Thursday

26th Jan 2023

EU expands patrol mission around Lampedusa

  • Waiting for EU help - Tunisian youngsters in Lampedusa (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Frontex, the EU's border agency, has extended until the end of August its patrolling mission around the Italian island of Lampedusa and widened its area of operations, as the influx of Tunisian migrants continues to outpace the flights and naval transport to the Italian mainland.

"Due to the notable increase in migratory pressure on Italy and the island of Lampedusa in particular, Frontex has widened the operational area of Joint Operation Hermes and extended its duration for five more months, with the aim of strengthening Europe's border-control response capability in the central Mediterranean," the Warsaw-based EU agency said in a press statement.

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Two additional planes from the Netherlands and Portugal will help the Italian coast guard with surveillance operations, in addition to the one plane already operating out of Pantelleria - a small island off the western coast of Sicily. According to coast guard officials in Lampedusa, the planes are too big to land on short runway in Lampedusa.

No Frontex personnel will be sent to the tiny island, however, and neither are extra funds disbursed to help the Italian authorities speed up the transfer of migrants to the mainland, a spokeswoman for the agency told this website.

The current budget for the mission stands at €2.6 million, including the funds reimbursing Italy for the transfer of migrants to reception centres in Sicily and southern Italy where any of the 20 Frontex experts are located. Italy could receive more financial aid under an "emergency funding" mechanism of €25 million for all member states, but the European Commission says it has not received any formal request yet.

For aid workers on the ground, the news makes little difference, as the tensions in the port are rising, with some 2,000 migrants sleeping rough and having no sanitary facilities.

"There are some tensions and the migrants who are arriving here are really disapppointed about what they find. The situation is unacceptable. They cannot shower, they have to sleep on the hills around the port," Tommaso dilla Longa, spokesman for the Red Cross in Lampedusa told this website.

"The only thing that would help right now would be if the airplanes and boats could take many more migrants from Lampedusa to the mainland. It is impossible to think this island can manage 5,000 migrants," he said, adding that almost one thousand migrants arrived on Thursday. An Italian warship, which transported 550 migrants on Wednesday, was set to take another 700-800 on Friday, while the planes only mange 60-70 a flight.

The local authorities on Thursday reassured the population - only 4,500 - that there will be enough fresh water after asking the supplier from Sicily to double the amounts brought by ferry to the tiny island, which has no source of fresh water.

Lampedusa is meanwhile not the only Italian destination for north African refugees.

According to the Italian 'Finance Guard', which operates rescue missions at sea, on Friday, a sailing boat was intercepted off the coast of Siracuse in south-eastern Sicily, with 44 people from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Among them were 11 women, two of which are pregnant, and seven children.

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With hundreds of Tunisian migrants arriving every day by boat, the inhabitants of the overcrowded island of Lampedusa over the weekend have staged daily protests in the port, calling on the Italian government to step up the pace of transfers to the mainland.

Tunisian migrant: EU treatment is 'shameful'

Tunisian migrants stuck in harsh conditions in Lampedusa feel let down by the EU compared to the effort made by ordinary Tunisians to help refugees fleeing violence in Libya.

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Italian right-wing politicians have called for the country's programme to rescue North African refugees from the Mediterranean sea to be scrapped after figures suggested that 1,100 immigrants had been rescued in the past two days.

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