A record number of asylum seekers landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa between Tuesday and Wednesday, placing overwhelming pressure on the island’s resources.
According to government sources, around 6,800 migrants — more than the year-around population of the island — arrived within a 24-hour time span. The migrant processing facility on the island officially has space for 400 people, and was already over capacity before the latest influx began on Tuesday.
According to media reports, the number of arrivals in a single 24-hour period was the highest ever recorded for Lampedusa: surpassing 2015 and 2016 when annual migrant arrivals in Italy set all-time records.
The refugees arrived on a flotilla of more than 100 boats, many barely seaworthy. A five-month-old baby drowned during a rescue operation.
Also on Wednesday, Germany announced it would pause its participation in the European Union voluntary solidarity plan for receiving migrants from Italy, putting further pressure on Italy.
There was also a protest against would-be asylum seekers being detained in Lampedusa’s port area.
Around 1,500 migrants were transported from the island to other processing facilities, either by the Italian coast guard or on transport chartered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Nevertheless, the numbers remaining on the island continued to strain infrastructure.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Italy received more than 180,000 would-be asylum seekers in 2016. UNHCR data shows that this year, as of Sunday more than 115,000 refugees had landed on Italian shores.
On Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni — who has lobbied for other European Union member states to participate more in sharing the burden of migration — said the biggest challenge was preventing migrants from arriving on European shores.
“The question is not how we offload the problem, it is to stop arrivals to Italy,” the prime minister said in an interview with state broadcaster RAI.
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