The Italian Red Cross sounded the alarm Wednesday about humanitarian conditions on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa after more than 5,000 people in more than 100 different migrant boats arrived in one day with smugglers in north Africa taking advantage of calm seas to set off.
At least one baby died near shore as a boat capsized, state radio said.
Dozens of new arrivals crouched on the rocky jetties of Lampedusa’s port, while others sheltered in the shade of a nearby camping ground as the island’s lone migrant welcome center, which has a capacity of around 400, overflowed with more than 6,000 people.
“Days ago there were more than 4,000 people and we were talking about a record, today we are talking about a record of landings,” the Red Cross’ national director Rosario Valastro said in a social media post. The issue isn’t a competition about records, he said, but about finding solutions to an emergency.
The Red Cross urged the Italian government to quickly transfer the migrants to the mainland, saying their personnel had managed to keep the situation under control but that the disembarkation from more than 100 boats was pushing the limit. Medical personnel were focusing attention on the most fragile, but the group warned that maintaining adequate humanitarian conditions was dependent on keeping the numbers below a critical threshold.
State-run RAI radio said a five-month-old baby drowned during a boat capsizing off Lampedusa early Wednesday; the other 46 passengers including the mother were rescued by a nearby Italian coast guard ship.
Lampedusa’s former mayor, Giusi Nicolini, who has long advocated for migrants, said so many people had arrived it seemed impossible to even count them all. In a social media post, she thanked the guests and owners of a nearby campground for providing water and more to one group who found shade by the road.
Despite vows by Italy’s right-wing government to crack down on migrant arrivals and European Union-inked deals with Tunisia to stem the flow, the numbers of desperate people making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing keep rising. Summer is often the peak period for smugglers to operate since they can take advantage of generally calmer seas.
So far this year, more than 115,000 people have arrived by boat, nearly double the 63,000 in the same period last year or the 41,000 in 2021, according to interior ministry statistics.
Guinea, Ivory Coast and Tunisia round out the top nationalities so far this year.