Italy demands EU support after Lampedusa disaster
200 migrants, including women and children, dead at sea03 October, 18:41
(ANSA) - Rome, October 3 - Italian political leaders demanded greater support from the European Union in dealing with migration and human trafficking following a shipwreck Thursday that killed some 200 migrants off the coast of Lampedusa.
"We will make our voices heard," vowed Interior Minister Angelino Alfano shortly before a telephone conference with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
Italy cannot continue to shoulder the increasing burden of major waves of migrants into Europe who land on the island of Lampedusa, said Alfano.
"We hope that the European Union realizes that it is not an Italian but a European drama," said Alfano, who rushed to the scene with Premier Enrico Letta.
Letta called the shipwreck a "huge tragedy". Many migrants die every year attempting the hazardous crossing between North Africa and the southernmost shores of Italy. Recent reports have shown that in the first seven months of this year alone, some 12,000 migrants landed in southern Italy - about 1,300 in just one week - and most often on Lampedusa. On his Twitter feed, Pope Francis called on the faithful to pray for the victims of the migrant-boat wreck and it was shameful that such accidents are allowed to occur. "The word disgrace comes to mind. It's a disgrace," said the pontiff, who had prayed with migrants on Lampedusa in July during his first trip away from the Rome area since his election as Pope. "Let's pray to God for the victims of the tragic wreck off the coast of Lampedusa," the pope said via the Italian version of his Twitter account, @Pontifex. The Italian government will declare a national day of mourning Friday for the scores of Eritrean and Somali asylum seekers who died when their packed boat caught fire and sank.
The dead included women and children who were on board the ship that was carrying 500 people.
At least 155 survivors were found and some 250 were missing after the disaster, the worst in a string of such incidents this year.
The European Union as well as the homelands of many of the desperate immigrants appearing in Italy must also take greater responsibility for cracking down on the human traffickers who prey on the desperate, said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
Thursday's "massacres of innocents" proves how important it is for the international community to fight human trafficking, Napolitano said.
"It's essential to stop the criminal trafficking of human beings, in co-operation with the countries of origin," Napolitano said.
Police detained a Tunisian man who was among the survivors of the shipwreck and identified by survivors as one of the human traffickers on the migrant boat.
Many migrants die every year attempting the hazardous crossing between North Africa and southern-most shores of Italy.
These "journeys of despair and death" by asylum seekers who often pay traffickers to help them flee their countries – often in Africa and the Middle East - for Europe must be stopped, said Napolitano.
Critics have said that EU migration policy was "fragmented" among members and "navel-gazing" should change to show "more solidarity" with front-line countries like Italy.
The rapid rise in the number of migrants who die while fleeing troubles at home is a major concern for the United Nations, said Antonio Guterres the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In a statement after the shipwreck, Guterres praised the "swift action taken by the Italian Coast Guard to save lives".
But Guterres also expressed his "dismay at the rising global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution and perishing at sea". Although fishing vessels were in the area of the disaster, they did not realize what was happening or they would have helped, said Alfano, after suggestions that not enough was done to help with the rescue.
"They would have intervened," Alfano assured the SkyTG24 television network.
"Italians are great-hearted," added Alfano.
If anyone on the ship had been carrying a cell phone to call for help, the disaster might have been avoided, he added. "Unfortunately, no one had phones and no one had called, as they are used to doing on these trips, the number of search and rescue".