The largest single arrival of migrants in years was docked in Italy on Monday, with many suffering from the contagious skin disease scabies, the Associated Press reported.
The scabies outbreak suggested that the migrants coming to Italy had been close enough to easily spread the disease during their holding time in Libya.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, the disease is known to spread easily as Bangladeshis and sub-Saharan Africans were often held in the lower deck of the vessel, in extremely cramped conditions.
The fishing boat carrying the migrants was also very crowded, with 686 people. Once the ship was docked, the passengers were immediately taken to a reception center for processing, and to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, a result of Italy’s new program to vaccinate new migrants entering the country.
“This is the highest number of persons arrived on a single boat in 2021,” the U.N. refugee agency said. “Such numbers—in a single arrival—were not registered since August 2016.”
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Italian coast guard ships escorted the 15-meter (45-foot) boat into port late Monday in Lampedusa, Sicily, an island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland that is one of the main destinations for Libyan-based migrant smugglers.
It is rare for such a large smugglers’ boat carrying so many people to arrive in an Italian port. More often, smaller groups of migrants are rescued at sea over several days by aid groups after their flimsy crafts take on water. The rescue vessels then bring the migrants into shore together.
According to the aid group Mediterranean Hope in Lampedusa, the passengers included 658 men, 12 women and 12 minors. They hailed from Egypt, Morocco, Chad, Ethiopia, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan and Senegal and had set off from Zuwarah, Libya.
The arrivals were the latest in a year that has seen a marked increase in the number of migrants arriving in Italy.
As of Monday, 44,778 migrants had disembarked in Italy this year, with the top nationalities Tunisia, Bangladesh and Egypt. The total is nearly double the number of arrivals in the first nine months of 2020 and five times the number of 2019, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
The arrivals have added urgency to efforts by Mediterranean countries to pressure the European Union to develop a more equitable migration policy that addresses the problem driving people to flee their homelands and shares the burden beyond front-line European countries.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese met with her counterparts from Spain, Malta, Greece and Cyprus this week in Malaga, Spain and said there was an “urgent” need to craft a European policy that is equitable and provides “ambitious” financing for border patrols, redistribution and repatriation programs.
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