North Africa: EU Chief Von Der Leyen to Visit Italy Amid Migrant Influx

The European Commission president’s visit comes in response to an invitation from Italian Prime Minister Meloni. Italy’s right-wing government has urged the EU to help in the face of thousands of migrants’ arrival.

European Commissioner President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Italy’s Lampedusa island on Sunday alongside Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, amid calls from Italy’s right-wing government upon the European Union to help with the influx of migrants.

Meloni invited von der Leyen to visit after some 8,500 people arrived on the island by boat in merely three days. The Italian prime minister wanted the EU chief to be aware of the “seriousness of the situation” facing Italy, with one day alone witnessing the arrival of 5,000 migrants.

“President von der Leyen will be traveling to Lampedusa tomorrow on the invitation of Italian PM Meloni,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer posted online Saturday.

Migrant arrivals in Italy surge

The thousands of migrants who arrived in Lampedusa outnumber the entire local population. They arrived in the span of three days, from Monday to Wednesday, in some 199 boats, the UN migration agency said, overwhelming the island’s migration center, which has a capacity for about 400 people.

Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini called the arrivals an “act of war,” and on Friday, Meloni urged the EU to do more to help.

Lampedusa is Italy’s southernmost island. It lies just a few dozen kilometers off the coast of the Tunisian city of Sfax, making it a regular entry point for migrants crossing over from North Africa.

Last July, the EU struck an agreement with Tunisia to curb the flow of irregular migration to Europe.

Gerald Knaus, a former German government migration adviser and the founder of the European Stability Initiative think tank, told DW on Friday that the deal brokered by the EU and Italy with Tunisia “has actually made things worse.”

“More people have left Tunisia since the agreement and human rights violations in Tunisia have actually intensified, which means that most sub-Sahran Africans have an interest to try to flee with smugglers to Europe,” Knaus said.

“So, current EU strategy is not working, and it would be very good to finally have a realistic and serious debate on what might work.”

rmt/sms (AFP, dpa)

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