The survivors of a shipwreck off Sicily two days ago live in terrible conditions and face criminal prosecution, a delegation of lawmakers and officials said on Saturday as they called for policy changes at home and in the European Union.
Rough seas again blocked efforts to recover the bodies trapped
inside a boat that sank on Thursday, killing an estimated 300 Eritrean
and Somali men, women and children who were seeking a better life in
Rescue teams expect to find more than 100 others in and around the
wreck, submerged in 47 metres of water less than a kilometre (0.6 miles)
from the shore of the southern island of Lampedusa.
Now the plight of the 155 survivors of one of the worst disasters in
Europe's immigration crisis is putting a spotlight on the shortcomings
of the centres that house newly-arrived migrants, and on the laws that
are aimed at keeping them away.
"We have the duty to tell the Italian government and the EU that
their structures and policies are not only inadequate, but they're
criminal," said Rosario Crocetta, Sicily's regional governor, after
visiting Lampedusa's immigration centre with the mayor and a group of
The centre, which is equipped to house 250 people, is now packed with more than 1,000.
Reporters and TV cameras are kept out, but clearly seen through the
front gate were families with children camping under a stand of shade
trees, with foam mattresses for beds and clothing drying on lines
stretched between the trunks.
"It's indecent," said Tommaso Curro, a lower house deputy for the 5-Star Movement.
"The overcrowding is inhuman," said Gea Planeta Schiro, with the
Civic Choice party. "More than 100 woman are using one bathroom, and
they have no soap to wash their clothes."
The lawmakers said they spoke to a group of the survivors of
Thursday's shipwreck, and were told that each migrant paid thousands of
dollars to smugglers first to cross the Sahara desert, and then to buy
passage across the Mediterranean.
Lampedusa, a tiny fishing and tourist island that is only about 70
miles from Tunisia and 170 miles from Libya, has borne the brunt of a
crisis which over the years has seen tens of thousands of migrants
arrive in rickety and unsafe vessels.
Abdul, a 16-year-old Somali boy wearing shorts and a red T-shirt,
said his father paid a total of $7,500 to smugglers to get him to
Lampedusa, where he arrived on a boat 12 days ago - about six months
after leaving Mogadishu.
Human trafficking is a lucrative business that exists because of the
strict laws aimed at keeping unwanted immigrants out of more wealthy
Abdul's father paid $1,300 to get him across the Sahara, $300 to get
him out of a Libyan prison, $800 for each boat crossing, of which he
bought four because he was turned back three times by Libyan police, who
shot at him, he said.
"I want to study. I want a future," he told Reuters through the bars of the immigration centre gate.
The survivors of Thursday's shipwreck could be prosecuted, fined
5,000 euros and sent home if they are not given political asylum,
Agrigento prosecutor Ignazio Fonzo told Reuters.
"There have been some convictions in the past, and of course they can't pay the fine. They don't have any money," he said.
"This shows that one of next things that Italy's parliament must do
is abolish the measure that makes immigration a crime," Mario
Marazzitti, a lawmaker for the Civic Choice party, told reporters.
The disaster has renewed pressure from Italy for more help from the
EU to combat the decades-old migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta's centre-left Democratic Party called
for an urgent meeting of the European Council to agree on setting up
special "humanitarian corridors" to provide protection for migrant
On Saturday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for an EU meeting over the death of migrants off Sicily.
"It's a terrible tragedy. It is important that European policymakers
meet soon to discuss this together," he told reporters during a visit
to the French city of Metz.
The survivors of the boat disaster who wish to pay their respects to
the dead who have been recovered will attend a ceremony later on
Saturday in the airport hangar where the 111 coffins lie in rows on the
Most of the caskets are brown, but the four children lie in white ones, with teddy bears and flowers placed on top.
Some in Eritrea have requested that their family members who drowned
be returned home for burial, Laura Boldrini, president of the lower
house, told reporters. Some of the survivors are also helping to
identify the dead, she said.
On Saturday morning, a warm southerly wind whipped spray over the
bows of 10 fishing boats that took a wreath into the choppy waters where
the tragedy took place.
"Lampedusans are sensitive people," fisherman Vincenzo Partinico,
49, told Reuters. "We made this gesture because we are suffering for
those who died, because we are all human beings."