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Boat carrying nearly 370 migrants reaches Italy's Lampedusa

Update: August, 31/2020 - 10:50

 

Italian coast guard rescued some migrants from a humanitarian ship and brought them to Lampedusa. — AFP/VNA Photo

ROME — A fishing boat carrying nearly 370 migrants landed overnight on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where the main holding centre is already overcrowded, prompting the local mayor to call for a general strike to push the government take action.

Italy has been struggling in recent months to deal with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants to its southern shores, a task complicated by security measures imposed by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The boat carrying 367 people, which was in danger of sinking due to high winds, was escorted by the Italian coast guard and police to the island's port, ANSA news agency said.

They were met at the port by a demonstration organised by the far-right, anti-immigrant League party.

The new arrivals, including 33 children and 13 women, were taken to an emergency reception centre on the island which now houses some 1,160 people, 10 times its maximum capacity, Lampedusa's mayor, Toto Martello, told ANSA.

Martello called for a general strike on the island on Monday, to protest the national government's "frightening silence" on the issue.

"Lampedusa can no longer cope with this situation. Either the government takes immediate decisions or the whole island will go on strike. We can't manage the emergency and the situation is now really unsustainable," Martello had earlier told ANSA.

"If a fishing boat of this size with hundreds of people arrives here and nobody notices it, it means that there are no controls in the Mediterranean.

But what do the military vessels do? We are not at war, why not use them for security interventions at sea and to transfer migrants," Martello said.

About 30 other small boats, mostly from the Tunisian coast, had already reached the island since Friday carrying around 500 migrants, the Italian media reported.

‘Humanitarian and health crisis’

Nello Musumeci, the right-leaning leader of sister island Sicily, on Sunday wrote on Facebook that he would ask the government for a meeting on the "humanitarian and health crisis".

"Lampedusa can't do it anymore. Sicily cannot continue to pay for the indifference of Brussels and the silence of Rome," he wrote.

Musumeci issued a decree last week ordering the closure of migrant centres in Sicily to curb the spread of coronavirus, a move that was rejected by the Italian courts.

Sicily registered 34 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, four of them migrants.

Mayors on the island have voiced fears the presence of migrants could discourage tourism.

Meanwhile a migrant boat being towed by police caught fire off the coast of Calabria, southern Italy, on Sunday leaving four dead, two missing and five injured, according to police.

The Italian coast guard on Saturday also transported 49 people who had been rescued in the Mediterranean by the MV Louise Michel, a vessel funded by the street artist Banksy.

The 150 other passengers on that ship were transferred late on Saturday to the humanitarian rescue boat Sea-Watch 4, which now has some 350 people on board and is looking for a port of disembarkation.

The crew of the vessel chartered by German NGO Sea Watch and medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wrote on Twitter that it was treating people for "fuel burns, dehydration, hypothermia & traumatic injuries".

The German-flagged Louise Michel had said it needed aid after helping a boat carrying at least one dead migrant in the sea that divides Africa an Europe.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, attempts by migrant boats to cross the Mediterranean into Europe have increased this year, up 91 per cent from January to July over last year's figures, to more than 14,000 people. — AFP