Lampedusa (Italy) (AFP) – The European Union presented an emergency plan for Italy on Sunday to help it manage migrant arrivals after a record number of people landed on its island of Lampedusa last week.
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The influx of asylum seekers on the Italian island of Lampedusa has reignited a fierce debate in Europe over how to share responsibility for the tens of thousands of people who arrive on the continent each year.
“Irregular migration is a European challenge and it requires a European response,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Lampedusa, proposing a ten-point plan to help Rome cope to the crisis.
Since Monday, around 8,500 people – more than the island’s entire local population – have arrived aboard around 200 boats, according to the UN migration agency.
Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, has long been a disembarkation point for migrant boats from North Africa. But this week, officials said its migration center, built to house fewer than 400 people, was overwhelmed.
“We are doing everything possible,” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said at a news conference with von der Leyen in Lampedusa.
It is “the future that Europe wants for itself that is at stake here, because the future of Europe depends on its ability to face major challenges,” Meloni said.
The Italian Red Cross, which runs the overcrowded Lampedusa migration center, said on Sunday that 1,500 migrants had remained there even though it could only accommodate 400.
Migrant transfers to Sicily and the continent have not kept pace with the flow of new arrivals, although more transfers are expected to take place on Sunday, the Red Cross said.
Sharing the burden?
Von der Leyen said his aid plan for Italy included increased support for the European Asylum Agency and European border control agency Frontex to register new arrivals.
Increased measures include ensuring fingerprints are taken and conducting interviews to ensure people are referred to the appropriate authorities.
The EU will also increase support for transporting asylum seekers from Italy to other EU members, as part of a voluntary responsibility-sharing scheme for migrants – particularly women and unaccompanied minors.
But the EU’s plan to share the burden of new arrivals has faced resistance from several members of the bloc, with the right-wing governments of Poland and Hungary most strongly opposed to the plan.
This week, Germany said it had stopped accepting migrants living in Italy under the European solidarity program, saying Rome was not meeting its obligations under EU rules.
Under the so-called Dublin procedure, irregular migrants must be registered in the EU country they enter for the first time. If they then go to another country in the bloc, they could be sent back to their first port of call in the EU.
But Mediterranean countries like Italy have argued that the rules impose an excessive burden on border countries, especially as new arrivals often want to move to other EU countries.
More than 127,000 people
More than 127,000 migrants have arrived on Italian shores so far this year, almost double the number from last year.
Ships operated by NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), have rescued nearly 500 migrants in 11 operations in the Mediterranean in recent days and are heading to major Italian ports.
But dozens of small boats also continue to make the perilous sea crossing to Lampedusa, just 90 miles from the Tunisian coast.
In July, von der Leyen – with strong support from Meloni – reached a deal with Tunisia aimed at curbing the flow of irregular migration from the North African country.
More than 2,000 people have died this year crossing from North Africa to Italy and Malta, according to the United Nations migration agency.