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Tensions rise on Italy's Lampedusa island amid migrant influx, posing headache for Meloni’s government

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The island, which has been used as a destination for migrants due to its proximity to Africa, is struggling to keep up with the flow of migrants.

LONDON -- Tensions are rising quickly in Lampedusa -- a small Italian island located off the coast of Sicily -- after local officials said around 6,700 migrants arrived this week, with many asking to be relocated to other European Union countries.

The island, which has been a destination for migrants due to its proximity to Africa, is struggling to keep up with the flow of migrants coming in, with reception centers at full capacity and emergency workers overwhelmed.

At least 120 boats reached the southern Italian shore this week alone, said Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister of Italy and the minister of infrastructure and transport, bringing in a total number of migrants -- including 257 minors -- that outnumbers the entire population of Italy's southernmost island.

"We are exhausted, help us. We need people and aid," said Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino.

PHOTO: Migrants queue as they wait to be transferred to the main land, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, Sept. 14, 2023.
Migrants queue as they wait to be transferred to the main land, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, Italy, Sept. 14, 2023.
Yara Nardi/Reuters

Videos shared on X, formerly known as Twitter, show areas of the island overflowing with people, with some even trying to climb walls where they are waiting to be processed.

MORE: 'They're all dead': Horror stories emerge from migrant smuggling boat crash

On Wednesday, a group of migrants that had occupied the Favaloro pier and demanded relocation ended up clashing with the Italian police forces, news outlet Euractive reported, before authorities pushed back and prevented escalation amid threats from the migrants to leave the pier.

PHOTO: Migrants gather outside the operational center on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sept. 14, 2023.
Migrants gather outside the operational center on the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sept. 14, 2023. The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa struggles to cope with a surge in migrant boats from North Africa as the numbers peaked at 7,000 people -- equivalent to the entire local population.
Alessandro Serrano/AFP via Getty Images

After the mayor declared a state of emergency, much of the island mobilized to help the migrants. Churches opened their doors and residents even rescued people from the sea, newspaper Il Corriere reported.

MORE: 63 presumed dead after boat carrying migrants sinks near Cabo Verde off the coast of Senegal

The local government of Sicily, as well as officials in Rome, said they have been working to send aid to relieve the pressure on Lampedusa and transfer migrants to the mainland.

PHOTO: Migrants receive help from Red Cross on the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sept. 14, 2023.
Migrants receive help from Red Cross on the Italian island of Lampedusa, Sept. 14, 2023.
Alessandro Serrano/AFP via Getty Images

Lampedusa, only 70 miles from Africa, is familiar with similar emergency situations but such numbers are unprecedented and pose a real political threat to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's government who promised tighter immigration controls.

PHOTO: A woman and a child sleep outside the Lampedusa's migrant reception center in Italy, Sept. 14, 2023.
A woman and a child sleep outside the Lampedusa's migrant reception center in Italy, Sept. 14, 2023.
Valeria Ferraro/AP

Since Jan. 1, around 118,500 sea migrants have landed on Italian shores according to Reuters, a near-record figure that clashes with Meloni's election campaign pledges.

"The issue of relocation (in other EU countries) is secondary. Very few people have been relocated in recent months. It's a Linus blanket. The question is not how to unload the problem; it's how to stop the arrivals in Italy, and I still don't see any concrete answers," Meloni said on Italian state TV channel Rai 1.

"Ten years after the Lampedusa tragedy, we still have not done enough," European Parliament President Roberta Metsola admitted during a press point in Brussels, referring to the 2013 migrant shipwreck which caused an estimated 360 deaths. "The solutions cannot be found at the national level, but only at the European level. I think there is no other option but to conclude the migration pact."

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