Baby drowns during rescue operation off Italy’s Lampedusa

A five-month-old baby boy drowned during a rescue operation off Lampedusa, highlighting the challenges faced by Italy’s southernmost island as it grapples with an unprecedented surge in migrants arriving by sea from North Africa.

According to reports from Italian news agencies, the boat carrying the baby capsized just before it was intercepted by the Italian coastguard.

All other passengers, including the baby’s mother, a teenager from Guinea, were successfully rescued, as reported by Italian media.

Lampedusa, located at Italy’s southernmost tip and serving as an initial destination for individuals making the perilous journey from North Africa, has historically been a focal point in Europe’s ongoing migration crisis.

On Tuesday, video footage depicted lines of fragile boats, overcrowded with migrants, all queued up to dock at Lampedusa’s port, marking a new record in daily arrivals.

Prosecutor Giovanni Di Leo disclosed that on Tuesday, 112 vessels arrived, transporting over 5,000 migrants, a significant increase from the previous record of 63 boats documented in a single day last month. Additionally, migrant landings persisted, with approximately 1,300 new arrivals on Wednesday morning.

Di Leo drew a comparison between the current crisis on the small island and Italy’s experience in 1991 when a single ship brought around 20,000 Albanians to the southern city of Bari.

“We are all tired and exhausted both physically and psychologically, the situation is becoming unmanageable and unsustainable,” Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino told the Adnkronos news agency on Wednesday.

Migrants arriving on Lampedusa are typically transferred to Sicily to alleviate overcrowding. However, when there is a surge in arrivals, the transfer process may not occur swiftly enough to address the situation adequately.

The reception center on the island accommodated over 6,000 individuals on Wednesday, as reported by the Italian Red Cross. This is in stark contrast to its official capacity, which is approximately 400.

As per the latest figures provided by the interior ministry, roughly 118,500 boat migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year.

The figure is almost double what was recorded in the same period of 2022.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, elected last year pledging to fight irregular immigration, has failed to bring down the numbers as a crackdown on migrants and economic crisis in Tunisia, as well as continuing chaos in Libya, have led to more sea crossings from North Africa.

A judge in Sfax reported to Reuters on Wednesday that three children and a woman lost their lives when their migrant ship capsized.

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