BRUSSELS – The European Union said on Saturday that its top official, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, would visit the Italian island of Lampedusa, after Rome called on Brussels for help after a surge in migrant arrivals.
The president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will head to the island on Sunday with Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, officials from both sides said.
Before that, the interior ministers from Italy, France, Germany and Spain held a phone call Saturday afternoon with the EU’s home affairs commissioner on the crisis.
Ms Meloni has urged the EU to act to relieve the pressure after thousands of people landed in boats over three days this week on Lampedusa, just 145km off the coast of Tunisia.
The spike in arrivals has rekindled the debate over how Europe shares responsibility for asylum seekers.
Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, has long been a landing point for migrant boats from North Africa.
But this week its migration centre, built to house fewer than 400 people, was overwhelmed.
Between Monday and Wednesday, around 8,500 people – more than the entire local population – arrived in 199 boats, according to the UN migration agency.
Images of people sleeping in the open air, scaling the perimeter fence and wandering around the town, sparked anger among members of Italy’s hard-right government.
The congestion eased as officials transferred thousands of migrants from the tiny island of Lampedusa to Sicily on Friday.
While hundreds more were being moved across on Saturday morning, there were further arrivals by sea. The Italian Red Cross said 2,500 people remained at the overcrowded migration centre.
Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has called the arrivals an “act of war”, and on Friday, Ms Meloni urged the European Union to do more to help.
“The migratory pressure that Italy has been experiencing since the beginning of the year is unsustainable,” she said.
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