Europe vows action on migrant plight in Lampedusa
Deaths of migrants seeking new life a 'European tragedy'09 October, 17:02
Last Thursday's disaster is just one thread in a pattern of desperate and often fatal attempts by migrants fleeing oppression, war and famine in the hope of finding a better life in Europe, officials said.
And more must be done to help them, they added.
"Europe cannot look the other way," European Commission President Josè Manuel Barroso Barroso said during a visit to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Wednesday.
"We can react in a more adequate way together". The shipwreck where 363 people are likely dead was "not worthy of Europe" wrote European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on her Twitter feed.
With 280 coffins lined up for burial, and the official death toll reaching 296 by Wednesday afternoon, an Italian state funeral was being planned to recognize what President Giorgio Napolitano called a "European tragedy" suffered by the entire region.
"In the south of the Mediterranean, it is not just human rights that are being threatened by internal conflicts and oppressive regimes, but the right to life itself," Napolitano said during a visit to Poland.
Anger about the conditions facing migrants, both in fleeing their homelands and in what many call harsh treatments when they arrive, was evident in the boos and cries of "shame" directed at Barroso and Italian Premier Enrico Letta when they visited Lampedusa.
The southern port city is often the first point of European arrival from southern migrants who wash up on shore in every type of rickety boat and sea vessel.
The Mediterranean migrant crisis will be tackled at the next summit of European Union leaders in two weeks' time, although it was not originally on the agenda, Letta said.
"Italy will do its part, but this is a European drama," he said.
"There will be a battle to make Europe's attention turn concretely to this issue. 2014 will be the year of the turning point," added Letta, who thanked Barroso for coming to "see the drama in person". Barroso said that all of Europe "is with the people of Lampedusa" and pledged an additional 30 million euros to cope with the thousands of refugees arriving from North Africa every year. He also said the Commission would press EU leaders to accelerate efforts to assist with the situation in the Mediterranean and said the burden of accepting migrants should be shared out better among member states.
"Solidarity with the states who are exposed and accepting so many refugees is needed," he told a news conference.
Last year 332,000 migrants arrived in Europe, especially in Germany, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Belgium.
But Italy has long complained that it is on the front-lines of the problem because so many migrants arrive first on Italians shores.
"It's necessary to share the borders of the member states and the burden of the initiatives," Barroso said in acknowledgement of Italy's concerns. Meanwhile, Letta said it was a "disgrace" that the 155 survivors of the Lampedusa disaster were being investigated under an Italian law that criminalizes undocumented migrants.
"As premier I felt ashamed at such zeal," Letta said, adding that his coalition government would consider changing the controversial law.
"He also apologized for the conditions at Lampedusa's migrant centre, which is massively overcrowded with many people forced to sleep outside as boats with new arrivals continue to land on the island.
The 850-person migrant centre has been reduced to a 250-person capacity since a 2011 fire destroyed part of the facility.
"I apologise for the inadequacies of our country in relation to a tragedy like this," Letta told a news conference, promising his government would intervene.