• Italy's news in English
 

Immigrants at sea: Why Italy must do more

Rosie Scammell · 19 Jun 2013, 16:10

Published: 19 Jun 2013 16:10 GMT+02:00

“It’s at the point of collapse,” says Valeria Carlini, spokeswoman for the Italian Council for Refugees (CIR), of the situation in Lampedusa. “They spend at least six months there and there is no maximum time."

The sheer number of arrivals - more than 900 over last weekend alone - has put a huge strain on the island's local population of just 4,500 and the Italian government.

A total of 4,319 migrants landed in Italy during the first five months of this year, according to recent figures from Italy's Interior Ministry. During the same period, 13,304 were reported to have been repatriated

Lampedusa’s proximity to north Africa, around 100km away, has made it a hub for immigrants arriving by boat. Some seek asylum while many come in search of work in Italy or beyond in other EU countries.

Despite many immigrants making the journey with eyes on other parts of Europe, Carlini says those landing in Italy are the responsibility of the country's government.

“Italy is part of the EU, but the responsibility lies with the Italian government and the Ministry of Interior,” she says. The government has an “uncoordinated, huge internal structure” to deal with immigrants, which is "far from fully functioning", Carlini adds.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, thousands of people landed in Lampedusa after fleeing instability in north Africa and the onset of war in Libya. In March 2011, 3,000 people were sleeping rough or at the docks. As frustration simmered, migrants staying at one of the overcrowded centres set the building on fire in protest.

The new wave of immigrants led to a spat within the EU, with France temporarily going against Schengen principles by closing part of its border with Italy.

The president of Amnesty International Italy, Antonio Marcesi, tells The Local the EU is well aware that it should do more to support Italy. He adds that patrolling the southern borders of Europe is an EU-wide issue.

“Successive Italian governments have complained that they are left alone to deal with this, which is true to a certain extent,” he says. “[But] we are a big and developed country; cooperation from EU institutions would be welcome but it’s not an excuse for abuses."

The debate over responsibility rages on land and at sea, as each country with Mediterranean shores must assist boats in need within their waters.

Italy has in the past gone out of its way to help people in Libyan waters, says Judith Sunderland, a Milan-based researcher at Human Rights Watch. However, she says there are annual spats between Italy and Malta over rescues: “They don’t want to have responsibility for them after the rescue; the main concern is that there are people whose lives are at risk.”

In 2011 a boat was left adrift in the Mediterranean for two weeks; only nine of the 72 people who embarked on the journey from Libya survived.

Sunderland says that in addition to governments saving people at sea, private shipowners also have a duty. “One of the issues is the disincentive to private vessels, like fishing trawlers, to rescue people, because it delays their work and they’re reluctant to take on that responsibility.”

In 2004 a ship captain and two others were arrested in Sicily for aiding and abetting illegal immigration after a sea rescue. They were later acquitted, although the case may have deterred private ship owners from carrying out similar rescues.

On Sunday seven immigrants drowned after they tried to cross the Mediterranean by clinging onto a fishing cage towed by a trawler. AFP reported survivors as saying the trawler crew cut the line and pushed the victims back to sea when they tried to climb on board the vessel.

“There should be a full investigation because it’s horrifying to imagine that anyone could have taken the conscious decision to cut the line and condemn people to a watery death,” Sunderland adds.

Rosie Scammell (rosie.scammell@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Italy struggles to help traumatized refugees
A woman arrives in Italy after being rescued in the Mediterranean. Photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP

Italy struggles to help traumatized refugees

6 hours ago

The sensation of drowning, short-term memory loss, insomnia and suicidal tendencies: they may have made it safely to Italy, but many asylum seekers are plagued by symptoms of trauma and the psychological help they need is in short supply.

Bologna simplifies life for gay parents
Gay parents with young children in Bologna can now share parental responsibility with their partners. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Bologna simplifies life for gay parents

6 hours ago

Gay parents of young children in Bologna are celebrating news that they will now be able to share parenting responsibilities with their partners.

PM slams 'emotional' Europe on migrants
Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

PM slams 'emotional' Europe on migrants

9 hours ago

UPDATED: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Thursday that Europe could not just limit itself to an emotional reaction to pictures of asylum seekers dying, but had to act.

