EU chief heckled, urges action on Italy refugee island

October 9, 2013 1:56 pm
 European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) flanked by Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta attend a press conferece on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on October 9, 2013/AFP
European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) flanked by Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta attend a press conferece on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on October 9, 2013/AFP

, Lampedusa, Italy October 9- European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso was heckled Wednesday on an Italian island where he said Europe should “step up” after a shipwreck that has shown up the EU’s flawed migration policy.

“Europe cannot turn away,” Barroso told reporters on Lampedusa after paying his respects in front of rows of coffins of the 296 asylum seekers who drowned trying to swim to Italian shores last week.

“This tragedy today shows that it is indispensable to step up our efforts.”

As he spoke, divers continued efforts to recover more bodies from the wreck, which caught fire, capsized and sank within sight of the coast.

Rescuers fished 155 survivors from the waters, which was estimated to be carrying over 500 people.

Barroso promised an extra 30 million euros ($41 million) in funds for Italy for the upkeep of asylum centres to house the growing influx.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who accompanied Barroso, said Italy would hold a state funeral for the victims and would boost funding to help migrants, including many unaccompanied minors.

“Italy will do its part but this is a European tragedy,” Letta said, adding that the refugee wreck was the worst ever in the Mediterranean.

A small group of activists and residents protested against Barroso as he arrived on the island.

“Disgrace!” and “Killers!” they shouted.

“They should be ashamed of themselves! They should solve this humanitarian problem!” one man shouted.

Another said: “We’ve been living with this for 20 years. We’ve had enough of death! These deaths are on the conscience of Italian and EU politicians.”

Fishermen also sounded their sirens in protest.

‘Unacceptable’ conditions at refugee centre

Some 30,000 migrants have landed in Italy this year four times more than in 2012, but fewer than the 50,000 who crossed the Mediterranean in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring revolts.

An estimated 17,000 to 20,000 migrants have died during the perilous crossing over the past 20 years as they often make the journey on badly overcrowded fishing boats or rubber dinghies.

Eritrea, Somalia and Syria are the main countries of origin and the majority of arrivals are on Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost point which is closer to north Africa than to the rest of Italy.

“This is unbearable! The conditions are unacceptable at the refugee centre. This is shameful, there are children there! We try to help but we don’t have the means,” a local woman said.

The centre houses around 800 migrants, including previous arrivals, but only has 250 beds. They are being held in unsanitary conditions that were judged “unacceptable for a civilised country” by a group of parliamentarians that came to inspect it.

There have been tensions at the heavily guarded centre in recent days as migrants some of whom have been sleeping in the open air demand to be moved to other facilities on the Italian mainland.

Part 1 | Part 2

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