Thousands of migrants previously confined to a territory on the Italian island of Lampedusa have broken out, barricading roads to prevent authorities from apprehending them and demanding permission to travel to mainland Europe.
Video of the situation shows African migrants touring the area they have commandeered after more than 4,000 escaped from an island that typically hosts a population of just 6,000 residents. The migrants, upwards of 7,000 are believed to have arrived from North Africa, journeying to Italy across flimsy boats and with no possibility to return home.
Lampedusa sits in the Mediterranean between Tunisia, Malta and the larger Italian island of Sicily and is one of the first ports targeted by migrants hoping to emigrate to Europe.
The island community’s response services have been overwhelmed since Thursday, its mayor said.
“In the past 48 hours, around 7,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa, which has always welcomed them with open arms,” Mayor Filippo Mannino told Italy’s RTL 102.5 radio. “However, we have now reached a point of no return and the island is in crisis. Europe and the Italian state must step in immediately with a rapid support operation and swift transfer of people.”
Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s conservative prime minister, was elected last November in part on a promise to reduce the flow of migrants into Europe’s fourth-largest country. The latest round of arrivals is another headache for her nationalist party as leaders strive to assure the country’s more than 59 million residents that borders are secure and the flow of migration is under control.
Meloni visited Lampedusa with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday, promising a swift crackdown.
“We will decide who comes to the European Union, and under what circumstances. Not the smugglers,” said the PM, referencing “operational partnerships on anti-smuggling” with countries of origins and transit. Human traffickers are believed to be behind the soaring number of migrants overwhelming many European nations.
“We will speed up the supply of equipment to the Tunisian coast guard,” von der Leyen said in Lampedusa.
In contrast, France’s liberal government, led by President Emmanuel Macron, has appealed to the humanity of citizens to accept migrants. But he stopped short of committing his nation to a ‘sanctuary’ status.
’’Things are getting very difficult in Lampedusa. That’s why we should help our Italian friends. But there should not be a message given to people coming on our soil that they are welcomed in our countries no matter what,” he said on France’s Europe-1 radio.