Italians staged mass protests on the island of Lampedusa just hours before the visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen along with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Sunday. Italian residents on the island, who are now outnumbered by illegal immigrants, were demanding measures to stop the flood of migrants, which has become unsustainable.
More boats carrying migrants continue to arrive on the island, with more than 100 arriving so far on Sunday. The influx of migrants has exceeded 10,000 in the past week, while the small island of Lampedusa has a total population of around 6,000. Last Tuesday alone, over 6,000 illegal migrants arrived on the island in just 24 hours.
Hundreds of people took to the streets on Saturday to demand an immediate solution to the situation. Footage posted on social media shows the frustration of locals.
Some protesters said they were protesting for the first time due to the severity of the crisis.
“In recent years, I have not bothered to take action on this issue. But now I feel instinctively that I have to protect my children because I don’t know what will happen to Lampedusa in the future,” said one demonstrator.
“We don’t want tent camps. This is our message to Europe and the Italian government. The citizens of Lampedusa are tired,” said another demonstrator after news spread that a tent city for migrants was being set up on a former military base.
Meanwhile, crowds of African migrants arriving on Lampedusa have also started protests, including roadblocks demanding supplies and what they claim is a better standard of living. The reception centers on Lampedusa designed for a few hundred people are currently housing thousands of illegal migrants.
Von der Leyen’s visit to the embattled island is a sign of how dire the crisis has grown, yet the EU has made proposals and promises for years with few results. In fact, the crisis has only grown, with Italy quickly approaching the record number of illegal immigrants who arrived in 2016 during the height of the crisis.
Von der Leyen pledged the cooperation of the European and Italian authorities in the migration emergency and announced an immediate 10-point action plan. This includes strengthening the presence and support of the European Asylum Agency and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) in Italy.
Border surveillance at sea and in the air should also be stepped up, according to von der Leyen. However, unless there is a fundamental change in the EU’s migration policy, more surveillance will not necessarily slow down arrival numbers. In fact, EU maritime services are often involved with transporting migrants spotted at sea to shore.
Von der Leyen also promised to speed up the delivery of equipment and training for the Tunisian Coast Guard and other authorities. There will be stronger action against people smugglers and restrictions on the use of boats unfit for sea transport, she claimed.
However, von der Leyen also made statements that indicate the goal of the EU is not to stem the migrant crisis, but simply spread newcomers to other European nations. She said that people who reach Lampedusa, especially women and minors, should be transferred to other EU member states.
However, many Western European nations, such as Germany, have said that they will no longer accept migrants from southern states, singling out Italy in particular. Germany claims that Italy is refusing to accept asylum seekers who first registered their claims in Italy, which under the Dublin rules, requires Italy to accept them back, according to the German government.