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Lampedusa: the Italian island, the preferred gateway for immigrants seeking exile in Europe

Thousands of people landed this week on the island of Lampedusa. Located not far from the coasts of Tunisia and Libya, it is a preferred route in the Mediterranean for candidates for exile.

A symbol. Lampedusa faces this week an unusual influx of thousands of migrants in a few days, denounced as a “humanitarian tragedy” by associations. However, the Italian island regularly sees immigrants from North Africa disembark on its lands, making it the preferred stopover for candidates for exile in Europe.

“It’s not that exceptional”

“These arrivals have been continuous since January and for years. We must not imagine that they are so exceptional,” recalls this Saturday on BFMTV Delphine Rouilleault, general director of France Terre d’Asile.

“Somehow I have the feeling that we are discovering things that those who work in this field have actually known for a long time,” he laments.

“We are talking about record arrivals because there was a concentration effect for a few days,” he recalls.

Numbers increasing since January

In fact, every summer, tens of thousands of migrants try to reach Europe by sea: more than 127,000 have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year and more than 2,000 of them have died during the crossing since January, according to AFP. . This is double compared to last year in the same period.

Although there are numerous crossings in the Mediterranean, the island of Lampedusa is one of the preferred stopping points for immigrants. At issue is its particular geographical position, less than 150 km from the Tunisian coast and 180 km from the Libyan coast, although it belongs to Italy.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is located near the Tunisian coast.
The Italian island of Lampedusa is located near the Tunisian coast. © BFMTV

Coast guard units carried out 1,310 operations during the first six months of 2023, more than double those recorded in 2022 (607), spokesperson for the Tunisian National Guard, Houcem, Eddine Jebabli, told AFP on Thursday.

Arrivals over decades

In reality, the phenomenon is ancient. “The so-called ‘Central Mediterranean’ route, which starts from the coasts of Libya and Tunisia, has existed for more than ten years,” the president of the France Fraternités association, Pierre Henry, explains to France Info.

In fact, in recent years there have been images of immigrants arriving by the hundreds and then by the thousands, to the point that the island is now nicknamed the “gateway to Europe.”

Migration crisis: what is happening in Lampedusa?
Migration crisis: what is happening in Lampedusa?


Regular arrivals of immigrants to the island began around 1992, with the arrival of around a hundred exiles. The flow then gradually increases, with 20,000 arrivals in 2015, a year marked by a peak in arrivals to Europe.

The island of Lampedusa has now become a hotspot in Europe, one of the first in Italy. This means that it constitutes a place designated by the authorities for the identification and registration of migrants arriving in the EU.

A phenomenon that is not about to weaken

In recent months, arrivals have been increasing. For the general director of France Terre d’Asile, the phenomenon is not about to end, especially due to the “economic and political crisis” currently affecting Tunisia.

Fabien Gibault, professor at the University of Bologna and specialist in Italian domestic politics, adds that “the Lampedusa route is much safer and many immigrants prefer it to avoid the cemetery that the Mediterranean has become,” in The Figaro.

On Sunday, the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, and the head of the Italian Government, Giorgia Meloni, are expected on the island.

Author: Juliette Desmonceaux
Source: BFM TV

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