|Image: Norman Einstein|
Summer moons and calmer seas continue to bring with them the "boatloads of sorrow" and it is estimated that some 1,000 migrants reached the Sicilian and Calabrian coasts during Saturday - Sunday night.
Among these were the 95 survivors of a tragedy which took place 85 miles south of Malta in international waters. Some of these migrants were on a dinghy but others were clinging to a tuna fishing cage being dragged by a Tunisian fishing boat. Of these, at least seven were drowned when the boat crew cut the rope. Some of the migrants tried to jump onto the fishing boat but were pushed back into the sea by crew members. The passengers on the dinghy, by now adrift, and the migrants who were still clinging to the cage were spotted by a Maltese naval plane and, advised of their position, the Italian Coast Guard effected the rescue of the 95.
At first the survivors' accounts were treated with caution while investigations were carried out but they have now been verified. It is still not clear why or for how long some of the migrants had been clinging to the cage but it is possible that they threw themselves towards it in desperation because of the cramped conditions on the dinghy.
Yesterday Laurens Jolles, the UNHCR delegate for Southern Europe, thanked the Italian Coast Guard for its numerous actions, which have saved hundreds of lives. Monsignor Giancarlo Perego of Fondazione Migrantes called for "humanitarian channels for people to escape situations in the Middle East and Africa". He would like to see patrols accompanying the migrants in a spirit of welcome and a new European policy which would look upon asylum seekers and refugees more sympathetically. Meanwhile Italy's Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge has said that immigrants should be regarded as an important economic resource for the country and has pointed out that if their lavoro nero [illegal work] were regularised, the Italian Treasury would receive an extra five million euros in revenue.
As some of my commenters have pointed out on my other posts on this subject, there are no easy answers: The "Welcome Centre" on the island of Lampedusa - a structure built for 300 people - is reported to be housing 855 at the moment and there are no immediate plans to transfer them. Jobs are scarce in Italy and, when times are hard, it is always easy to blame an identifiable community. Yet, despite the problems, I do believe that we are beginning to see a change in attitudes towards migrants in Italy.