Lampedusa struggles under constant flood of migrants

Policies needed, says Minister Kyenge

Lampedusa struggles under constant flood of migrants

(by Kate Carlisle) Rome, August 6 - A month has passed since Pope Francis made his first official visit as pontiff to Lampedusa, where the island's immigrant reception centres are overflowing with the throngs of migrants who survive the perilous sea crossing continue to arrive every day. Over 250 migrants landed on the island between Friday and Saturday, another 215 arrived on Monday after coast guard patrols picked them up in front of the Libyan shores, and 77 migrants were rescued adrift 40 miles off the Lampedusa coast on Tuesday. Passengers on boat carrying 95 Somalis that was rescued on Sunday said that three women had died of thirst and hardship during the five-day crossing and had been tossed into the sea before the coast guard was able to assist them. Another clutch of makeshift rafts spotted by the coast guard on Tuesday drifting between Libya and Italy are being monitored. The Sicilian island, filled with tourists in this season, continues to deal with the emergency situation. Some 800 migrants are jammed into the designated 250 places at the Imbriacola reception center for immigrants, and the number continues to swell as authorities struggle to relocate immigrants to centers in other cities. The EU border agency Frontex has also raised the alarm bell, noting that 1,300 migrants landed in southern Italian in one week and that in the first seven months of 2013 some 12,000 had. These numbers are down from 2011 - when 50,000 migrants arrived in the first seven months of the year - but are in any case 75% more than last year. "This is a worrisome sign," said Frontex spokesperson Izabela Cooper, "which requires constant monitoring". Transfers to the mainland are being carried out without pause, but as Mayor Giusi Nicolini noted that "this doesn't mean anything if we're seeing 300 arrive every day". "We must therefore do away with these emergency-based policies. I've been saying this for years," she said. "Lampedusa can deal with the first step of taking in migrants, as it has proved in every emergency, but true reception and integration policies are needed. These migrants are refugees, people fleeing war. They can't be repatriated and must therefore be taken in. The entire set of regulations on immigration need to be revised". European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said Monday that the European Union will continue to support Italy and particularly Lampedusa as the southern port community absorbs waves of immigrants. "I really hope that all efforts at the EU level will reduce the pressure on Lampedusa," Malmstrom said in an interview with ANSA. "We know very well that Lampedusa is struggling and is under strong pressure, in particular in this period," the commissioner added. "I admire very much the way local authorities deal with the situation..but we recognize that we can not wait and allow Lampedusa to do this good work alone". Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge said on Tuesday that there is a "duty to help the people who arrive". She added that "the arrivals on our coasts have been happening for 10 years by now. There is emergency intervention but a different approach also exists, that of reception and management of immigration at the European level".

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