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19th Aug 2022

Hundreds of African migrants arrive amid Italy 'emergency'

  • One of the boats that arrived in Italy was carrying some 400 people. (Photo: AFM)

Some 800 immigrants arrived in Southern Italy on Thursday (31 July), just a few days after the country declared a national state of emergency over what it describes as the "exceptional and persistent influx" of irregular immigrants.

A boat with some 400 hundred people on board was guided by Italian Coast Guard officers into the port of Lampedusa – a small island south of the Italian mainland, the Associated Press reports.

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Subsequently, a series of smaller boats bearing some 400 additional people were intercepted by the Coast Guard, bringing the total number of detainees to 876, according to Italian news agency Adnkronos.

The migrants include women and children, with most reported to be of African origin.

Their arrival has raised concerns that the additional migrants will overcrowd the Lampedusa holding centre, as it has practically reached its capacity of 1,500 people.

The news comes just a few days after Italy declared a state of emergency over what it sees as an "exceptional and persistent influx" of clandestine immigrants.

Prior to this latest migrant interception, the country recently passed another controversial law that would make undocumented migration a criminal offence punishable by between six months and four years in prison. It would also make it possible for property rented to such an immigrant to be confiscated.

New Italian measures 'may spur xenophobia'

The strict measures drew criticism both at home – from the centre-left opposition parties – and abroad.

On Tuesday, the Council of Europe – Europe's human rights watchdog – released a report criticising that Italy's recent immigration policies, saying they "lack human rights and humanitarian principles and may spur further xenophobia."

It also expressed concern at the way the country treated representatives of ethnic Roma origins, following plans announced in July to conduct a census and fingerprint all Roma people, including children.

"These measures may make it more difficult for refugees to ask for asylum, and is likely to result in a further social stigmatisation and marginalisation of all immigrants, including Roma," the organisation warned.

Italy, however, says it needs the measures to respond to and control the growing numbers of migrants coming to its territory, and insists "the concern expressed on lack of respect for human rights is totally unfounded."

Deaths at sea

Separately, some 80 would-be immigrants were rescued off Malta's shores this week, German news agency DPA reports.

But three women – one of which was pregnant – died in their attempt to reach the island.

Earlier in July, 15 African immigrants, including nine children, died from heat exposure while trying to reach Spanish coasts in a small overcrowded boat.

In a response to what he called "an almost unbearable tragedy," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said: "We are in an alarming situation."

"Either we help Africa, either we help fight poverty and desperation, or our future as a region of well-being and progress falls into question," he added, urging all EU states to meet the target they have set of donating 0.7 percent of their income to development aid, Deutsche Welle reports.

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