Italian authorities began moving migrants from the overcrowded Lampedusa hotspot over the weekend. By the end of last week, more than 1,800 migrants were present at the camp designed for 350.
The Italian navy on Sunday (July 10) began transporting migrants from an overcrowded 'hotspot,' or first welcome center, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to Porto Empedocle on the main island of Sicily.
A navy vessel carrying 600 people left Lampedusa on Sunday morning, and then returned to pick up a second boatload of a further 600 people later that day, reports German news agency dpa.
The hotspot is designed to hold around 350 migrants, and at the end of last week, press reports suggested there were as many as 1,878 migrants present at the center.
Hundreds of migrants have arrived on the island in recent days, and authorities are expecting more arrivals in the coming days and have set Tuesday as a deadline to get the Lampedusa camp cleaned up.
Attempts to clean up camp
Reports on conditions in the camp have provoked outrage after Lampedusa’s former mayor Giusi Nicolini last week posted pictures and a video on Facebook showing overcrowded and unhygienic conditions at the camp.
The images included "people lying in the open on old foam mattresses, overflowing bins and mountains of refuse on the paths," reported dpa. Nicolini captioned the images with the comment, "these images could be from Libya, but no, this is Italy."
Nicolini added that women and children were also present at the center "all crowded together." Four of the women were reportedly pregnant and those in need of medical care were all forced to sleep and eat on the floor on mattresses in among the rubbish.
Also quoting Nicolini, the Italian news agency ANSA reported that it was almost impossible to enter the bathrooms at the center. There was a "sickening odor", and plastic water bottles were discarded all along the corridors and in the bathrooms themselves.
Nicolini estimated that the number of beds totaled around 200, not nearly enough for the numbers said to be present before the hotspot was cleared.
The Italian magazine Vita, which writes about social issues, published an article about the hotspot on July 8. The Sicilian journalist Alessandro Puglia, who wrote the article, said that part of the overcrowding had resulted from a combination of the suspension of quarantine ferries by the Italian authorities and the increase in the numbers of boats arriving, with sometimes 18 reaching Lampedusa from North Africa per day.
More arrivals, end of quarantine ferries
In fact, the current numbers of arrivals are not a huge increase on 2021’s figures, Marta Bernadini, coodinator for the charity Mediterranean Hope, told Vita. However, since the quarantine ferries stopped functioning, the Italian authorities have only been able to transport about 500 migrants a day to Sicily and the Italian mainland, she explained.
This leaves Lampedusa struggling to cope. The island’s mayor, (Salvatore) Totó Martello from the center-left Partito Democratico (PD) Democratic Party, said recently that the welcome system on the island had stalled.
Martello said that "no one was raising their voice any longer to ask Italy’s central government for help in treating arrivals with humanity and to look after the local population."
Bernadini added that after being transported to the main Sicilian island, many migrants then "escape" to make their own way through Italy and potentially on to other European countries.
9 out of 10 migrants arrive 'alone'
Recently, the humanitarian medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF), which also operates a rescue ship, Geo Barents, in the Mediterranean wrote that in fact, according to their study, nine out of ten migrants arrives in Italy under their own steam, or are brought in by the Italian coast guard.
According to a study by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), based on figures from the Italian interior ministry between 2018 and 2022, the numbers of migrants rescued by private rescue ships operating in the central Mediterranean has remained roughly constant, even while more and more migrants arrive in Italy from across the sea.
During the time when Matteo Salvini from the anti-migrant League party was interior minister, about 12% of the migrants arriving on the Italian coast were rescued by private rescue ships. This percentage remained the same under the first couple of years after Luciana Lamorgese, a former civil servant and independent of the party system, took over.
In 2022, showed the study, 14% of migrants were rescued by the private rescue ships, and 86% arrived in Italy either under their own steam, or after being brought in by the Italian coast guard or Italian border police.
This, said MSF, equates to roughly nine out of ten arriving in Italy without the help of a private rescue ship. However, in 2022, the numbers of migrants arriving overall has significantly increased.
So far this year, according to figures published by the Italian interior ministry 30,866 migrants have arrived in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean. The latest figures were updated on July 8. In 2021 during the same time period, 22,728 arrived and in 2020, 7,554 arrived.