Italian Island Struggles As Migrant Surge Doubles Population
Lampedusa, Italy, Sept 15 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 15th Sep, 2023 ) :The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa struggled Thursday to cope with a surge in migrant boats from North Africa after numbers peaked at 7,000 people -- equivalent to the entire local population.
The local reception centre, built to house fewer than 400 people, was overwhelmed with men, women and children forced to sleep outside on makeshift plastic cots, many wrapped in metallic emergency blankets.
Some young men later left the overcrowded centre and went into Lampedusa's historic town centre -- where an AFP photographer found some of them queueing for ice-cream.
Several said they were hungry. Few had any money, and some restaurants turned them away. But other establishments offered food for free, or residents and tourists paid for them.
Located just 90 miles (around 145 kilometres) off the coast of Tunisia, Lampedusa is one of the first points of call for migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
The latest victim was a five-month-old baby, who reportedly fell into the water early Wednesday as part of a group being brought to shore.
- Critical situation - For years, Lampedusa's so-called migrant "hotspot" has struggled to cope with the arrivals, with humanitarian organisations reporting a lack of water, food and medical care.
The Italian Red Cross took over in June promising to offer a more "dignified" welcome, but admitted this week it was having difficulty with the surge in arrivals.
It reported more than 7,000 people at the hotspot on Wednesday evening. Some 5,000 people were due to be transferred by the end of Thursday to Sicily, where there are larger processing facilities.
"The situation is certainly complex and gradually, we are trying to return to normality," Francesca Basile, head of migration for the Italian Red Cross, said Thursday morning.
"Despite the critical situation, we still tried to distribute cots to people to prevent them sleeping out in the open," she said.
"We provided everyone with food and distributed dinner last night and today too everyone will receive what they need." Italy's hard-right government allocated 45 million Euros ($48 million) to Lampedusa earlier this month to help the island better manage the migrant situation.