Saturday, April 30, 2016


Ten days after news came in of a migrant tragedy in the Mediterranean in which up to 500 people may have died, the world has lost interest and I wish I could say I am surprised.  But when all that most countries care about is keeping migrants off their own territory, politicians cannot stop bickering for long enough to even ascertain what has happened. For the record, and according to information pieced together by UNHCR in interviews with survivors, it appears to be this:

In Libya, human traffickers put 100 - 200 migrants onto an inadequate, 30-metre-long boat then tried to transfer them, somewhere between Libya and Italy, onto a larger boat which was already carrying 100 people. This boat suddenly capsized and sank. Most of the 41 survivors managed to swim back to the first boat which was then left adrift in the Mediterranean for at least three days before help arrived on 16th April. No further confirmation of the numbers involved in the disaster seems to be available and, as I have said, few people in a position to change things are interested.

There has really been some shameful political posturing over the past week, with Austria threatening to build a barrier at the Brenner and the German Interior Minister having the gall to tell Italy that it is a country "far from being overwhelmed by asylum seekers." That's right, Mr de Maizière - overwhelmed she is not but Italy continues to save thousands of migrants every day, processes them, provides the medical care required and, despite some isolated ugly incidents, generally treats arrivals with kindness and humanity.  In the last five days of March alone, Italy saved 3,700 migrants.  The barrier at the Brenner - which Italy correctly says would be against EU rules - is off the cards for now but only for now.  Austria has said that it will be erected "when needed" and is putting in place more border checks at the Pass.

In other developments, Italy is ready to contribute 50 Carabinieri and army personnel to a possible UN force of 250 which would help Libya protect its oil wells and refineries. Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano is asking for an agreement with Libya on migration so that most migrants would be prevented from leaving in the first place and others would be sent back under a scheme similar to the one agreed by the EU and Turkey.  Here in Sicily, Frontex [the European External Borders Agency] has set up its Italian headquarters in Catania.

Meanwhile, my own country continues to make me ashamed, having refused to admit 3,000 Syrian refugee children who are in dire need of a safe haven.

One of the saddest stories that has come to my attention this week is that of a three-year-old Somali girl who, two weeks ago, survived a Mediterranean migrant crossing with her mother, brother and uncle.  She was taken to the migrant hotspot of Taranto [Puglia] and was waiting in the long queue to be processed when the Mayor of Taranto, Ippazio Stefàno, a pediatrician who helps out in the medical facility at the hotspot, realised that she was extremely unwell.  He got her family to the front of the queue, examined the little girl and had her transferred to hospital.  At first all seemed to be going well but sadly the child died on 25th April.

I now have two simple questions for all politicians involved in this sorry mess: How many children have to die before Europe comes to its collective senses and what do you think the effects of such tragedies will be on the siblings of the victims?  Governments, take a look at history.

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