By Giovanni Zambello
Italian Red Cross officials on the tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa are calling for urgent action as the migrant and refugee situation becomes critical.
The past 24 hours have seen the biggest influx this year, with 2,000 new arrivals swelling the migrant population to 5,500.
A boat carrying some 300 migrants was escorted by the Italian coastguard to Linosa, an even smaller island some 50 kilometres north of Lampedusa. The passengers were mostly Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians, and included a woman who had just given birth. She and the baby were flown to Lampedusa for medical care.
The Extraordinary Commissioner of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, expressed grave concern following his visit there last week, and called for rapid action to avert a health crisis.
“The situation that I found here in Lampedusa is very hard. Here in the harbour station, where the Italian Red Cross has set up an advanced medical post, more than 2,000 migrants are now sleeping outdoors, with no covering or shelter from the cold and the rain,” he said.
“We need to proceed rapidly towards a solution, even a tent camp, which will allow us to increase the accommodation capacity of the island, and adequately respond to the migration flows.”
Some 2,300 migrants are currently being accommodated in the reception centre on the island, which has a maximum capacity of 800 people, and thousands more are sleeping in the area around the pier, with no blankets and no shelter.
“The situation is unacceptable. We have appealed to the government to increase the air and sea traffic between Lampedusa and the regions of Sicily and Calabria, in southern Italy,” says Tommaso Della Longa, a spokesman for the Italian Red Cross, who is now deployed on the island.
“It is impossible to think that Lampedusa can manage 5,500 migrants. In the last few days, we have told the authorities that the Italian Red Cross is available to extend its health intervention measures to cope to the increasing number of migrants on the island,” he continues.
“We have already strengthened our medical team and our medical post – the only reference point that is available 24/7 – has been moved to the harbour station in order to be closer to the people who are sleeping outdoors. But more must be done.”
On Wednesday, an Italian warship, the San Marco, transported 550 migrants to Porto Empedocle in Sicily, and moved another 700 to 800 people on Friday. But more continue to arrive.
“Lampedusa is and must remain a temporary reception centre,” explains Tommaso. “Our appeal to the Italian government is to provide a decent reception to the people who arrive, but we also have to consider the local population, who are worried that the island has already exceeded its maximum hosting capacity.”
“The general health of the people we receive is good: migrants are, on average, in their late twenties or early thirties, and are usually in good health, except for a few cases who are suffering the effects of dehydration and hypothermia.”
“If quick action is not taken, the situation might quickly take a turn for the worse though,” he warns. Lampedusa has no freshwater sources with water brought in from Sicily, over 200 kilometres away.