The Columbus Dispatch
Italy estimates 685,000 might cross sea from Libya
ROME – Intelligence reports indicate nearly 700,000 migrants are in Libya awaiting an opportunity to set out by sea toward Italy, a lawmaker from Premier Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party said Sunday, but a U.N. migration official called the number not credible.
Tommaso Foti, the lower parliamentary house whip for the Brothers of Italy Party, told television channel Tgcom24 the Italian secret services estimated that 685,000 migrants in Libya, many of them in detention camps, were eager to sail across the central Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats.
Meloni is hoping a European Union meeting later this month yields concrete solidarity from fellow leaders of EU nations in managing the large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers who come to countries on the Mediterranean’s rim, including Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Spain as well as Italy.
“Europe can’t look the other way,” Foti said.
While the intelligence services assessment sparked alarming headlines in Italy, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration cautioned that the figure appeared to be confusing the high end of the estimated number of migrants in Libya with those who were actually seeking to head from there to Europe.
“This number seems to be an estimate, that we also give, of the total presence in Libya,” Flavio Di Giacomo told The Associated Press in Rome.
But of that number “only a minimum part want to leave and only a minimum part succeeds in leaving” for Europe, Di Giacomo said. For example, many migrants in Libya come from Niger and Chad, two African nations on Libya’s southern border, and eventually return to their homelands, he said.
The Italian intelligence service’s estimate “is the last of a long series of alarms that we’ve seen in the last 10, 12 years, that turned out to be mistaken,” Di Giacomo said. “That number doesn’t seem to be absolutely credible.”
Some 105,000 migrants reached Italy by sea in 2022.
From the start of this year through March 10, some 17,600 arrived, including a few thousand who disembarked at Italian ports in the last several days. That’s about triple the number for the same time period in each of the two previous years, although the COVID-19 pandemic might have led to fewer voyages.
Italy’s coast guard said it rescued more than 1,000 migrants off the country’s southern mainland in recent days. Hundreds more reached the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, after setting off from Tunisia, according to authorities.
With the island struggling to care for so many people arriving within a short time, authorities aim to transfer hundreds of them by boat and aircraft to other temporary shelters for asylumseekers.
On Sunday, three more bodies were found from a Feb. 26 shipwreck just offshore the Italian peninsula, raising the known death toll in that disaster to 79 migrants, Italian state TV said. A wooden boat that had sailed from Turkey ran into sandbank in rough seas off a beach in Calabria, the toe of the Italian peninsula.