Thousands of migrants a week land in Sicily and threaten to turn the island into a new Greece as authorities refuse to let migrants leave.
In the past 36 hours over 1,300 migrants were rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean as they made the voyage from North Africa to Europe. The migrants were all sent to the Italian island of Sicily where they join tens of thousands of other migrants who have crossed successfully or have been rescued by European coastguards.
Sicily has become the last hope for migrants trying to get into the European Union (EU), but many who land on the island may be stranded there, Der Spiegel reports, threatening to turn Sicily into another Greece.
According to the International Organization for Migration over 48,761 migrants have attempted to sail across the sea from North Africa to Europe in the first five months of 2016. Of those, 2,435 migrants drowned at sea before they could make it to land during that period, but EU border agency Frontex warns that the figure has already risen to 3,500 this month.
Frontex expects that the number of migrants per week will rise to 10,000 over the summer and autumn months.
The Sicilian capital of Palermo has been particularly affected by the growing number of migrants. Irene Paola Martino of Doctors without Borders (MSF) said that many of the migrants are in need of costly medical care as soon as they arrive. In particular, women, who are forced to sit at the bottom of the smugglers’ rubber dinghies, are exposed to a mixture of salt water and leaking gasoline that ends up giving them severe burns.
Migrants who make it to Sicily are often interned in migrants centres like Centro Astalli, a converted Jesuit convent. According to social worker Emilio Cozzo the centre was previously used to help the homeless, “but now there are almost exclusively refugees,” he said.
The migrants come from all over the African continent, often from countries considered safe like Nigeria. A Frontex report on African migration earlier this year showed that many migrants from West Africa in particular are not fleeing their countries and many are not poor. The report asserted that the migrants were attempting to enter Europe purely for economic reasons and even to show off to their friends and family back home.
Earlier this year, migrants on the Italian island of Sardinia caused trouble for locals when they protested not being allowed to travel to northern Europe. According to one local lawmaker, the migrants practically held sections of the city of Cagliari hostage.
Mr. Cozzo said he only expects the migrant flow to continue to grow during the balmy summer months saying: “Now it is summer again, many will come.”