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Baby drowns during migrant rescue operation off Italy coast

September 13, 2023 at 3:29 pm

Baby clothes lie on a beach next to the wreckage of the vessel from Sunday’s shipwreck off the coast of Italy’s Calabria region on March 1, 2023 in Steccato di Cutro, Italy [Alessio Mamo/Getty Images]

A five-month-old baby boy drowned earlier today during a rescue operation off Lampedusa, Italy, Reuters has reported. The boat on which the baby was travelling capsized shortly before being intercepted by the Italian coastguard, ANSA and other Italian news agencies have reported.

All of the other passengers were rescued, including the baby’s mother, a teenager from Guinea, said ANSA. It added that the migrants had set off from the Tunisia city of Sfax, a well-known launchpad for migrant sea journeys to Europe.

Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost point and a first port of call for people crossing from North Africa, has long been a flashpoint in Europe’s migration crisis. On Tuesday, footage showed queues of flimsy boats, packed with migrants, all waiting to dock at Lampedusa’s port as the daily tally of arrivals hit a new high.

Prosecutor Giovanni Di Leo said 112 vessels arrived on Tuesday, carrying more than 5,000 migrants, far surpassing the previous record of 63 boats registered on one day last month. Meanwhile, migrant landings continued, with about 1,300 new arrivals on Wednesday morning.

Nearly 6,800 irregular migrants arrived over the last 36 hours to Italy's Lampedusa Island [Elmurod Usubaliev - Anadolu Agency]

Nearly 6,800 irregular migrants arrived over the last 36 hours to Italy’s Lampedusa Island [Elmurod Usubaliev – Anadolu Agency]

Di Leo compared the emergency on the small island to that experienced by Italy in 1991, when a single ship brought about 20,000 Albanians to the southern city of Bari. “We are all tired and exhausted both physically and psychologically,” Lampedusa Mayor Filippo Mannino told the Adnkronos news agency on Wednesday. “The situation is becoming unmanageable and unsustainable.”

READ: European court condemns Italy for ‘degrading’ treatment of migrants in Lampedusa

Migrants who arrive on Lampedusa are regularly transferred to Sicily to ease overcrowding, but when arrivals surge, this cannot happen quickly enough. The island’s reception centre had more than 6,000 people inside it on Wednesday, explained the Italian Red Cross, compared with its official capacity of around 400.

Overall, about 118,500 boat migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year, according to interior ministry data last updated on Tuesday morning. The figure is almost double what was recorded in the same period in 2022.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was elected last year after pledging to fight irregular immigration. She has failed to bring down the numbers as a crackdown on migrants and an economic crisis in Tunisia, as well as continuing chaos in Libya, have led to more sea crossings from North Africa. Three children and a woman died when their migrant ship sank off Sfax, a judge there told Reuters earlier today.