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Italy's Lampedusa island slammed again by migrant arrivals

The tiny Mediterranean island of Lampedusa is in the throes of yet another season of migrants arriving by sea, and Ibrahima Mbaye and Waly Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow Africans risk their lives to get here via unsafe smugglers’ boats.

Mbaye and Sarr arrived in Italy legally years ago and found work as fishermen on a Lampedusa-based fishing boat, the Vincenzo Padre, which has a mixed Senegalese-Italian crew. They live in town and are part of the community, whereas most other newly arrived Africans pass through, heading to destinations further north after the perilous Mediterranean crossing.

“If somebody had told me that in Lampedusa, everyday, 30 or 25 boats arrive, I wouldn’t have believed it. But now that I came here, I saw it with my own eyes,” Mbaye said during a break checking the nets as their fishing boat was docked.

The sun shines over the cemetery where victims of shipwrecks are buried, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land.

Last week, more than 1,200 migrants arrived within a span of 12 hours, as traffickers in Libya took advantage of calm seas and warm weather to launch several decrepit, overcrowded vessels north. It was the first major influx in over a year after a COVID-19-induced lull in arrivals.

“If you take that risk, it’s because you want people back home to survive,” Sarr said. “If you have nothing back home you say ’I go, and if I die, I die. If I arrive, I’ll arrive.”

Graves are seen in the cemetery where victims of shipwrecks are buried, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Sarr and Mbaye were lucky: Both arrived in Italy by plane with their papers in order. Sarr arrived in 2012 and joined his father, who was already working aboard the “Vincenzo Padre.” Mbaye spent four years in Milan before arriving in Lampedusa nearly two years ago and also found work on the ship. They both earn enough to send money home to their wives and children in Senegal.

“It’s painful for me when I see young people coming here to find a better future when it’s not sure they can find it,” Mbaye said. “They come without papers, and here if you don’t comply with the rules, it’s hard to find work.”

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Waly Sarr, 30, left, and Ibrahima Mbaye, 41, both from Senegal, walk off the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where they work as fishermen, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Mbaye and Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Ibrahima Mbaye, 41, from Senegal, poses for a photo on the deck of the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where he works as fisherman, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Mbaye and his fellow countryman Waly Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Waly Sarr, 30, from Senegal, poses for a photo on the deck of the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where he works as fisherman, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Sarr and his fellow countryman Ibrahima Mbaye can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Waly Sarr, 30, right, and Ibrahima Mbaye, 41, both from Senegal, fix nets on the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where they work as fishermen, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Mbaye and Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Waly Sarr, 30, right, Ibrahima Mbaye, 41, left, both from Senegal, and Salvatore Di Battista work on the deck of the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where they work as fishermen, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Mbaye and Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Waly Sarr, 30, right, Ibrahima Mbaye, 41, left, both from Senegal, and Salvatore Di Battista work on the deck of the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where they work as fishermen, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Mbaye and Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Ibrahima Mbaye, 41, from Senegal, fixes nets on the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where he works as a fisherman, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Mbaye and his fellow countryman Waly Sarr can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Waly Sarr, 30, from Senegal, works on the deck of the "Vincenzo Padre" fishing boat where he works as fisherman, in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Thursday, May 13, 2021. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is in the throes of yet another season of migrant arrivals, and Sarr and his fellow countryman Ibrahima Mbaye can only watch from shore as their fellow African countrymen risk their lives to get here via smugglers' boats. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Residents sit on benches at Vittorio Garibaldi Square, on the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

Beach goers enjoy the sun on a beach in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Friday, May 14, 2021. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

A view of the Rabbits Island, surrounded by Cristal clear waters, just next to the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Friday, May 14, 2021. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)

A view of a beach in the Island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, and it has long been the destination of choice for migrant smuggling operations leaving Libya. Over the years, it has witnessed countless numbers of shipwrecks and seen bodies floating offshore, only to be buried in the cemetery on land. (AP PhotoSalvatore Cavalli)