Thousands of migrants and refugees have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa this week after crossing the Mediterranean Sea on small unseaworthy boats from Tunisia, overwhelming local authorities and aid organizations.
More than 120 small boats arrived in Lampedusa in the span of roughly 24 hours, bringing the number of people at the local reception center to 7,000 people at one point. That’s 15 times its capacity and more than the island’s full-time population.
According to Italy’s Interior Ministry, more than 127,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea so far this year, nearly double the number for the same period last year.
Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than the Italian mainland, has long been targeted by people smugglers. With Tunisia now the main launching pad for Europe, the island today is receiving around 70% of all migrants arriving in Italy, said Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesperson at the International Organization for Migration’s Mediterranean office.
The newly arrived migrants are progressively being transferred onto the mainland, where their asylum requests will be processed. Many hope to continue to other parts of Europe to find work or reunite with relatives.