The number of migrants entering Italy is at its highest level since 2017. Since January, more than 900 individuals have perished trying to cross the Mediterranean. NGOs charge Europe and its institutions for allowing people escaping war and poverty to perish at sea.
This year, more than 45,000 migrants have entered Italy, a record high since 2017. The nation’s centre-right government has responded by announcing a state of emergency and urging greater unity within the European Union to address these migrant flows.
In the most recent episode of Euronews Witness, Monica Pinna brings us to the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost border, to see what the Italian government, Europe, and NGOs are doing to address this ongoing migratory crisis.
Italy’s far-right Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, came to power in October 2022, vowing to take a hard line against illegal immigration and push for Europe to work together to address the migration influx.
Her centre-right coalition has now launched a state of emergency to deal with the increase in migratory flows. The measure aims to accelerate reception procedures but also speed-up expulsions.
Theoretically, this should alleviate some of the pressure hotspots like Lampedusa feel. But this centre is systematically on the verge of collapse.
Migrants who arrive there should stay for just a few days to be identified and sent to reception or repatriation centres. But arrivals often end up staying for much longer.
The centre is conceived to accommodate 400 migrants, but it hosts more than three thousand people at times.
According to NGOs, Italy’s reception system is poorly managed, and it is minors who are faced with the greatest risks.
Migrants board a boat after getting stopped by Tunisian Maritime National Guard at sea while attempting to get to Italy, near the coast of Sfax, Tunisia, April 18, 2023STR/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
“The age of the people arriving has progressively decreased,” Lisa Bjelogrlich, from Save the Children told Euronews.
“From 2018 onwards the amount of available accommodation has decreased. The reception system for minors currently fails to meet their needs and has been depleted of resources,” she added.
Last February, the sinking of a migrant vessel from Turkey which issued an unanswered distress call off the coast of Calabria took the lives of 90 migrants.
This event prompted the Italian government to pass the Cutro Decree to clamp down on traffickers and further tighten migration and asylum rules.
“The war on sea rescue NGOs, and the abandoning of rescue operations in the Mediterranean has become increasingly evident with the centre-right government,” revealed Giusi Ncolini, the former mayor of Lampedusa. “And it is increasingly clear that, in order not to prevent them from arriving, they prefer to let them die.”
Since the Cutro disaster, shipwrecks continue to occur at an alarming rate.
“The withdrawal of European actors and the criminalisation of NGOs committed to search and rescue missions, created a huge vacuum in rescue operations,” said Tamino Böhm, the head of airborne operations at NGO, Sea-Watch, whose teams fly over a vast area of the central Mediterranean each day in search of boats in distress.
Tamino Böhm, the head of airborne operations at Sea-WatchEuronews
“There are still no state-funded, state-organised search and rescue in the central Mediterranean Sea. Very often we spot boats in distress and then there’s no one to rescue and give assistance to the people,” he added.
In January, Rome issued further restrictive measures to limit humanitarian operations. NGOs failing to comply now face heavy sanctions.
A rescue ship funded by the street artist Banksy was detained for 20 days for rescuing more than 180 people in four separate rescue missions. This breaches a new ruling that states teams can carry out just one rescue operation at a time before returning to an assigned port.