Monday, August 17, 2015


I would very much like to be able to tell you, this evening, that the Ferragosto holiday passed peacefully in the Mediterranean but, to no one's surprise, it did not: 

To no one's surprise but to everybody's horror, for the scene that greeted Italian rescuers directed to help the passengers of a 14-metre boat 20 miles off Libya on Saturday was beyond even their imagining.  At first they thought that this was an overcrowded migrant boat like so many others but as they boarded, the stench was horrendous and when they opened the hold they found dozens of bodies, piled one on top of the other. The stench turned out to be that of human excrement and petrol fumes. These poor souls had died of asphyxiation and around them women were crying for their lost loved ones.

As is becoming common in these cases, a sick kind of "class system" had been in operation, with those migrants who had been able to pay more being allowed to travel in the open and some - but few, according to the rescuers - were given life jackets.

Italian rescuers managed to save 413 people from this horrific scene, among them 45 women and three children.  It is thought that their prompt and professional action averted a much bigger disaster. With the help of a German ship, 49 bodies have been recovered.  These, along with the survivors, were brought to Catania today on a Norwegian ship to which they had been transferred.  The pictures of a large, white, refrigerated container with the letters UN painted on the side are indeed a distressing sight, for this contained the bodies.

The Mayor of Catania has declared tomorrow a day of mourning in the city and has said that from now on the migrant crossing from Africa to Italy will be known as "the most deadly route in the world". It is estimated that 2,300 people have died on this route in 2015 alone. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has said that if the chaotic situation in Libya is not resolved, tragedies like this will continue to happen and he has appealed to the international community.

The migrants know the risks very well so surely anyone who has cause to believe that taking this route is better than remaining where they are deserves international help and support rather than censure? I ask again.  "How many people have to die?"

Update, 18.8.15 at 14.00:

It has now been reported that there were 14 children among the survivors and that some of the men on board may have given up their places in the open to women and children. Eight people from the boat have now been arrested by Catania police on suspicion of people-trafficking.


Leslie: said...

Oh Pat! How awful - words cannot express the horror of this. Those poor people. It makes me think of what I learned in history about the shipping of slaves from Africa to the Americas! I agree with your comment about if taking a chance on this escape route is better than staying, what kind of life do these people suffer?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Leslie. I know - I can't stop thinking about it. I don't think it's possible for any of us to imagine what kind of life they are fleeing.


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