European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will travel Sunday to Lampedusa, her spokesman said Saturday.
The announcement was made on X after Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni invited her to see first-hand the migration crisis on the tiny Mediterranean island.
A flurry of arrivals of illegal migrants and refugees this week are overwhelming the island. More than 100 boats ferrying migrants from North Africa, especially Tunisia, reached the island’s shore Wednesday. It pushed the number of migrants at Lampedusa’s reception center, or hotspot, to more than 6,000, roughly the same number as the island’s population.
Authorities are racing against the clock to transfer the migrants to other parts of Italy, while more migrants keep reaching the island.
Meloni invited von der Leyen to the island, hoping she could accelerate the deployment of EU funds promised to Tunisia in exchange for blocking migrants’ departure from the north African country.
The number of seaborne migrants reaching Italy is set to reach a record this year, if they continue to arrive at a similar pace. As of Friday, 127,207 migrants have reached Italy since the beginning of the year, or almost double the number in the same period last year. The peak in migrants’ arrivals was reached in 2016, with 180,000 recorded entries.
Lampedusa’s residents are having mixed reactions to the crisis on the island. Some protested Saturday because of the situation, peacefully marching in the streets.
“We are fed up. We can’t receive 200,000 people on an island,” Lampedusa’s Deputy Mayor Attilio Lucia shouted at reporters.
Others complained about the placement of large tents on the island, accusing authorities of creating a large jail for migrants. Authorities later clarified the tents were meant to host only army and police personnel sent to the island to manage the crisis.
Other residents offered meals to migrants and entertained them singing and dancing with them, according to videos on social media.
The Italian government is focused on the crisis at Lampedusa.
“I don’t think that Europe will be enough anymore. The issue of migration must be handled at the United Nations level. Africa’s powder keg has exploded, we need international cooperation,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told the Libero newspaper.
Tajani said on X he spoke with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna about the crisis Friday and discussed measures at the EU level to manage the crisis.