Backgrounder: Major Italian wrecks of boats carrying migrants
Video>> Death toll in Italy migrant boat wreck rises to 114, over 200 missing
|Migrants stay on a boat after surviving from the accident at the pier of southern Italian island of Lampedusa, Oct. 3, 2013. The death toll from the sinking of a migrant boat off an Italian island carrying about 500 people could well top 200, according to local media reports. (Xinhua)
By Marzia De Giuli
ROME, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- The Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday lived one of its most horrible days when at least 200 migrants who left Africa for a better life in Italy lost their lives attempting a packed crossing through the Mediterranean Sea.
The death toll of the shipwreck, triggered by a fire on a fishing boat which carried around 500 Eritrean and Somali migrants, continued to rise all day long, and hit international headlines.
The boat sank off Lampedusa, with merely more than 150 people rescued in what Prime Minister Enrico Letta called as a "huge tragedy." Rescuers described scenes as despair and death as they found hundreds of people lost at sea.
Recent reports have shown that in the first seven months of this year alone, around 12,000 migrants landed in southern Italy, and most often on the tiny island, which is 115 km away from Africa. A study found that nearly 20,000 people died in the Mediterranean crossing over the past 25 years.
Thursday's tragedy prompted Italy's political leaders to demand greater support from the European Union (EU) in dealing with migration and human trafficking.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and representatives from all parties said the latest disaster highlighted the need for greater joint EU efforts.
However, local experts stressed that Italy should not be surprised by what could be easily imagined to happen in a country with "restrictive" laws.
"Not only most of the migrants trying the crossing to Italy have the goal of a different final destination in Europe, but the great majority does not even arrive by sea," said Carlo Castiglioni, president of Cestim migration think tank.
He told Xinhua that around 80 percent of the public money for immigration policy in Italy is used to restrain the waves of migrants.
"These resources would be much more useful if destined to aid the asylum seekers, who are fleeing conflict or persecution in their countries and have a right to be treated as refugees. What's more, this would also help crack down on human traffickers," Castiglioni added.
"But it is high time the Italian and European authorities increase their cooperation in the Mediterranean Sea, rather than concentrating resources on closing off the borders," said Frontex, an EU control agency which coordinates and develops European border management.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who rushed to the scene on Thursday, has asked to put the theme on the agenda of an EU justice and home affairs ministers' meeting in Luxembourg Tuesday.
He urged Europe to share responsibilities as Italy cannot continue to shoulder the increasing burden of major waves of migrants coming to the gate of Europe.
"I fully understand the desperation of the migrants who were the victims of today's tragedy, because they have wars in their country and watch what they believe to be Italy's paradise on television," a man from Senegal, Lissy Ndoye, told Xinhua.
Ndoye has a regular job in Italy, which allows him to fly back to his country to visit his wife and children once a year.
"Italians are not racists. They just do not know so much about immigration ..." he said.