Sicilian island sees record-high migrant arrivals by boat
By Valentina Di Donato and Barbie Latza Nadeau, CNN
A record of more than 2,000 migrants arrived on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in the past day, an Italian official said on Saturday.
Some 1,778 people arrived on Friday, with another 267 people landing on seven small boats overnight Saturday, the official said.
Previous years have seen higher numbers of arrivals but never this early in the year in the space of a day.
Lampedusa, not far from Sicily and the closest Italian island to Africa, is a major destination for migrants seeking to enter European Union countries.
Charities rescued many of the boats. Under new rules from Italy’s right-leaning government, NGOs face fines for breaking a code of conduct.
The number of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores by boats more than tripled in the first two months of 2023, compared to the same period last year, according to Italy’s interior ministry.
On Thursday Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni blamed the rising figure on the “political situation” in Tunisia.
“900,000 people will arrive in Italy that Italy cannot welcome,” Meloni told the European Council, while asking for collaboration with European partners to accept migrants and help block departures from Turkey, Libya and Tunisia.
In February, a migrant shipwreck tragedy off the coast of Calabria in southern Italy killed more than 70 people.
Earlier this month, Meloni wrote to European leaders, saying it was their “duty, moral even before political” to prevent another such tragedy, and that a distinction needs to be made between migration and refugees.
“Confusing the two levels, as has often been done so far, is to the detriment of the most fragile and those in need of help. And that’s not right,” she said, adding the need for a single policy on refugees across Europe.
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CNN’s Alex Hardie in London contributed to this report.