Amid a record number of migrants landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa this year, the local prefect has warned that the island is currently at full capacity.
A record 35,000 migrants have landed on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa so far this year, according to Maria Rita Cocciufa -- the prefect of the Sicilian city of Agrigento (the administrative region governing the island). This is a steep increase compared to nearly 20,000 last year. Last week (December 23) Cocciufa warned that the island's hotspot is currently at capacity.
Lampedusa lies about 332.95 km off the coast of Tunisia and is one of the first points of disembarkation for migrants entering Italy, before being moved elsewhere. With a population of approximately 6,500, the island is struggling to process the vast numbers of daily arrivals, reaching over 800 on some days in 2021. Overall over 66,000 migrants arrived in Italy this year, with over half disembarking on Lampedusa.
In the midst of a pandemic, the managing the health situation on the island is critical. However, Cocciufa confirmed that the number of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 "has so far been quite limited".
"As far as the management of immigrants in relation to Covid is concerned, so far no significant number of infections has been recorded," Cocciufa told reporters at a press conference. "The number of cases, until now, has been quite contained. Migrants are controlled scrupulously."
There has been a sharp increase in the number of migrant boats leaving Libya and Tunisia to reach Italy this year, as well as a rise in returns and the death toll at sea. However, new arrivals continue to reach the island, despite the cold weather and harsh conditions on the open water.
Difficulties processing new arrivals
Speaking about the growing number of arrivals, Cocciufa said there were "many concerns over the management of this phenomenon." The additional risks caused by the pandemic have created further obstacles.
She added that Agrigento (the administrative region governing Lampedusa) "has always been a province of landings." However, there has been "a growing trend over the last two years that has created quite a few problems and we are getting organized to safeguard the health of migrants and our citizens."