Three days on from the worst migrant tragedy that the Mediterranean has seen, the main facts of the disaster are being reported in every media outlet and language but perhaps I can add some detail and reaction from here, including my own:
The images of the survivors landing at Catania last night are heartbreaking and many Sicilians who were present have commented on the sadness in their eyes. The bodies that have so far been recovered have been taken to Malta and, although the numbers are not yet official, it is thought that the final toll will be around 825. Some of these were women and children who were locked in the hold. Shocking accounts are emerging of survivors who had to cling to corpses in order to avoid drowning.
As was reported on Sunday, one of the causes of the tragedy was that many of the migrants rushed to one side of the boat when they saw one of two merchant ships approaching the area. The other cause, according to survivors, was that one of the people traffickers, the "captain" of the boat, was steering carelessly, causing a collision with the nearer merchant vessel. It is not clear which event happened first. This man and another people trafficker from the boat have now been arrested and are under investigation for aiding illegal immigration and for multiple homocide.
Here in Sicily opinion is divided between those who feel that the Italian Coast Guard and Navy should not be going so close to the Libyan coast to save migrant boats in trouble and those who feel that Mare Nostrum, or an operation like it, should be restored. Everyone, however, has expressed profound sorrow for the migrants. Premier Renzi said on Sunday that Italy cannot remain indifferent to boats in difficulty in an age of global communication and has today called for the entire international community to act against the people traffickers who, in the words of President Mattarella, are causing the slaughter of innocents. Mr Renzi has also today ruled out military operations within Libya.
Meanwhile the boats keep coming and you will have read of the deaths off Rhodes yesterday and possibly of two other rescues in which Italy has been involved in the last 24 hours. We have also learnt that richer Syrians have been paying up to €8,500 each for a safe passage to Italy and yesterday a yacht carrying 98 such migrants was rescued when its engine failed off Siracusa. The passengers, among whom there were many families with young children, have been brought to Pozzallo. Well, if you or I were in Nazi Germany or today's Syria and our family's lives were threatened, wouldn't we do it if we had the means? I will say again that for me, the logic is simple: if we agree that the régimes in question are awful, then we cannot blame people for trying to escape from them, in whatever way they can.
You may read for yourselves the European Commission's ten-point plan on migration: yes, destroy the smugglers' boats before they leave but what about the people who are in fear of their lives? Then there is the point about reinforcing joint operations "but within the Frontex mandate". We shall see but it still seems to be more about protecting borders than people to me. An "EU resettlement project" sounds good, until you read the part about "offering a number of places to persons in need of protection." What number? I am always suspicious when statistics are mentioned before humanity.
Humanitarian organisations are calling for a European or UN Mare Nostrum operation and Cécile Kyenge, among others, is suggesting that this should be Italian-led.
Finally, an extraordinary European Council has been called for Thursday to discuss the situation. How many people will die before that?
|Image: Cécile Kyenge facebook page|