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Italy has no clear plan for 10,000 North African migrants who landed on resort island


The tiny Italian resort island of Lampedusa sits in the Mediterranean about 120 miles off the coast of Tunisia. That puts it closer to North Africa than to Italy, so close that it's becoming a landing place for migrants who are desperate to enter Europe. Last week more than 10,000 migrants made the incredibly dangerous journey to Lampedusa, creating yet another migration crisis for which Italy and, more broadly, Europe are not prepared. NPR's Ruth Sherlock is on the island tonight and joins us now, and a note that we'll be describing the tragic circumstances that some of these migrants face. Ruth, you managed to get rare access to this port where many migrants arrive on illegal smugglers' boats. Tell us what you've been seeing.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, you know, there was this scene of dozens of dilapidated boats. Some of them were actually half-sunken in the water. And there was this debris of discarded lifejackets and clothes and plastic water bottles. And this is the remnants of the scene from last week, when thousands of migrants arrived here. And people who worked at the port told me these terrible stories of some of the things that these migrants had been through, being sometimes at sea for days. You know, they described one woman who gave birth while at sea, and the baby had died. And she'd clutched him in - the baby in her arms for two days without cutting the umbilical cord. Others talked about a 3-year-old arrived, you know, traveling alone, and it's presumed his parents died. So it just gives you an idea of how difficult and dangerous these journeys are at sea. But once they arrive, it's not clear that everybody who arrives will be given asylum. Some may be returned to their home countries.

SUMMERS: The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, and the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, came to Lampedusa after this latest influx. And at one point, their convoy was stopped by residents who wanted to see them do more to deal with the migrant crisis. What's the atmosphere like there?

SHERLOCK: You know, it's surprising. There isn't this hostility that you might expect from residents who are seeing so many arrivals. In fact, last week some residents came out and gave food and offered shelter. But there is a fear that if this continues, if migrants keep coming in these numbers, Lampedusa could be subsumed by the immigration problem. And that is something that the islanders really worry about. In fact, they blocked a shipment of tents last week because they don't want a permanent encampment here. I spoke with Giacomo Svalatsu (ph). He's a singer and artist who was the person who cornered Prime Minister Meloni when she came. He says, you know, Lampedusa cannot bear the weight of the world.

GIACOMO SVALATSU: (Speaking Italian).

SHERLOCK: And he's calling for more durable solutions. But the big problem is what those might be.

SUMMERS: What are some of the options that are being considered?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, Meloni has issued this crackdown. They're talking about more detention centers in Italy and returning more migrants who don't qualify for asylum. And she wants a naval blockade. That's something the EU hasn't sanctioned. They, you know, instead talk about a 10-point plan that includes stepping up border security and, you know, this kind of controversial funding of the authoritarian president of Tunisia to try to limit migration that's coming from there. The EU says it stands alongside Italy, but the problem is that lots of European countries in practice are not really very willing to accept more migrants.

SUMMERS: NPR's Ruth Sherlock on the island of Lampedusa. Ruth, thank you.

SHERLOCK: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.