Friday, April 08, 2011


Flags flew at half-mast in Sicily today for the migrants drowned when their boat capsized off Lampedusa in the early hours of Wednesday morning.  In my last migration update, I reported that a tragedy had been waiting to happen and did, but now, as so many of us feared, a much larger one has occurred.  It is impossible to be sure exactly how many poor, desperate souls lost their lives, just as it is impossible to be certain how many were travelling aboard the inadequate boat, which sailed from Libya:  it may have been carrying 300 passengers, it may have been 350 and some reports put the figure at 400.  They were from Bangladesh, Chad, the Ivory Coast, Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan and some of them had fled from their own countries to take refuge in Libya.  Then, when violence erupted there, they became refugees again.  UNHCR estimates that 213 people were drowned, the Armed Forces of Malta say 150 and the Italian media are reporting 250 deaths.  

What we do know is that the boat got into trouble in appalling weather conditions in Maltese waters 32 miles off Lampedusa and that a distress call was received by the Maltese Coast Guard at around 1.15 am.  As the Maltese apparently do not have the fast boats at the disposal of the Italian Coast Guard, they contacted the Italians, who sent two rescue boats to the scene immediately.  The Italian military battled for several hours to save the migrants, but it seems that some panicked and, rushing en masse to one side of their boat, caused it to capsize.  Some managed to swim towards the Italian boats but others could not do so or were dragged back by their frightened companions.  There were 40 women and five children on board the migrant boat but only two of the women were among the 48 people saved by the Italian Coast Guard, a Maltese helicopter and an Italian fishing boat.

All the survivors are said to be in a stable condition tonight.  The dead will be buried in Agrigento and Nichi Vendola, the Governor of Puglia who is tipped as a future Prime Minister, has asked President Napolitano to declare a day of national mourning for them.

Tonight La Sicilia reports that only 72 migrants now remain on Lampedusa, the others having been evacuated to other parts of Italy or repatriated under an agreement reached by Mr Berlusconi and the Tunisian government when the Premier visited Tunis on Monday.  The Tunisians are said to have agreed to some, but not "collective", repatriations in a deal under which the Italians will help to smash people-smuggling rings operating out of Tunisia.  Prior to his departure for Tunis, Mr Berlusconi had said that a "human tsunami" was waiting to sail for Italy on the Tunisian coast.

The governors of other Italian regions, needless to say, are not happy about having to house the migrants and  have, with some justification, pointed out that management structures to help them do so are not in place.  Renata Polverini, the Governor of Lazio, refused permission for tents set aside for visitors to Rome for the May Beatification of Pope John Paul 11 to be used for the migrants, although she is reportedly working with humanitarian agencies to find a solution. Sergio Chiamparino, the Mayor of Turin, blocked plans for a tendopoli or "tent city" in his area because he had received no guarantees of help from Rome.  Mr  Chiamparino says he would welcome genuine refugees but not illegal immigrants, though he admits that he does not know how the authorities could decide who is a refugee and who is not.

There have been hunger strikes in some of the accommodation centres for migrants and escapes from several, notably the one in Manduria [Puglia].  There have also been clashes between migrants and police as the first migrants to be repatriated have been put onto coaches.

In another effort to resolve the problem, Italy has this week granted temporary permessi di soggiorno ["permission to stay"] documents to some of the migrants as this will enable them to travel to other Schengen states.  This move has caused particular anger in France, a country which many of the migrants wish to reach, and relationships between the two governments over the past two days have been decidedly frosty.  However, Corriere della Sera is reporting that an agreement has been reached tonight under which France and Italy will jointly patrol the Tunisian coast with a view to stopping any further departures of migrant boats.

Mr Berlusconi, whose plans to buy a villa on Lampedusa are on hold for the moment as the one he wanted is on common land and too near the airport, is to visit the island again tomorrow and is said to be looking for another home there.


Patricia said...

Such a sad situation. We read in yesterday's newspaper that France had resumed manning the border between France and Italy...which had been unmanned for some time.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Patricia. The French have said they will send any migrants who do not have a passport and proof they can support themselves back to Italy.

CherryPie said...

It is tragic that people get so desperate to go to these lengths to escape their country.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Cherie. A terrible situation.

Whispering Walls said...

How very sad

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes,indeed, WW.


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