A rusty, overloaded fishing boat carrying 686 people arrived at an Italian island port amid new diplomatic efforts by Mediterranean governments to seek more European help in handling migrant arrivals.
Italian coast guard ships escorted the boat, which was carrying mostly young men, into port late Monday in Lampedusa, Sicily, an island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland that is one of the main destinations for Libyan-based migrant smugglers.
The passengers disembarked and were taken to a reception center where they were to be processed. Recently Italy began a program to vaccinate newly arrived migrants in Lampedusa against COVID-19, said The Associated Press.
The arrivals were the latest in a year that has seen a marked increase in the number of migrants arriving in Italy.
As of Monday, 44,778 migrants had disembarked in Italy this year, with the top nationalities Tunisia, Bangladesh and Egypt. The total is nearly double the number of arrivals in the first nine months of 2020 and five times the number of 2019, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
The arrivals have added urgency to efforts by Mediterranean countries to pressure the European Union to develop a more equitable migration policy that addresses the problem driving people to flee their homelands and shares the burden beyond front-line European countries that receive the bulk of would-be asylum-seekers.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese met with her counterparts from Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus this week in Malaga, Spain and said there was an “urgent” need to craft a European policy that is equitable and provides “ambitious” financing for border patrols, redistribution and repatriation programs.