21st Sep 2020

First Libyan refugees arrive in Lampedusa

  • Thousands of migrants sleep under clear sky in Lampedusa (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The first boats carrying hundreds of African refugees from Libya have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, already overcrowded by Tunisian migrants who have left their country in search for a better life in Europe.

In the early hours of Sunday (27 March), one boat carrying 284 people, mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis, was escorted by the Italian coast guard to Linosa, an even smaller island in the vicinity of Lampedusa. Other boats have been detected by fishermen and the coast guard and were set to arrive on Monday.

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Unlike the Tunisian migrants, who spend up to 10 days on Lampedusa before being transferred to the mainland, the refugees from Libya are set to be taken on Monday to Sicily by ferry and put in reception centres for asylum seekers.

One of the Ethiopian women gave birth while at sea and was taken by helicopter to an emergency room in Lampedusa. Another pregnant woman on the boat had a miscarriage.

According to Save the Children, the refugees said they were imprisoned and detained for years in Libyan prisons, where they have been subjected to violence of all kinds, including sexual violence against women and stabbings and bone fractures for men.

"They say that on the streets of Tripoli there are children with guns," the NGO accounts on its website.

In Lampedusa, the number of Tunisian migrants still surpasses 5,000 - more than the local population on the island. Efforts to take hundreds of them by boat and plane to reception centres on the mainland are still being outpaced by the new arrivals, with more than 1,000 migrants arriving just over the week-end.

Over 18,500 Tunisians have arrived in Lampedusa since January, following the ousting of dictator Ben Ali - the first in a series of revolutions which have spread throughout the Arab world.

The EU has so far not activated the humanitarian emergency mechanism for the situation in Lampedusa, as no request from Rome has been formulated yet.

Aid workers on the ground have repeatedly warned that the situation on the island is dramatic - with poor sanitary conditions and over 2,000 migrants sleeping on the hills. They argue that the situation would be resolved if Italian authorities speeded up the transfers.

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