In an effort to relieve the severe overcrowding on Lampedusa, the San Marco, an Italian naval ship yesterday transported about 600 Tunisians from Lampedusa to Sicily. The ship’s departure was delayed by several hours because the ship’s captain had apparently not been given instructions where to take the migrants. The ship was eventually directed to sail to the port of Augusta on Sicily. It is unclear whether the ship will return to Lampedusa to pick up more migrants.
There has been confusion over the identity of the 600 migrants who were selected to be moved to Sicily. Initial statements by Italian officials said that the migrants who were to be moved had been identified as asylum seekers or were women and children. But later reports indicted that there were fewer than 20 women and children among the 600 and that none of the 600 have been identified as asylum seekers. UNHCR said that no formal refugee processing is being conducted on Lampedusa in part due to the chaos and severe overcrowding on the island and also due to the fact that only a few migrants have reportedly expressed a desire to seek asylum.
Approximately 650 other migrants were transported off the island yesterday by planes and yesterday marked the first day in many days where there was a net decrease in the migrant population on Lampedusa. 1200 migrants left the island and about 300 new migrants in seven boats arrived on the island yesterday.
Foreign Minister Frattini and Interior Minister Maroni are now scheduled to travel to Tunis on Friday, 25 March, to discuss a new migration agreement with Tunisia.