UN refugee agency: wave of migrants must be moved off island of Lampedusa

Migrants in Lampedusa

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency on Friday said it was imperative that the thousands of migrants who have arrived in recent days on the Italian island of Lampedusa be relocated because of its limited resources.

Around 7,000 migrants arrived on the shore of the small island in a two-day period, prompting pleas for help from Italy.

Authorities have organised some transfers to the larger island of Sicily to ease the situation, something the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects will continue in the coming days.

"It's imperative to move people off the island because the resources there, the capacity is so limited," said UNHCR spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh.

Saltmarsh said the migrants arriving were traumatised, exhausted and in need of food, shelter and medical care.

It is hard to identify a single factor behind this recent spike in migrant arrivals on Lampedusa, Saltmarsh said.

Calm sea conditions, the economic and social turbulence across the Mediterranean waters in Tunisia and Libya, and the conflict in Sudan could all be at play.

"It can't just be on those frontline states like Italy that receive the initial arrivals to have to accommodate them for the longer term ... We think that now's the time for other countries, other states, other regions to try to support the Italians and to support the people of Lampedusa."

Saltmarsh said European countries should also agree how to share out the task of settling recognised refugees.

"In that case we're talking about refugees, those people who have asylum claims that are valid and that are confirmed and that have the right under international law to stay," he said.

Lampedusa, which has a population of just over 6,000, sits in the Mediterranean near Tunisia, Malta and Sicily and is the first port of call for many migrants seeking to reach the European Union.

(Reporting by Cécile Mantovani and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Kevin Liffey)