• Italy edition
 
Opinion
Immigrants at sea: Why Italy must do more
Immigrants at a detention centre in Lampedusa. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Immigrants at sea: Why Italy must do more

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

With 1,000 immigrants crammed into a detention centre fit for 300 on the Italian island of Lampedusa, The Local looks at who bears responsibility for people arriving at the gateway to Europe.

“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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Pope in trouble over 'personal' phone calls
The Vatican has had enough of Pope Francis cold-calling people. Photo: Fillipo Monteforte/AFP

Pope in trouble over 'personal' phone calls

Pope Francis's habit of picking up the phone and cold calling people who write to him is landing the Vatican in hot water and spokesman Federico Lombardi has had enough. READ () »

'French' family robs plush jewellery shop
Jewellery photo: Shutterstock

'French' family robs plush jewellery shop

A family pretending to be French and giving off an air of sophistication managed to steal €180,000 worth of jewellery from a plush shop in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. READ () »

Italian waiter was killed in 'senseless attack'
Joele Leotta was murdered six days after arriving in the UK. Photo: Facebook

Italian waiter was killed in 'senseless attack'

An Italian man who was beaten to death in the UK last year had left Italy to start a job as a waiter just days before he was killed, in what proscecutors described as a "senseless attack of brutal, drunken violence". READ () »

Woman had abortion and hid foetus
The woman reportedly separated from her husband during the pregnancy. Pregnancy test photo: Shutterstock

Woman had abortion and hid foetus

A 20-year-old woman has been arrested in central Italy for infanticide, after reportedly having an abortion when she was between seven and eight months pregnant. READ () »

Mayor wants museum to remember Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was born in Predappio. Benito Mussolini photo: Shutterstock

Mayor wants museum to remember Mussolini

The mayor of Predappio, the birthplace of Benito Mussolini in central Italy, has called for a museum to open to remember the fascist leader and his role in Italian history. READ () »

Perugia shortlisted for European Youth Capital
Perugia has been shortlisted for European Youth Capital 2017. Photo: Christopher John SSF/Flickr

Perugia shortlisted for European Youth Capital

The medieval Umbrian capital of Perugia has been shortlisted for the title of European Youth Capital 2017. READ () »

Italian doctor 'refused to assist abortion'
Abortion pill photo: Shutterstock

Italian doctor 'refused to assist abortion'

A woman in the process of having a medical abortion was forced to call police to a hospital in Genoa on Easter Saturday after a doctor, described as a ‘conscientious objector’ to abortion, refused to assist her. READ () »

Berlusconi signs up for community service
Silvio Berlusconi will work at an old people's home for one day a week. Photo: AFP

Berlusconi signs up for community service

Italian former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi officially signed up to his community service Wednesday, agreeing to a court document which lays down the rules for his punishment for tax fraud. READ () »

Rome braces itself for thousands of pilgrims
Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be made saints on Sunday. Photos: Wikipedia and AFP

Rome braces itself for thousands of pilgrims

Rome is getting ready for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and dozens of foreign delegations visiting the Vatican on Sunday for an historic event - the double canonisation of popes John Paul II and John XXIII. READ () »

Jew-saving priest 'blessed' for WW2 efforts
Giuseppe Girotti died in Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Priest photo: Shutterstock

Jew-saving priest 'blessed' for WW2 efforts

An Italian priest who died in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War, after being condemned for helping Jews, is set to be beatified by the Vatican and could become a saint. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Top ten English words adopted by Italians
National
Singing nun strikes again with 80s classic
Health
Italy embryo mix-up: real parents identified
National
Italian priest hits boy on scooter and flees
National
Outcry as Italy auctions off 'haunted island'
Culture
Rome street artist paints New York
Gallery
10 words you didn't know came from Italy
International
'The mafia has infiltrated every sector in Germany'
Features
'I want everyone to care about Italian history'
Italian Of The Week
The island carpenter with the Pope's blessing
National
Top 10: dream jobs in Italy for expats
National
Becoming a saint in five not-so-easy steps
Advertisement:
Health
Italian woman dies after taking abortion drug
Culture
Italy's looted treasures found in Rome 'museum'
Opinion
Why Italy might not exist in five years
Italian Of The Week
The world's fastest man on skis
National
Sheikh seeks woman in Italy for shopping blitz
National
British royals give Pope whisky and eggs
National
Top 10: Quirky Italian royalty facts
National
How to park like an Italian
National
Unique stucco homes up for grabs down south
Politics
Italy sells officials' luxury cars on eBay
National
VIDEO: American football team goes gay for a day
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 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

422
jobs available