Relentless Flow Of Migrants Causes Alarm In Italy

May 5, 2015
Originally published on May 5, 2015 2:30 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Set aside the hundreds of migrants in a boat that capsized in the Mediterranean. European authorities are expecting far more. In fact, they expect 200,000 people in total to come ashore this year.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Two-hundred-thousand people on the water - that's roughly the population of Boise, Idaho, or Rochester, N.Y., or of Baton Rouge.

INSKEEP: Thousands have been rescued just in the last few days and now face a scramble to find shelter. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ITALIAN COAST GUARD FOOTAGE)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Italian TV showed Coast Guard footage of smiling, cheering sub-Saharan African migrants climbing on board a large ship. Crew from the Navy ship Bettica rescued a Nigerian woman in labor, who gave birth to a baby girl on board the ship. But another boatload was not so lucky. Survivors told aid workers dozens, perhaps 40 people, drowned when their inflatable rubber dinghy either exploded or deflated before rescuers reached the vessel.

Growing lawlessness in Libya is providing a golden opportunity for human traffickers. Italian investigators say smugglers are making an average $90,000 from each boatload. The surge in arrivals came two weeks after some 800 migrants drowned in the worst Mediterranean shipwreck in living memory. That disaster prompted the European Union to increase funding for an EU patrol mission. But Italy has been left alone in trying to shelter migrants on land. It now officially hosts more than 80,000 who are applying for asylum. Many thousands more are sleeping on streets and surviving thanks to charity organizations.

The Interior Ministry is asking all Italian regions to share the burden of sheltering migrants and has summoned regional governors and mayors to a meeting in Rome Thursday. But Lombardy and Veneto in the North are resisting. Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has vowed not to take in any more migrants. If any funding is available, he said, it should be spent on our citizens, not for clandestine migrants. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.