A flotilla of at least 160 boats carrying more than 7,000 migrants set sail from Tunisia swamped Lampedusa in southern Italy on Wednesday, straining the coast guard's ability to intercept the traffickers' boats and putting Prime Minister Georgia Meloni's pledge to curb illegal immigration to the test, setting off alarm bells in Greece as well.
A state of emergency has been declared on the small Italian island after the arrival of thousands of irregular migrants in the past 36 hours, local media reported. One of the boats carrying migrants capsized, resulting in the drowning of a 5-month-old baby.
Riots and clashes are taking place between the illegal migrants and the local authorities, with the situation remaining explosive. Shortages of even basic goods such as water are reported, and the authorities seem unable to control the angry crowds of thousands of Africans.
Tension was created at the port as hundreds of migrants tried to leave and breach security barriers. Videos circulated showing police trying to push them away.
Transport Minister Matteo Salvini commented on the issue and said around 120 boats arrived on Wednesday 13 September alone. The migrants were reportedly climbing alone on the rocky shores of Lampedusa, scrambling for food and water bottles, and also jumping into the sea to cool off.
Mayors in various regions have complained that they have been saddled with the brunt of caring for migrants without any financial assistance from the federal government, especially for unaccompanied children.
Political pressure on Italy's far-right leader has been exacerbated by promises by France and Germany to repel migrants arriving by sea on Italian shores who, defying the rules of the European Union's asylum system, head north to try to find work or relatives in Italy and other northern countries on the continent.
Beginning early Tuesday, the ill-fitting, unstable iron boats came one after another in what almost resembled a procession of spectators on Lampedusa, a fishing and tourist island south of Sicily. Some 6,800 migrants arrived in a little more than 24 hours, a number several hundred more than the island's resident population.
With the island's only migrant shelter having a capacity of around 450 beds, authorities rushed to transport the migrants via commercial or coast guard vessels to Sicily or Calabria on the southern edges of the Italian mainland.
Francesca Basile, a spokeswoman for the Italian Red Cross in Lampedusa, said they were making "enormous efforts" to provide "basic services" to the 6,000 migrants in central Lampedusa.
According to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, over 120,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea this year, including over 11,000 unaccompanied minors.
Most of them are crossing Italy on foot, by bus and by train as they try to make their way to northern Italy.