Venice Film Fest
New film casts spotlight on Church abuse
"Spotlight" had its premiere at Venice on Thursday. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

New film casts spotlight on Church abuse

8 hours ago

Pope Francis still has to prove the Church is serious about addressing sex abuse by priests, according to the director of a major new film about how the damaging scandal was exposed in the United States.

American child falls from Rome balcony
Via del Boschetto, where the American child fell from a second floor balcony. Photo: Lalupa/Wikimedia

American child falls from Rome balcony

9 hours ago

A six-year-old American child is in a serious condition after falling from the second floor of a building in central Rome last night.

VIDEO: British tourist mugged for €35k watch
The robber escaped on the back of a moped. Screenshot: Corriere TV

VIDEO: British tourist mugged for €35k watch

12 hours ago

A British tourist has been mugged at lightning speed in Naples, where robbers snatched his €35,000 watch as soon as their victim stepped out of a taxi.

Naked tourists go for drunken Rome swim
The two naked tourists shocked visitors to the beach with their antics. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Naked tourists go for drunken Rome swim

13 hours ago

Two drunk tourists prompted the ire of fellow beachgoers by getting naked at Rome’s seaside, ultimately being stopped by police for their indecent exposure.

Italian child billed €16 for dirty tablecloth
The bill came with an extra €16 that had been added to cover the cleaning costs of the tablecloth. Photo: Ged Dackys/Flickr

Italian child billed €16 for dirty tablecloth

14 hours ago

A Roman family on holiday in Sardinia were stunned to find a surprise €16 charge on their bill after their 20-month-old daughter dirtied the napkins and tablecloth during a meal.

Vettel bids for Italian Grand Prix win
Sebastian Vettel claimed his maiden Formula One win in 2008. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP

Vettel bids for Italian Grand Prix win

16 hours ago

Sebastian Vettel bids this weekend to become only the second driver to win the Italian Grand Prix with three different teams as Ferrari seek to add some lustre to an inconsistent season in the last European round of this year's world championship.

Italy calls for single EU policy on asylum
Italy's foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, signed the letter alongside his German and French counterparts. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Italy calls for single EU policy on asylum

16 hours ago

Italy, Germany and France called for an overhaul of laws on the right of asylum and a fairer distribution of migrants throughout the European Union, Italy's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

National
Italy's jobless rate at lowest level in two years
National
Renzi under pressure over brutal Sicily murder
National
Alpine dam disaster remembered 50 years on
National
Italian lesbian author gets papal blessing
National
Muslim mayor refuses to take in refugees
Travel
Ten adventurous ways to see Italy
Education
Fewer Italians want to be doctors
Sport
Nibali kicked off Tour of Spain for hitching a lift
Features
Italy's best-kept secrets: 10 must-see places
Italy wants answers on mobster's flashy funeral
National
The neglected children of Italy's domestic workers
National
Doggy bags: The last Italian taboo?
Travel
Civita: The Italian town that refuses to die
Travel
How bad mannered tourists are riling Venice
National
Italy slammed for 'faking' Roman ruin
National
10 Italian dishes with truly disgusting names
National
Italian park held hostage by 'veggie' panther
National
Lost pensioner survives on herbs for nine days
National
Italian mum and daughter reunited after WWII
Five 'ghost' buildings that cost Italy dearly
National
Pompeii survives bumpy restoration saga
National
Italian town warns people to 'stop dying'
National
Why Italy's south is far better than the north
Rome 'too crowded' for more migrants: mayor
Politics
Italy's anti-establishment party 'ready to govern'
Sport
Rome rules out using Vatican for Olympic bid
National
Italy's south is worse off than Greece
National
What happens to Italy’s missing migrant kids?
National
Rome mayor fights for survival amid chaos
National
Six dodgy fashion trends to emerge from Italy
National
Is Italy about to legalize cannabis?
National
Rome's 'decay' prompts council reshuffle
Business & Money
Chinese are quaffing more Italian wine
Travel
Seven daft TripAdvisor comments about Italy
National
Italian town bans dog barking during naptime
National
Tornado predicted as Italy heatwave ends
National
Italy told to recognize same-sex couple rights
National
Migrant girl dies after insulin thrown in sea
National
Heatwave kills 140 pensioners in Piedmont
National
Treviso homeowners burn migrants' furniture
National
Tourists in hot water for Rome fountain dips
Migrants rush to help after Venice tornado
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,173
jobs available