Around 600 refugees will be distributed to different regions in southern Italy to disburden the refugee centre, says Interior Ministry.

Migrants are rescued off the coast of Lampedusa on Tuesday Jan. 25, 2022.
Migrants are rescued off the coast of Lampedusa on Tuesday Jan. 25, 2022. (AP)

The Italian navy has begun relocating the first 600 asylum seekers from the Sicilian island of Lampedusa after its refugee identification center became overwhelmed with new arrivals and photos circulated of filthy conditions.

July has seen a sustained uptick in daily refugee arrivals in Italy compared to recent years, according to Interior Ministry statistics. 

Overall, arrivals are up sharply this year, with 30,000 would-be refugees making landfall so far compared to 22,700 in the same period in 2021 and 7,500 in 2020.

Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than mainland Italy, is often the destination of choice for Libyan-based refugee smugglers, who charge desperate people hundreds of dollars apiece to cross the Mediterranean Sea on packed, dangerous dinghies and boats.

The Italian navy’s San Marco ship was taking an initial 600 refugees from Lampedusa to another center in Sicily and from there they will be distributed elsewhere in Italy, the ministry said on Saturday and the transfers would continue on Sunday.

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'No, it is Italy'

Lampedusa’s former mayor, Giusi Nicolini, posted what she said were photos and videos taken in the center in recent days, showing new arrivals sleeping on the floor on pieces of foam and bathrooms piled high with plastic bottles and garbage.

“There are 2,100 people packed in the Lampedusa welcome center,” which has beds for 200, she wrote on Facebook. “These could be photos from Libya, but no, it’s Italy. And these are the ones who survived.”

Right-wing lawmakers were quick to seize on the overcrowding, blaming the left-wing parties in Italy's government for being too soft on migration.

“And this would be the left's famous humanitarian model?” Georgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, tweeted along with the images. “Saying no to mass illegal immigration also means saying no to this.”

READ MORE: Several migrants drown as boat capsizes off Italy's Lampedusa

Source: AP