Pressure eases as Italian island begins migrant transfer to SicilyFri, 15 Sep 2023 10:08:49 GMT

Thousands of migrants began departing the Italian island of Lampedusa Friday for Sicily, alleviating strain on the hotspot where record recent arrivals equalled the tiny island’s population.Men, women and children lined up to board buses and vans headed to the island’s port to take boats to Sicily further north, where they will be sent to migrant processing centres.Lampedusa struggled earlier in the week to cope with a surge of migrants whose numbers peaked at 7,000 people late Wednesday — the island’s local population.The Italian Red Cross said Friday morning that 700 transfers had already taken place and another 2,500 people were expected to depart the island in the course of the day.”They continue to arrive, but we are managing them,” said Francesca Basile, the organisation’s head of migration.Migrants had been forced to sleep outside on makeshift cots or blankets for lack of space inside in the reception centre, which was built for fewer than 400 people, and police intervened after scuffles erupted during the distribution of food.A young African man from Gambia, who gave his name as Omar, was sitting in the shade as he awaited a bus Friday.”Here is not easy,” he told reporters.”We are so many many here… even to eat food is a problem, there are so many people, when they start to give us food, there are always people, it’s a problem,” said the man, who said he was hoping to reach his brother in the Netherlands.”Always fighting, fighting.” Omar said he had been travelling for six months before reaching Lampedusa. “It’s not easy,” he said, opening a crumpled plastic bag that held a small piece of paper with his family’s phone number written on it. – Dancing with locals -Nearby, the Red Cross began dismantling the empty cots outside the centre. One migrant giving a hand, a towel wrapped around his head to protect him from the heat, said he was also from Gambia and dreamed of being an electrician.”I want to go to Italy to start working,” the man said. “Try to move away, to find a job, work, so we can feed our family.”Young male migrants ventured into the historic town centre of Lampedusa in recent days, where on Thursday night some danced to outdoor music along with locals and tourists in a square. An AFP photographer found some migrants queueing for ice-cream Wednesday evening, with the establishments, locals or tourists picking up the tab. Good weather has seen a surge in arrivals across Italy in recent days, and for many, the first landing is on Lampedusa, located just 90 miles (around 145 kilometres) off the eastern coast of Tunisia.Most of the migrants arriving on Lampedusa are picked up at sea by the coastguard from rickety boats. Many do not survive the journey. More than 2,000 people have died this year crossing between North Africa and Italy and Malta, according to the UN migration agency.Lampedusa’s so-called migrant “hotspot” has struggled for years to cope with the arrivals, with humanitarian organisations reporting a lack of water, food and medical care.The Italian Red Cross, which took over operations in June, said Friday that more than 130 workers and volunteers had distributed 10,000 meals the previous day.