Italy appeals for more help with immigration emergency

Italy's ministry of the interior has appealed to all prefects throughout Italy to find approximately 6,500 additional places to house the latest influx of immigrants into Italy over the Easter period. Most of the immigrants have come from the Horn of Africa, but there are also Palestinians and Syrians.

Italy's existing reception system is now under severe stress, with the worst months (June-September) for illegal human trafficking across the Mediterranean still ahead.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that 18,000 people have been saved close to the Italian coast since the beginning of this year ̶ 8,000 of them since the beginning of April, most of them departing from Libya. This compares with 26,600 during the same period last year.

However deaths are estimated to be 500 so far this year (excluding the 400 people thought to have died off the coast of Libya on 14 April), compared with 143 deaths at the same time last year.

According to Save the Children between 11-13 April 5,100 people disembarked in Italy from 18 boats; Lampedusa (6 vessels), Sicily (8), Calabria (2) and Puglia (2), brought to safety by Italian coast guards, Icelandic and Irish patrol boats working for the Frontex programme Triton and an Italian naval vessel. Save the Children estimates that in this period 450 minors have come ashore, 317 of whom are unaccompanied minors.

As well as the IOM and Save the Children, Caritas and the Red Cross are all working with the Italian regional and provincial authorities to cope with the emergency.

The new arrivals have been used by the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-European Lega Nord party as an excuse to ratchet-up political tensions in the run-up to the local elections at the end of May. The party's leader Matteo Salvini, who has a track record of racist language and ideas, is urging his party's politicians and supporters (mainly in the north of the country) not to accept immigrants in their communities and to block access to all lodgings, whether hotels, camps, schools or barracks, that might be made available.