Two drivers were killed on Friday after a bus transporting migrants that had first arrived on Lampedusa, Italy’s tiniest and southernmost island, collided with a truck on a highway close outside Rome, according to Italian authorities.
When the tragedy occurred, the coach was transporting about 50 migrants from Sicily in the south to Piedmont in northern Italy. Several of the migrants sustained injuries and were brought to a hospital for care.
The crash comes as Italy tries to respond to a sharp increase in migrant boats from North Africa, mostly landing on the tiny island of Lampedusa, a first port of call for those trying to reach the European Union by sea.
Lampedusa’s “hotspot” reception centre had almost 7,000 migrants earlier this week, far above an official capacity of around 400. Numbers have since fallen to 3,800, the Italian Red Cross, which runs the facility, said on Friday.
After tensions and scuffles inside the centre, footage from Thursday night, published on social media and in the Italian press, showed some migrants mixing with locals and tourists and dancing to music on Lampedusa’s main street.
Once processed on Lampedusa, the migrants are sent to the bigger island of Sicily and distributed to reception centres across the Italian peninsula. Many of them try to travel on to northern Europe, but are pushed back at the borders.
The arrivals are a headache for Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government, which pledged to control immigration. Almost 126,000 arrivals have been recovered so far this year, almost double the figure at this stage for 2022.
Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, has lambasted the EU for “not caring” about Italy’s problem and said the government would use “all means necessary” to stop the boats.
Other right-wing politicians have picked up on the issue, with Marion Marechal le Pen, the niece of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, visiting Lampedusa on Friday.
“What we are seeing (in Lampedusa) is only the beginning of the migration crisis that we will face in coming decades,” she said in a message posted on social media site X.