ROME: Almost 18,000 people in the past eight years — 1,000 this year only — have lost their lives or gone missing while trying to reach Italy from North Africa, NGO Save the Children said on the anniversary of one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.
In a report presented on Sunday for the Italian National Day in Remembrance of the Victims of Immigration, Save the Children said that Lampedusa, the tiny Mediterranean island closer to Africa than to the Italian mainland, continues to be one of the main points of arrival and initial reception. Since the beginning of the year, over 6,000 unaccompanied minors have reached Italy via sea, with most of them landing on the island.
“After that tragedy, everyone made promises. The EU pledged they would do their best to stop this chain of death. The facts tell us that no promise has been kept so far. Every day we are informed about more deaths of desperate people who only want to reach Europe to build a better future,” Salvatore Martello, mayor of Lampedusa, told Arab News at the end of a memorial ceremony to remember the 368 migrants who lost their lives in a shipwreck on Oct. 3, 2013.
Many of the dead in the accident were Eritreans and Ethiopians who became trapped on the boat when it overturned or drowned trying to swim ashore. The capsizing occurred just off an uninhabited islet and less than a kilometer from Lampedusa itself.
“I well remember all the authorities who came here for the funeral service looking at the coffins in our airport’s hangar, all promising that such a thing would not be allowed to happen again. Eight years later, I cannot say that that pledge has been honored,” Martello adds.
He repeated his appeal to the EU to “commit to creating a structured, coordinated, and effective search and rescue operation for the central Mediterranean.”
While speaking to Arab News, Martello received a phone call from the chief of the island’s coast guard, informing him that only in the previous night, 748 migrants landed in Lampedusa. A 4-month-old baby was among them.
“You see? It never stops. We welcome everyone here, and my people do their best to help, but if the ‘big shots’ in Brussels and in Rome do not act soon, we will be mourning more and more fatalities. Now, the reception facility is full. We can only accommodate 250 people there. Where do we send those other people?”
The Mediterranean route, he explained, “is one of the most dangerous in the world. People cross miles and miles on ramshackle boats or dinghies. Somebody must do something. We cannot only cry when people die. We must act. States must act. And must act now.” Martello urged for an “appropriate system to receive and provide protection for the most vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors.”
Some survivors of the October 2013 shipwreck attended the memorial ceremony, tossing flowers into the sea. A Catholic priest and an imam participated in the seaside service.
At the end of the ceremony, everyone went for a moment of reflection to the “Gate of Europe,” a monument by Italian artist Mimmo Paladino, located in the southernmost point of Lampedusa and of Europe, to remember the many migrants who died and went missing in the Mediterranean.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said in a message that “Europe can be the landing place for all those who want to escape from slavery.”