Italian diplomat in KSA doubts claim coast guard ignored Syrian refugee boat’s SOS

A Red Cross volunteer carries a baby wrapped in a blanket after migrants disembarked at the Sicilian Porto Empedocle harbour. (AP)
Updated 10 May 2017

Italian diplomat in KSA doubts claim coast guard ignored Syrian refugee boat’s SOS

JEDDAH: The Italian ambassador to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said he doubted the veracity of an audiotape that alleges Italy refused to rescue 268 Syrian refugees who drowned when their boat capsized.

The refugees, including 60 children, lost their lives 60 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea.

The leaked audiotape, which dates to Oct. 10, 2013, when the boat sank, was published by the Italian magazine L’Espresso. The tape suggests the Italian authorities allowed the Syrian refugees to drown, despite phone calls from one passenger pleading to be rescued.

“I don’t know what the audiotape has, but what I can tell you is that Italy, today, is the country that has accepted the most refugees in the world,” Italian Ambassador Luca Ferrari told Arab News. “Just last year, we took in 150,000 refugees.”

The Italian Coast Guard is the major naval force in the Mediterranean Sea that saves human lives, according to Ferrari.

The boat was carrying at least 480 people who sailed from Zuwarah, in northwestern Libya, and was heading to Lampedusa, a small island between Sicily and Tunisia.

According to the magazine, the boat capsized, sending the passengers into the water.

“When you save hundreds of thousands of lives, you can miss some of them, yes,” said the Italian ambassador. “I don’t know if we missed it, I can’t tell you what happened in 2013. I doubt that if there was a ship with refugees that asked to come to Italy we would have ignored it.”

Ferrari suggested that what he called “fake news” is circulating against the Italian authorities after an Italian magistrate had recently opened an inquiry into a group of NGOs that are allegedly colluding with human traffickers to smuggle refugees into the country.

“There is a suspicion that certain NGOs are in direct contact with traffickers who put refugees into the sea, so that they save them right away,” Ferrari said while describing the act as “the most recent form of human slavery.”

If one may connect the dots, he said, there is a connection between these recent events. “It is strange that just when the Italian magistrate opened the inquiry, this type of news comes out three years later,” said Ferrari.

Ferrari asserted that the policy of Italy is to accept refugees wherever they come from.

“We are among the European countries that take in most refugees, we are the ones who saved the most, and we are the ones who give the most asylum,” he added.

Italy has kept thousands of refugees who have been on its borders and failed to cross into Austria, Switzerland and France after they were not allowed in. “We took them in, gave them jobs and we are doing our best.” The number of refugees would reach 200,000 in Italy this year, he said.

The average number of refugees taken by the Italian authorities per year since 2012 is about 100,000. “As you may probably know, there are two European gates for Syrians — one is through Greece, and that was closed, and one is through Italy that is still open actually and it has always been.”

The leaked audiotape recorded several phone calls between a Syrian doctor who was a passenger on the boat at the time, named Mahamed Jammo, and the Italian Coast Guard pleading for help. “Please hurry, the boat is going down,” the man is heard saying.

The repeated distress calls were received by two Italian operators who reportedly urged Jammo to call Malta instead, claiming the boat is closer to the Maltese territorial waters. However, Jammo, who called Malta, was told that the boat was closer to Lampesuda than Malta — 61 nautical miles from Lampesuda and 118 nautical miles from Malta.

According to L’Espresso, the Italian Navy’s patrol boat, Libra, was awaiting orders between 10 to 19 nautical miles away.


Life getting back to normal as restaurants, coffee shops reopen across KSA

It is also mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to check the temperature of customers, and ensure a space of at least 1.5 meters between them. (AN photo by Fahad Al-Zahrani)
Updated 6 min 35 sec ago

Life getting back to normal as restaurants, coffee shops reopen across KSA

  • The government has laid out rules and regulations for employees returning to work in the state and private sectors

RIYADH: Restaurants and coffee shops in Saudi Arabia have reopened their dine-in sections to customers after more than two months of closure as a part of the lockdown imposed by the government to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The reopening comes as a part of the second phase of a government plan, announced on May 26, to resume economic activity and gradually return to normal.
The second phase reduces the curfew and increases time allowed for people to venture out to 14 hours a day, and permitted the resumption of domestic flights.
Arab News toured different neighborhoods in Riyadh, and noticed a large number of people meeting their families and friends in restaurants and coffee shops. Most of them adhered to the government’s regulations of social distancing and were wearing face masks.
Siham Hassanain, CEO and founder of Siham International Trading Co. that owns and operates a chain of restaurants and coffee shops, said that she had not expected such a huge number of people to show up.
 “People want to go out, yet the coronavirus still exists. It still poses a danger and is still spreading.”
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs posted a series of tweets regarding the protocol that restaurants and coffee shops should follow.
As per the protocol, they are obliged to limit the maximum number of clients who can sit at a table to 5 people unless members of one family. It is also mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to check the temperature of customers, and ensure a space of at least 1.5 meters between them.
The regulations also advise food providers to use disposable items to serve food such as paper or plastic cups and dishes as well as electronic food menus. It also restricts some practices that may contribute to the spread of the virus such as serving Shisha or opening children’s playing areas in shops.
Hassanain said that most people were complying with government instructions, and most of the violations had come from teenagers and young adults.
Riham Ahmed, a 23-year-old student from Riyadh, said she chose to have her lunch with her friends in a restaurant despite fears expressed by her family.
“I’m taking all the preventive measures, putting (on) my face mask and staying away from crowded places, but I have to meet people and go outside, I can’t afford more time of isolation at home,” she said.
The government has also laid out rules and regulations for employees returning to work in the state and private sectors. For the time being, offices are not to be filled to capacity, with only 30 percent of employees allowed to occupy them at any given time, and those in offices must have their temperatures checked prior to entering the building.
The rules also state that handshakes are banned, face masks must be worn at all times, and employees must use sanitizer to wash their hands regularly throughout the day. Furthermore, employees with preexisting health conditions such as immune deficiencies, asthma or respiratory problems, or the morbidly obese, are all exempt from returning to work.

FASTFACT

The reopening comes as a part of the second phase of a government plan, announced on May 26, to resume economic activity and gradually return to normal.

The ministry also recommends that digital means be relied on as much as possible in order to minimize contact and try to prevent people from returning to their offices unless necessary. The full list of regulations is available on the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development’s website.
Sarah S, a government employee, told Arab News that she had gone back to work but that she was not sure how much she liked the environment. “The office was mostly empty, and it felt wrong. Like when you stay late on a Thursday or come in on a weekend. It’s very eerie and a little unsettling to see so many empty desks,” she said.
She added that while the office was taking every precaution, people were still cautious about the reopening and a constant sense of apprehension still filled the office.
“Everyone is on edge. It will take a lot of time for us to readjust to the idea of being in an office. Things that seemed so normal and mundane before, like handshakes, or sharing files, are all causes for concern now,” she said. However, some employees, who are still working from home, feel the opposite way and wish that they could be in the office instead.
Nawaf M, a human resources employee at a private company in Riyadh, said that everyone from his department was still working from home, but he would prefer to be in the office.
“I don’t like working from home. I feel like the office atmosphere is so important to maintaining a sense of professionalism and producing results,” he said.
While he realized that the threat of the coronavirus is still strong, he said that practicing good “pandemic etiquette” would ensure his safety and allow life to regain some normality again.