Newborn baby found dead on migrant boat off Lampedusa as Italy wrestles with surge in arrivals

Newborn baby found dead on migrant boat off Lampedusa as Italy wrestles with surge in arrivals
  • PublishedSeptember 17, 2023

The baby’s death comes days after a five-month-old boy drowned when a boat carrying migrants from North Africa capsized.

A newborn baby has been found dead on a boat carrying migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa – where thousands have arrived in just a few days.

The infant was found during a coastguard rescue and reportedly died soon after being born during the journey.

It comes days after a five-month-old boy drowned off the island when a boat carrying migrants from North Africa capsized.

There has been a surge in arrivals on Lampedusa this week, prompting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to issue a fresh call for a naval blockade.

It has become a major headache for Ms Meloni, whose right-wing government has pledged to curb illegal immigration.

But nearly 126,000 migrants are reported to have arrived in Italy this year, almost double the figure by the same date in 2022.

It has parallels to the situation facing the UK in stemming migrant crossings from France, with Rishi Sunak under pressure to deliver on his “stop the boats” pledge.

Lampedusa – closer to Africa than the Italian mainland – has recently borne the brunt of crossings from Tunisia, which has replaced Libya as the main migrant smuggling base.

“In the past 48 hours, around 7,000 people have arrived in Lampedusa, which has always welcomed them with open arms,” mayor Filippo Mannino told Italy’s RTL radio.


The influx has more than doubled the island’s population, overwhelming existing facilities and triggering urgent appeals for help.

Many migrants have been transferred to relieve the overstretched refugee centre, which has a normal capacity of around 400, but where latest figures indicate that more than 2,700 remain.

Image:Nearly 126,000 migrants are reported to have arrived in Italy this year

Speaking outside the overcrowded camp, Sky News correspondent John Sparks described the chaotic scenes.

He said: “The conditions inside are terrible.

“The migrants say they don’t have enough water, they are getting one meal a day, there are no showers, the toilets are inoperable, there is no room to sleep.

“Clearly the authorities here are struggling, it’s a very difficult situation.

“Security as well does seem to have broken down. We see people inside passing from this facility into the island at will.

“Nobody is stopping people leaving.”

He added: “Nobody is happy on Lampedusa at the moment.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is travelling to the island on Sunday at the invitation of Ms Meloni to see conditions for herself.

Ms Meloni has also called for a deal with Tunisia, aimed at stemming the flow in return for funding, to be implemented.

She has written to European Council President Charles Michel to ask for immigration to be on the agenda at an EU summit in October.

“I intend to reiterate a request for an immediate EU mission to block the departure of migrant boats,” said Ms Meloni.

“Obviously, Italy and Europe cannot welcome this massive influx of people, especially when these migrant flows are being managed by unscrupulous traffickers.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni attends Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment event on the day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, Sept. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Pool)
Image:The crisis has caused a major headache for Giorgia Meloni. Pic: AP

With a European Parliament election next year, Ms Meloni’s conservative coalition partner, the League Party, has stepped up criticism of the EU-Tunisia deal, saying the increasing numbers of migrants showed it had failed.

League leader Matteo Salvini is due to host French far-right leader Marine Le Pen at a rally this weekend in his northern home base of Pontida.

On Friday, Ms Le Pen’s niece, French far-right politician Marion Marechal, was on Lampedusa to show her support to Italy, which she said had been abandoned to deal with migrants on its own.

She said: “I came to support the Italian people and government, because Lampedusa today and the Italian borders are the borders of the whole of Europe.

“We have to change EU policy to help the Italian government, which today is alone in facing this crisis.”

An army officer closes the gate of a migrant a reception center as migrants sit inside, on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. Thousands of migrants and refugees have landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa this week after crossing the Mediterranean Sea on small unseaworthy boats from Tunisia, overwhelming local authorities and aid organizations. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)
Image:The island’s reception centre is massively overcrowded. Pic: AP

Meanwhile, France has agreed to work with Italy in forging an EU response to the crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I want to say very sincerely to all our Italian friends that I believe it is the responsibility of the European Union, the entire European Union, to stand by Italy.”

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has joined calls for the for the EU to share the burden of receiving migrants and eventually settling those who get refugee status.

“It can’t just be on those frontline states like Italy that receive the initial arrivals to have to accommodate them for the longer term,” said spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh.


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