(Lampedusa) Ursula von der Leyen presented on Sunday on the small Italian island of Lampedusa an emergency plan to help Rome manage migratory flows from North Africa and called on the peninsula’s European partners for solidarity.
After visiting, with the head of the Italian government Giorgia Meloni, the reception center for migrants on the island, Mme von der Leyen detailed a 10-point aid plan, intended to manage the emergency, to better distribute applicants between European countries, facilitate returns, and to prevent the repetition of episodes of mass arrivals which put under pressure strong tension on the logistical and administrative capacities of the peninsula.
This plan is supposed to combine firmness against smugglers and facilitation of legal channels of entry into the European area for candidates eligible for asylum.
In the short and medium term, the European partners of Italy, the first country of entry into the EU on this migratory route, must take their part, said the President of the European Commission.
“Irregular immigration is a European challenge that needs a European response,” she insisted during a press briefing. “We urge other member states to use the voluntary solidarity mechanism,” she said, without mentioning Germany which recently decided to no longer receive migrants arriving in Italy.
“It is the future that Europe wants to give itself that is at stake here”, declared Giorgia Meloni, “because the future of Europe depends on its capacity to face the major challenges”, including immigration.
Mme Meloni criticizes his European partners for a lack of solidarity towards Italy, which has welcomed nearly 130,000 migrants into its territory since the start of the year.
The two leaders met on Sunday morning on this small, tense Mediterranean island where thousands of migrants arrived this week.
Residents unhappy with these massive arrivals greeted the officials at the airport, threatening to block their procession.
“We are fed up with the island being used as a platform” for political leaders without their visits being followed up, a fisherman told Giorgia Meloni.
“We are doing everything we can,” replied M.me Meloni, adding: “As usual, I take personal responsibility.”
The Italian Red Cross (CRI), which manages the Lampedusa reception center, indicated on Sunday that 1,500 migrants were still there, for a capacity of 400 people, their transfer to Sicily and the continent not completely compensating for the news arrivals.
Large NGO ships, such as the Geo Barrents of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which rescued nearly 500 migrants as part of 11 operations, are being directed to major Italian ports.
But dozens of small boats continue their crossing of the Mediterranean and arrive directly in Lampedusa where the migrant management system has found itself on the verge of asphyxiation.
Intense diplomatic activity
Between Monday and Wednesday, around 8,500 people, more than the entire population of Lampedusa, arrived aboard 199 boats, according to figures from the United Nations migration agency.
This migration crisis has been the subject of intense diplomatic activity for three days.
The French, Italian and German interior ministers spoke at least twice this week.
French Minister Gérald Darmanin will go to Italy “in the coming days”, it was agreed on Saturday Mme Meloni and President Emmanuel Macron, promising to “strengthen cooperation at the European level”, according to Paris.
The President of the European Council Charles Michel announced on Sunday that the question of immigration would be on the menu of two summits planned for October, and the head of Italian diplomacy, Antonio Tajani, said his intention to impose it on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.
Visiting the stronghold of her Italian ally Matteo Salvini in Pontida (north) on Sunday, Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far right, called for the “defense of our people in the face of migratory overwhelm”.
Located less than 150 km from the Tunisian coast, Lampedusa is one of the first stopover points for migrants crossing the Mediterranean hoping to reach Europe. Every year during the summer, tens of thousands take to the sea on makeshift boats.
A total of more than 127,000 migrants have landed on Italian shores since the start of the year, almost double compared to the same period in 2022.