Around 7,000 people arrived at the start of the week on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Authorities on the island located in the Mediterranean Sea declared a state of emergency on Wednesday evening. Fabien Gibault is a professor at the University of Bologna and a specialist in Italian domestic politics.
LE FIGARO.- The arrivals of migrants in Lampedusa are on the front page of the news in Italy. Are they new?
Fabien GIBAULT.- They are not really new if we look at other statistics, notably the migratory wave of 2015-2016. But the number of arrivals in Italy by sea has nevertheless doubled compared to last year with more than 120,000 people. If we compare with the 145,000 Ukrainians who arrived in Italy by land in less than three months after the invasion of Ukraine, we can say that the current crisis is very important but has not yet reached a record. The island of Lampedusa, on the other hand, welcomed 7,000 people in 24 hours. In fact, there were almost no arrivals last week, and all the boats were concentrated on the same day.
Why have arrivals exploded this year and how can we explain the sudden arrival of 120 boats?
For several months there has been a change in the migratory route. Before, the Libyan road was very busy. It was much longer, and international water rescue took the boats to other cities in Italy. The road which passes through Tunisia to reach Lampedusa requires a crossing of only 10 hours. When the weather is good, some makeshift boats can make the crossing in 8 hours. And right now the sea is calm. This route from Lampedusa is much safer and many migrants prefer it to avoid the cemetery that the Mediterranean has become.
In addition, the border between Tunisia and Libya is no longer so hermetic. This route is now prioritized by migrants. There is also another factor, that of the current Tunisian crisis which is leading to the departure of many Tunisians who are increasing the number of arrivals.
Which countries do the majority of arrivals come from?
The novelty is really the presence of Tunisians. Of course, there are also Sudanese and Eritreans whose countries are at war. Added to this are countries that have communities already well established in Italy, such as Egypt. However, it is always difficult to say precisely the nationality of the arrivals because many of them declare themselves undocumented or who try to flee quickly to avoid being registered in order to reach northern Europe which is sometimes the main objective. . Added to this is the weakness of administrative structures overwhelmed by numbers.
Does the island of Lampedusa have the means to accommodate the thousands of arrivals? What steps can the Italian government take?
The island is 20 km2, and has 6000 inhabitants. The territory is large enough to land but far too small to manage a migratory crisis. There are other territories in Europe, even if only Sicily, which do not have the same population density, and which would be capable of absorbing these new arrivals. From Lampedusa, migrants are sent to Palermo or Catania. We must also salute the work of the inhabitants of Lampedusa and Sicily who live in already poor regions in Europe, tired of being abandoned by institutions, but never tired of helping the people who arrive.
The Italian government proposed the naval blockade of its borders. This was one of Giorgia Meloni's major reforms. But this reform was totally utopian because the Italian navy does not have the means and will never be able to have them to cover this much too large sea.
There was also an attempt at an agreement with Tunisia, on the verge of bankruptcy. Meloni and Europe offered funds against the backdrop of a commitment from Tunisia to hold back migrants. But this agreement, signed two months ago, has so far had absolutely no impact. There is now the solution of finding agreements with other EU countries, in particular central European countries like Austria or Hungary, which have completely blocked the Balkan route. This has further directed the flow of migrants towards the Tunisian route.