Italy declares state of emergency as migrant numbers surge

Italy's cabinet on Tuesday declared a six-month national state of emergency to help it cope with a surge in migrants arriving on the country's southern shores.

In a statement after the cabinet meeting, the government said the state of emergency was deemed necessary "to carry out with urgency extraordinary measures to reduce congestion" at an overwhelmed migrant shelter on a tiny Italian island in the Mediterranean.

Also needed are "new structures, suitable both for sheltering as well as the processing and repatriation of migrants who don't have the requisites to stay" in Italy, the government statement said.

The state of emergency will be backed by initial funding of 5 million euros (about $5.46 million), the ministry for sea and civil protection said.

"Let it be clear, we are not solving the problem, the solution can only depend on responsible intervention by the European Union (EU)," said Nello Musumeci, the civil protection minister.

Since the start of this year, some 31,000 migrants, either rescued by Italian military boats or charity ships or reaching Italy without assistance, have disembarked, according to Interior Ministry figures. That's nearly four times the roughly 8,000 for the same period in each of the two previous years.

On Monday, the Italian coast guard led rescue operations involving two boats carrying a total of 1,200 people, with charity groups also joining efforts to save lives at sea.

Following a deadly shipwreck off the southern Italian region of Calabria in late February, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni urged the EU to do more to halt illegal immigration, as she toughened jail terms for human smugglers.

(With input from agencies)

(Cover: Italian coast guards on a ship and migrants in a small boat during an ongoing rescue operation, coordinated by the Coast Guard's National Maritime Rescue Center, southeast of Syracuse, Italy, April 10, 2023. /CFP)

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