Italy struggling amid daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants

Migrants on board the humanitarian rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4 off the coast of Malta on Saturday. They had just been transferred to the ship from a rescue ship funded by British street artist Banksy.
Migrants on board the humanitarian rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4 off the coast of Malta on Saturday. They had just been transferred to the ship from a rescue ship funded by British street artist Banksy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • A fishing boat carrying nearly 370 migrants landed overnight on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the country's news agencies reported yesterday, as a nearby humanitarian ship carrying another 350 people sought a port of disembarkation.

Italy has been struggling in recent months to deal with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants at its southern shores, a task complicated by security measures imposed by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The vessel carrying 367 people was in danger of sinking due to high winds, and was escorted by the Italian coast guard and police to the island's port, Ansa news agency said.

They were met at the port by a demonstration organised by the far-right, anti-immigrant League party.

The migrants underwent temperature checks before they were taken to an emergency reception centre on the island which now houses some 1,160 people - 10 times its maximum capacity - Lampedusa's mayor, Mr Toto Martello, told Ansa.

About 30 other small boats, mostly from the Tunisian coast, had already reached the island as of Friday, carrying some 500 migrants, the Italian press reported.

Mr Sebastiano Musumeci, the right-leaning leader of sister island Sicily, yesterday wrote on Facebook that he would ask the government for a meeting on the "humanitarian and health crisis".

The Italian coast guard on Saturday also transported 49 people rescued in the Mediterranean by the MV Louise Michel, a vessel funded by British street artist Banksy.

The 150 other passengers on that ship were transferred late on Saturday to humanitarian rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4, which now has some 350 people on board and is looking for a port of disembarkation. The crew of the vessel chartered by German non-governmental organisation Sea Watch and medical charity Doctors Without Borders wrote on Twitter that it was treating people for "fuel burns, dehydration, hypothermia & traumatic injuries".

The rescued migrants later said three people had died at sea.

Banksy, who keeps his identity a secret, explained in an online video that he had bought the ship to help migrants "because EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from non-Europeans".

Meanwhile, at least three migrants died when a fire broke out on a boat carrying them close to the southern coast of Italy yesterday, police and health officials said.

Another five migrants were injured and taken to hospital, the health authorities in the Italian port city of Crotone said. Two police officers were hurt as they tried to help the migrants, the police said.

According to United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, attempts by migrant boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe have increased by 91 per cent from January to July this year over last year's figures, to more than 14,000 people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2020, with the headline 'Italy struggling amid daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants'. Subscribe