By Yara Nardi
LAMPEDUSA, Italy (Reuters) -European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will travel to Lampedusa on Sunday, an official said, as dozens of the Italian island’s citizens protested over a recent surge in migrant arrivals.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called on Friday for the European Union (EU) to act jointly “with a naval mission if necessary” to prevent migrants from North Africa crossing the Mediterranean.
Nearly 126,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, almost double the figure by the same date in 2022. Lampedusa has recently borne the brunt, with thousands of landings this week, more than the island’s permanent population.
“President Von der Leyen will be travelling to Lampedusa tomorrow on the invitation of Italian PM Meloni,” EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Meloni on Saturday, with Macron reiterating France’s support for Italy in facing the surge in migrant arrivals, the French presidency said.
France’s interior minister Gerald Darmanin will visit Italy in the coming days to meet his counterpart, the Elysee added.
The French and Italian ministers also held a call on Saturday with their German counterpart and EU representatives, Darmanin said in a post on X.
Germany has decided to keep taking in migrants and refugees arriving in Italy, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Friday, two days after it announced the suspension of an agreement with Rome to receive new arrivals.
“Today is a time first of all for solidarity with Italy and also for mobilisation by the European Union to come in support,” French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told BFM TV, adding President Emmanuel Macron would speak to Meloni.
Dozens of Lampedusa residents held protests on Saturday against a plan to build new tent camps to host migrants.
“I have two children at home. In the past years, I did not care about this issue. But now I have an instinct of protection for my children because I don’t know what will happen to Lampedusa in the future,” one of the protesters said.
“Lampedusa says stop! We don’t want tent camps. This message is for Europe and for the Italian government. Lampedusa residents are tired”, another protester said.
An image showed three women blocking a Red Cross truck carrying food for migrants.
Italian media reported that around 1,000 migrants had arrived in Lampedusa on Saturday.
The Italian Coast Guard found a newborn baby dead on a boat carrying around 40 migrants to Lampedusa, ANSA news agency reported on Saturday, adding the baby was born during the trip and died soon after birth.
Earlier this week, a five-month-old baby boy drowned off Lampedusa after a boat carrying migrants across the sea from North Africa capsized.
(Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro in Milan; Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels, Elizabeth Pineau and Gus Trompiz in Paris; editing by Mike Harrison and Jason Neely)
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