The Italian navy has begun relocating hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers from the Sicilian island of Lampedusa after its refugee identification centre was overwhelmed with new arrivals.
The Italian Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the navy’s Marco ship was taking an initial 600 people from Lampedusa to another centre in Sicily and from there they were being sent elsewhere in the country.
The ministry said the transfers would continue on Sunday.
Interior Ministry figures show a sustained uptick in daily asylum seeker arrivals in July in Italy compared with recent years.
Overall, arrivals are up sharply this year, with 30,000 refugees making landfall so far compared with 22,700 in the same period in 2021 and 7,500 in 2020.
Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than mainland Italy, is often the destination of choice for Libyan-based migrant smugglers, who charge desperate people hundreds of dollars per person to cross the Mediterranean Sea on packed, dangerous dinghies and boats.
Lampedusa’s former mayor, Giusi Nicolini, posted what she said were photos and videos taken in the centre in recent days, showing new arrivals sleeping on the floor on pieces of foam and bathrooms piled high with plastic bottles and rubbish.
“There are 2,100 people packed in the Lampedusa welcome center,” which has beds for 200, she wrote on Facebook. “These could be photos from Libya, but no, it’s Italy. And these are the ones who survived.”
Right-wing legislators were quick to seize on the overcrowding, blaming the left-wing parties in Italy’s government for being too soft on migration.
“And this would be the left’s famous humanitarian model?” Georgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy party tweeted along with the images. “Saying no to mass illegal immigration also means saying no to this.”