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Italy in state of emergency to curb surge in boat arrivals ‘with urgency’

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Rome: Italy’s right-wing government has declared a six-month national state of emergency to help it cope with a surge in migrants arriving on the country’s southern shores.

State TV said a special commissioner was expected to be named. Initial funding of €5 million ($8.2 million) was also approved as part of the measure approved by Premier Giorgia Meloni and her cabinet.

A fishing boat with some 500 migrants enters the southern Italian port of Crotone last month. Credit: AP

Since the start of this year, some 31,000 migrants, either rescued by Italian military boats or charity ships or reaching the country without assistance, have disembarked, according to Interior Ministry figures. That’s nearly four times the roughly 8000 for the same period in each of the two previous years.

On Monday, the Coast Guard said it had sent rescue ships to the Mediterranean Sea to help two boats carrying a total of about 1200 migrants. Over the weekend, another 2000 people were rescued in rough seas.

In a statement after the cabinet meeting, the government said the state of emergency was deemed necessary “to carry out with urgency extraordinary measures to reduce congestion” at an overwhelmed migrant shelter on a tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean.

Also needed are “new structures, suitable both for sheltering as well as the processing and repatriation of migrants who don’t have the requisites to stay” in Italy, the government statement said.

“Let’s be clear, this doesn’t resolve the problem, whose solution is tied to a mindful and responsible intervention of the European Union,” Civil Protection and Sea Policies Minister Nello Musumeci was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA.

Largely unsuccessfully, Meloni’s government, like several others before, has pressed for more solidarity from fellow EU countries, which often don’t make good on pledges to accept some of the asylum seekers hoping to find relatives or work in northern Europe.

The arrivals of migrants, who set out in unseaworthy vessels launched by smugglers from northern African shores, seem destined to swell. On Wednesday, a smugglers’ boat crowded with some 700 passengers was expected to pull into the port of Catania, a major city in eastern Sicily.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has declared a state of emergency to help it cope with a surge in migrants arriving on the country’s southern shores. Credit: AP

Italian coast guard boats had been escorting the distressed fishing vessel towards shore when a breakdown forced it to need towing, slowing its advance. The coast guard had already transferred some 100 of the passengers when rough seas made that operation too risky, and the decision was taken to leave the rest of the migrants aboard until the vessel could reach port.

On one recent day alone, 26 migrant boats, many of them without needing rescue, reached the Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island south of Sicily. The facility on Lampedusa which shelters migrants so they can be provisionally identified as a first step toward any asylum application, was reeling under the relentless stream of arrivals.

The shelter is meant to accommodate about 350-400 people, but in recent days, there were 3000. Italy chartered empty commercial ferries to transfer hundreds of them to Sicily or the mainland.

On Tuesday, some 1600 migrants were staying in the Lampedusa structure, and authorities were hoping for weather to improve so that by evening some 400 could be ferried off the island.

Migrants swim next to their overturned wooden boat during a rescue operation by Spanish NGO Open Arms at south of the Italian Lampedusa island in August.Credit: AP

“There are many women with small children, plus there are unaccompanied minors,” the migrant centre director, Lorena Tortorici, told Italian Sky TG24 TV. “We are in an emergency situation. The staff are trying to do what they can.”

The biggest number of migrants arriving so far this year are from Ivory Coast, followed by people from Guinea, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia and Bangladesh, according to the Interior Minister’s tally.

For years, most of the smugglers’ boats plying the dangerous central Mediterranean route set sail from western Libya. But recent months have seen many of the voyages start from eastern Libya or from Tunisia. Another route starts from Turkey, aiming to reach Calabria or Puglia in the southern end of the Italian mainland.


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