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Bad weather brings numbers down at overcrowded reception center on Italy’s Lampedusa, but Italy lacks plan

Bad weather has temporarily halted the flow of migrants to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, where an overcrowded reception centre reached its lowest attendance Friday, Anadolu Ajansi reported.

However, the Italian government has still not developed a long-term plan to overcome the migration problem, which reached a new peak last week. As a result, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was forced to invite the head of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to visit the struggling island and call for EU action.

The Red Cross reports that 400 more migrants left the Lampedusa refugee reception centre on Friday. This brings the total number of people housed there down to 300.

Last week, the centre had the maximum number of arrivals. There were about 7,000 migrants in the small building – about the same number living on the island itself. For years, the Sicilian island of Lampedusa has been the first port of call for people crossing the dangerous and often deadly stretch of the Mediterranean from North Africa. Ignazio Schintu, deputy secretary general of the Italian Red Cross, said at a news conference in Lampedusa:

The situation is currently less critical and we hope it will continue to be like this in the coming days.

The Red Cross suggests that new migrant departures on Saturday will further reduce the number of people present at the centre.

Italy has tightened recently rules against illegal migration after record numbers of migrants arriving from Tunisia made the issue the number one topic in Europe. Von der Leyen, who has backed Italy’s hardline right-wing government, visited the island with Meloni on Sunday. She said:

We will decide who comes to the European Union, and under what circumstances. Not the smugglers.

New measures of the Italian government target migrants who are not eligible for asylum and are to be repatriated to their home country. The detention period for such people has been extended to 18 months.

As the capacity of detention centres has always been insufficient, Rome plans to increase the number of such centres, and many of those who were scheduled to be returned to their home countries have fled further afield to Europe.

On Thursday, Meloni told the UN General Assembly in New York that the huge numbers arriving in Lampedusa had placed Italy “under incredible pressure.”

More than twice as many migrants arrived in Italy this year than in the same period in 2022. The total number exceeded 127,000 people. Most of them came from Tunisia, where in July Meloni and von der Leyen signed a controversial agreement to curb illegal migration.

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