EU scrambles to address Italy island migrant surge

BRUSSELS   -   The Eu­ropean Union said Saturday that its top official Ursula von der Leyen would visit the Italian is­land of Lampedusa, after Rome called on Brussels for help after a surge in migrant arrivals. The president of the European Com­mission, the EU’s executive arm, will head to the island on Sun­day with Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, officials from both sides said. Before that, the interior ministers from Ita­ly, France, Germany and Spain held a phone call Saturday af­ternoon with the EU’s home af­fairs commissioner on the cri­sis. Meloni has urged the EU to act to relieve the pressure after thousands of people landed in boats over three days this week on Lampedusa, just 90 miles (145 kilometres) off the coast of Tunisia. The spike in arriv­als has rekindled the debate over how Europe shares responsibili­ty for asylum seekers. Lampedu­sa, Italy’s southernmost island, has long been a landing point for migrant boats from North Afri­ca. But this week its migration centre, built to house fewer than 400 people, was overwhelmed. Between Monday and Wednes­day, around 8,500 people -- more than the entire local pop­ulation -- arrived in 199 boats, according to the UN migration agency. Images of people sleep­ing in the open air, scaling the perimeter fence and wandering around the town, sparked an­ger among members of Italy’s hard-right government.

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