As I write, BBC World is leading with the news of yet another tragedy involving a migrant boat in the Mediterranean: there are conflicting reports as the rescue operation is ongoing but what we know so far is that the boat got into trouble early this evening 70 miles off Malta and 60 miles off Lampedusa, where it was probably headed. Maltese military and Italian naval vessels were already in the area, following last week's tragedy, and the boat was spotted by the Maltese Air Force, who alerted the Italian authorities. The boat was carrying at least 250 people and, according to the BBC, capsized when most of the passengers ran to one side in an attempt to signal their plight to a passing aircraft. Corriere della Sera is reporting 50 dead so far, including ten children. A Maltese vessel has saved 150 migrants, among them 17 children and an Italian naval vessel has rescued 56 people, including nine children. There are reports that ten rescued children have already been flown to Lampedusa. Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat have spoken on the telephone and have again agreed that coordinated EU action is required to halt such tragedies.
I presume that, if the BBC is reporting the story, it is making headlines around the world but I cannot help reflecting that the world was not much interested in Mediterranean migration until the magnitude of last week's tragedy off Lampedusa woke it up. But these tragedies did not begin with the "Arab Spring" or the civil war in Syria: as one of my commenters reminded me last week, I have been writing about them for a long time - since 2006, in fact - and, for those of you who would like to know more about how these events have affected Italy and Sicily in particular, I have this evening placed a new page, called Posts about migration in the Mediterranean, under the blog header. This page contains links to all my posts about migration in the area. Among them you will find many tales of tragedy - and yes, of evil - but also remarkable stories of generosity, humanity, bravery and love.
The death toll of the tragedy of 3rd October is now 339 but the recovery operation is not finished. The media outside Italy has made much of the fact that Prime Minister Letta and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, were heckled when they visited Lampedusa this Wednesday but I have seen few reports in the foreign press of Mr Letta's humility: he knelt in front of the coffins in the airport hangar on Lampedusa and apologised for his country's inadequacies when faced with such a tragedy. Both men were visibly shaken by what they saw and Mr Barroso was especially upset by the sight of a coffin containing a mother and newborn baby, with the umbilical cord still attached.
Mr Letta has promised a state funeral for the victims and, although he has been accused of using them to "play politics", I believe that the gesture has been made in good faith. There is no word yet of when and where this will take place and among those who want to know is the Mayor of Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, who has to deal with the arrival on Lampedusa of some of the victims' relatives, who are of course asking where their loved ones will be buried.
Not all politicians are happy about the state funeral plans and an amendment to the so called Bossi-Fini Law, under which illegal immigration is a crime, has also caused a storm. Under the amendment, passed in the Senate on Thursday, illegal immigration will no longer be a crime but possible measures against it such as deportation or detention will remain in force. Some unlikely alliances have been formed to fight the amendment and we must wait to see what happens.
Once again, a ray of light has been brought into this sombre situation by Pope Francis, who today sent international phone cards to the survivors on Lampedusa. Sometimes I think Pope Francis has more common sense than all the politicians put together.