 181,000 people, AP reports.
The influx has occurred despite an E.U.-inked accord with Tunisia to stem the smuggling operations in exchange for economic assistance.