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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to visit Lampedusa with Giorgia Meloni amid surge in migrant arrivals

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EU chief Ursula von der Leyen will visit the Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday after 8,500 migrants arrived by boat in three days, an EU official announced.

Police officers walk by migrants in the Lampedusa Island, Italy, Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will travel on Sunday with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to the island of Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants have arrived this week, an EU official announced on Saturday.

Meloni had appealed to Brussels for help after some 8,500 people arrived by boat on this small Italian island in the Mediterranean, 145 kilometres off the coast of Tunisia, in three days this week. She said Europe needed a “paradigm change” in its approach to the migrant issue.

Italy’s government has been holding an extraordinary meeting on the migrant crisis after Meloni called for a naval blockade of North Africa to deal with the issue.

Meloni had invited the head of the European Commission to visit Lampedusa with her to see the conditions firsthand and called for a new European Union migration deal with Tunisia to be put into effect.

“Obviously, Italy and Europe cannot welcome this massive influx of people, especially when these migrant flows are being managed by unscrupulous traffickers,” she said.

In Paris, the French interior minister Gerald Darmanin, called police, immigration officials and regional government leaders to a second summit on Saturday morning to coordinate a response.

It comes as French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is in Italy for meetings with Matteo Salvini, the leader of Meloni’s coalition partner, the League Party.

On Friday, Le Pen’s niece, French far-right politician Marion Marechal, was on Lampedusa to show her support to Italy, which she said had been abandoned by Europe to deal with migrants on its own.

“I came to support the Italian people and government because Lampedusa today and the Italian borders are the borders of the whole of Europe,” Marechal told Italian reporters. “We have to change EU policy to help the Italian government, which today is alone in facing this crisis.”

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