A migrant and her sons arrive with a group that includes
Syrian and Palestinian refugees at Catania harbour in the
island of Sicily. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello
Italy is asking for more European Union support and an
overhaul of the bloc's immigration rules after last week's
shipwreck off Sicily that killed hundreds of African migrants
who risked a dangerous sea crossing in search of a better life.
Divers again descended to the wreck submerged at a depth of
more than 40 metres (132 feet) to recover bodies. After 43
more corpses were recovered on Tuesday (local time), the
confirmed death total rose to 274, the Coast Guard said.
More than 300, mostly Eritreans, may have perished in the
seas off the small island of Lampedusa, according to the 155
survivors, making it the one of the worst tragedies in the
history of the EU's long immigration crisis.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta and European Commission
President Jose Manuel Barroso will visit Lampedusa together
on Wednesday. Barroso said he will seek to provide more help
to Italy, without giving details.
Italian officials want it to be made easier for asylum
seekers granted refugee status after arriving in Italy to be
settled elsewhere in Europe.
"It is just not possible that the EU continues to accept that
these people enter Europe in this horrendous fashion," Giusi
Nicolini, Lampedusa's mayor, told Reuters on Tuesday. "And so
we will ask him for new policies on asylum."
The latest incident has come in the middle of a bitter debate
about immigration. Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge,
Italy's first black minister, has faced a stream of insults
from politicians from the anti-immigation Northern League.
With Lampedusa just over 110 km (70 miles) from Tunisia,
Italy has borne the brunt of migration from North Africa for
more than a decade, but reception centres remain inadequate.
More than 900 migrants, most of them likely eligible for
asylum, continue to be packed inside a gated immigration
centre on Lampedusa built to house 250. Hundreds are sleeping
outside and have been drenched by torrential rains in recent
Unlike in previous years, almost all the seaborne migrants
could qualify for refugee status, in part as a result of the
Arab Spring uprisings that led to political instability
across the southern fringes of the Mediterranean, United
Nations refugee agency spokeswoman Barbara Molinario told
As of a week ago, about 30,100 migrants had reached Italy by
sea this year, she said. Of those, 7,500 fled the Syrian
civil war, 7,500 political oppression in Eritrea and 3,000
violence in Somalia, she said.
EU refugee rules, known as the Dublin regulations, were
drafted a decade ago, and they establish strict limitations
as to which country each migrant can apply for refugee
In most cases, asylum must be sought in the country where a
person enters the EU, putting the burden on border countries
like Italy and Greece.
Italian EU Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi called on
Tuesday for work to begin on wide-ranging changes to EU
asylum and immigration directives.
"Evaluating and possibly revising the Dublin rules must not
be taboo," Moavero Milanesi told Avvenire newspaper, which is
published by the Catholic bishops association. The minister's
spokesman confirmed the comments.
He said the EU had to adapt common rules for every aspect of
the immigration crisis, as it did when it drew up strict
budget rules to tackle the euro zone debt crisis.
The badly overcrowded Lampedusa immigration centre showcases
many of the problems Italy and the EU face.
Each migrant has a dramatic story to tell. Bashar, a
41-year-old Syrian, reached the island two weeks ago by boat
from Libya, he told Reuters in an interview.
He is seeking asylum, but wants to go to Northern Europe,
which will be difficult under current rules because he has no
family already living in other parts of the EU.
A civil engineer by training, he said he paid $1,000 for a
24-hour boat passage because he could no longer secure a visa
to legally enter Italy, Malta, or any other EU country. In
2007, he came to Italy with a tourist visa for his honeymoon.
In Syria, he said, "it's war. There's no working, no home.
It's very, very, very dangerous. I didn't want to escape. I
thought it would pass, but it didn't. Now people in Syria
think there's absolutely no hope."