Accessibility links

Breaking News

Migrant Bus Crashes as Italy Transfers Arrivals From Overwhelmed Island

FILE - Migrants stand in the Lampedusa's migrant reception center, Sicily, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

LAMPEDUSA ISLAND — A bus reportedly transporting recently arrived migrants slammed into a truck north of Rome early Friday, killing two drivers, as Italy ramps up transfers of migrants north attempting to relieve pressure on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.

Ten people were also injured in the crash on the A1 highway near Fiano Romano, Italy’s fire rescue service said. Italian media said the bus had been transporting the migrants north to Piedmont after they arrived in recent days on Lampedusa and were ferried to the Italian mainland.

Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, has been overwhelmed this week by thousands of people hoping to reach Europe from Tunisia, which has replaced Libya as the main hub for migrant smuggling operations in the Mediterranean.

The Italian Red Cross said some 700 new arrivals had been transferred off Lampedusa on Thursday and 2,500 more transfers were planned for Friday to try to relieve pressure on the island’s refugee center, which has a normal capacity of around 400 people.

As of Friday morning, the center was hosting some 3,800 people, down significantly from the over 6,000 registered this week, the Red Cross said in a statement.

The influx has occurred despite a European Union-inked accord with the Tunisian government to stem the smuggling operations in exchange for economic assistance.

The arrivals have put pressure on the right-wing government of Premier Giorgia Meloni, who took office last year promising to crack down on migration, ahead of European Parliament elections next year.

Meloni’s conservative coalition partner, the League Party, has increased criticism of Meloni and the EU-Tunisia deal, saying the influx of migrants showed it clearly had failed.

League leader Matteo Salvini is due to host French far-right leader Marine Le Pen at a rally this weekend in his northern home base of Pontida.

On Friday, Le Pen's niece, French far-right politician Marion Marechal, was on Lampedusa to show her support to Italy, which she said had been abandoned by Europe to deal with the migrant problem on its own.

“I came to support the Italian people and government, because Lampedusa today and the Italian borders are the borders of the whole of Europe,” Marechal told Italian reporters. “We have to change EU policy to help the Italian government, which today is alone in facing this crisis."

According to Interior Ministry statistics, nearly 126,000 people have arrived in Italy so far by boat this year compared to 66,000 this time last year and 42,000 in 2021.

This year could be on track to near the record in 2016, when by the end of September some 132,000 migrants had arrived. The recent record for migrant sea arrivals occurred in 2016: a total of 181,000 people.