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EU and Italian leaders visit Lampedusa amid migrant spike

September 17, 2023

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Italy's premier Giorgia Meloni have visited a migrant center on Italy's southernmost island after a surge in the number of migrants arriving there.

People wait at the port to be transferred to the mainland
The facility for registering migrants on Lampedusa was made to deal with 400 people, but thousands have reached the Italian islandImage: Yara Nardi/REUTERS

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived on the tiny Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa on Sunday.

Around 8,500 migrants landed on the island in 199 boats between Monday and Wednesday this week, according to the UN migration agency.

Meloni called for action at the EU level to prevent migrant departures from North Africa to Europe, including the possibility of a naval blockade of North Africa to keep smugglers' boats from reaching Europe.

"The only way to seriously tackle the problem is to stop the illegal departures," Meloni said alongside von der Leyen.

She added that all parties needed to pursue the same goal and work for "serious, complex and sustainable solutions."

EU chief visits Lampedusa, outlines migrant action plan

Von der Leyen calls for Europe-wide response

Von der Leyen vowed to crack down on the "brutal business" of human smuggling and said "irregular" migrants could face deportation to their country of origin if they do not qualify to stay in the EU.

"We will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances," von der Leyen said. "Not the smugglers."

Some services on Lampedusa have been overwhelmed by the influx of new arrivals.

The number of migrants arriving this week exceeded the number of residents on the island.

The Italian Red Cross said Sunday that 1,500 migrants remained in the Lampedusa migration center despite its capacity for just 400 people.

'Desperation' at Lampedusa migrant center: DW reports

"Irregular immigration is a European challenge that needs a European response," von der Leyen said.

She called for increased air and sea surveillance of the Mediterranean, which could be organized through the EU border agency Frontex.

The European Commission president also on other members of the bloc to take in some of the migrants.

The number of migrants making the dangerous trip to Italy has doubled over last year and is on pace to reach record numbers of 2016.

zc/rc (dpa, AP, AFP)