The state memorial service for the migrants who died in the tragedies off Lampedusa of 3rd and 11th October was held in Agrigento this afternoon [Monday] in the presence of Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge, other Italian government representatives, civic dignitaries and, controversially, representatives of the government of Eritrea. As Eritrea was one of the countries that the migrants were fleeing, many mourners thought it was inappropriate for these politicians to attend.
After the interfaith service Mr Alfano was heckled as he spoke to journalists and there were cries of "Murderers! Enough of the Bossi-Fini law!" The Bossi-Fini law, introduced in 2002, made illegal immigration, and aiding it, a crime. This may seem fair enough but no one could have predicted the numbers of people trying to escape oppressive régimes now and it would clearly be outrageous to brand every migrant trying to reach Europe a "criminal". One of the unexpected effects of the law has been that fishing vessels sometimes do not go to help migrant boats in trouble because their crews fear being accused of aiding illegal immigration. The Italian government had suggested granting citizenship to the migrants who died and protesters today wanted to know what is going to happen to the survivors. Are they, for instance, all to be regarded as criminals? The irony is not lost on the survivors themselves, some of whom were pictured with notices saying "Sorry we didn't drown" last week.
Mr Alfano said that the deceased migrants had been accorded dignified burials and that the survivors would receive the assistance they needed. He also reminded journalists that the Italian police are still determined to find and arrest all the "merchants of death" - the people traffickers.
Governor of Sicily Rosario Crocetta said that it would have been better to have held the service in the presence of the survivors - a reference to the fact that it was not held on Lampedusa - but that today was not the right time to argue about it. It would have been pretty hard not to be drawn into the discussion, however, as everybody had a criticism to make: Mosé Zerai, a priest representing the Eritrean community in Italy, said that the service had been arranged late and hurriedly and many people, including the families of some of the victims, had been unable to make arrangements to attend. He was also unhappy about the presence of the Eritrean politicians. Michele Pagliaro, general secretary of the CGIL Union in Sicily, said the ceremony had been late and inadequate and vowed that his union would campaign for a change in immigration law as this would be the best way to honour the victims of the tragedies. Marco Zambuto, the Mayor of Agrigento, went further and called the event a "state farce".
Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge, however, said that today had been important because it was the first time that non- Italians had been honoured in a state funeral ceremony.
It was, though, Giusi Nicolini, the Mayor of Lampedusa, who painted the most vivid picture of the situation the migrants and the islanders face: Unable to attend the ceremony because of a pre-scheduled meeting with President Napolitano, Giusi Nicolini spoke in the Senate. She said that migration policies reflect the type of society that a country has and impact upon the places where migrants land. Therefore, she said, Italy's migration policies are doubly unjust because they are unjust to the people of Lampedusa, too. Mayor Nicolini said that there was no need to follow the coffins to see the reality, which is that the current situation is the tip of the iceberg, with the Mediterranean becoming a cemetery. She said that immigration policy must change and that Italy must be clear about where the migrants will go after they land. "It is time", she summed up, "to tear off the mask and act." Giusi Nicolini is also asking for 3rd October every year to become a day of remembrance for migration victims.
So there you have it: a "state farce" with some probably unsuitable guests, a "catwalk for politicians" [Mr Zambuto's words again] or a compassionate if not always efficient country doing the best it can in difficult circumstances? I tend to the latter opinion but I do agree with Mayor Nicolini that it is time to "tear off the mask."