The proposal to add the new date to the Italian calendar was put forward by three Democratic Party (PD) politicians, to highlight the “humanitarian emergency” as thousands of migrants make the perilous sea journey trying to reach Europe.
“The Mediterranean seabed has been transformed into an enormous cemetery. They were men, women and children escaping from persecution, violence and destitution,” the proposal said.
Forty-five thousand migrants arrived in Europe by sea last year, more than three times the number in 2012. Around 700 people died making the crossing in 2013, with 366 drowning in shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa island in early October.
The Autumn deaths brought international attention to the plight of boat migrants, with visits from EU leaders to Lampedusa, while the Italian government launched a sea operation in an attempt to prevent further shipwrecks.
But MP Paolo Beni on Tuesday said the topic has “disappeared” from the public spheres and now needed to be put back on the political agenda.
“Remember that four months ago [this issue] was in the newspapers, on TV; there was a great wave of motivation and great promises,” he said during a press conference in Rome on Tuesday.
Beni’s voice was echoed by Khalid Chaouki, a fellow PD politician, who said the coalition government had failed to keep its promises.
“The government is not responding with the measures it committed itself to. For me, this fact is very problematic and critical." Chaouki called for “concrete and direct action” to help migrants.
While a national day is intended as a memorial, MPs said it also served to advance the current debate on immigration.
“Having an initiative like this helps citizens to understand and construct the necessary climate for a new type of welcome,” Beni said.
The national remembrance and welcome day is planned to go hand-in-hand with broader initiatives to integrate migrants in Italian society, such as changes to the country’s citizenship law put forward by Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge.
But as Italy struggles to cope with the thousands of boat migrants arriving on its shores each year, a strong anti-immigrant sentiment is gaining traction.
For Ermete Realacci, an MP backing the bill along with Beni and Chaouki, Italians’ negative view of migrants is short-sighted.
“I find it terrible that in some parts of our country, our history is forgotten. There were lines of bodies from tragedies at sea of our migrants,” he said, referring to the waves of Italian migration over the past two centuries.
“The same things that are now said against people that arrive in Italy were said against Italians,” Realacci added.