Thousands of migrants overwhelm Italy's Lampedusa

STORY: Lampedusa’s migrant reception center is overwhelmed and overflowing.

Designed to handle 400 people, it was housing an estimated 4,000 people on Wednesday (September 13).

And the island's mayor Filippo Mannino told Italy's RTL radio that 7,000 migrants have arrived on the small Italian island in the past 48 hours.

That’s left many sleeping in the elements.

Mannino says the island is in crisis and has reached a point of no return.

With a population of just 6,000 Lampedusa sits between Tunisia and Malta - the closest gateway for many hoping to reach the European Union.

Cameroon mother Claudine Nsoe and her 18-month-old, Prince spent a week at sea on their way from Libya.

"At the moment, I hope that the situation improves and that they let us leave from here because the living conditions here are not easy. We sleep in the open air, in the sun, and in the cold, the food is not... then there are the children."

Others have faced similar, treacherous journeys by boat.

"...I arrived in Italy, in Lampedusa. They welcomed us well, they gave us food, there were people who came to take pictures...Italy is good, and they welcomed us well. I'm proud of Italy, I'm proud to be in Italy, I'm proud to still be here."

On Friday (September 15) United Nation's refugee agency called for migrants to be relocated from Lampedusa urgently due to the island's limited resources, urging other European nations to step in to help.

"The people who have arrived are traumatized, they’re exhausted, and they need support on the island, which is being provided by the Red Cross, the Italian authorities, other NGOs, including UNHCR as well. // can’t just be on those frontlines states, like Italy that receive the initial arrivals to have to accommodate them for the longer term. There needs to be a solution whereby other countries in Europe also step up and there is some form of relocation.”

Transfers by ferry to Sicily are being organized to ease the pressure on the tiny island.

The arrivals are a headache for Giorgia Meloni’s right wing government which came to power with a promise of cracking down on immigration.

Migrant arrivals in Italy so far this year have almost doubled compared with the same period in 2022.

Meloni’s government has impounded many charity rescue boats, banning them from conducting multiple rescues.

Migration data analysis shows 90% of migrant boats arriving in Lampedusa in the last three months have come from Tunisia, the closest African country.

Italy has sought to improve ties with Tunis but a recent pact aimed at stemming the flow of migrants has had no immediate impact.

A government source said the pact was still not being applied and that Rome was working with the EU to allow it to take effect.