New migrant boat disaster off Lampedusa. 'EU not helping us'

Dozens migrants abandoned by traffickers die in Algerian Sahara

12 May, 20:24

    Migrants rescued off Lampedusa (archive) Migrants rescued off Lampedusa (archive)

    (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSAmed) - ROME-  A boat packed with migrants sank Monday about 100 miles off the coast of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at least 14 while about 200 others were rescued, the Coast Guard said.

    The wreck follows a similar sinking off the coast of Libya on Sunday, in which as many as 40 European-bound migrants died. The European Union said Monday it was shocked by the latest migrant deaths over two days south of Italy and urged member states to "show solidarity" in dealing with the crisis. Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the EU's council of interior ministers would discuss the issue at its next meeting.

    Monday's sinking occurred near an offshore Libyan oil derrick after a nearby merchant ship was alerted to its unsafe conditions, officials said.

    In a program called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), Italy has ramped up search-and-rescue missions around its sea boarders since last October when two wrecks off the coast of Sicily killed roughly 400 migrants. Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano said the European Union isn't "helping" Italy sufficiently to cope with its migrant crisis.

    "Our ships were there to recover the dead and rescue survivors," he said in Bologna. "Europe is not helping us. It lets us accommodate the survivors", said Alfano. He added that Italy risks becoming "a prison for political refugees" if greater assistance is not guaranteed.

    Alfano has previously said that Europe will have to do more to support Italy, which is on the front lines of the sea arrivals of migrants.

    Italian Red Cross President Francesco Rocca called for the creation of a "humanitarian corridor" which he said was "urgently" needed in response to the sinkings.

    "This time we don't want tears and declarations of intent," said Rocca, who explained such a corridor would allow safe access for war and hunger refugees from the Mediterranean south to Europe. "There must be immediate intervention and without wasting time," he said, adding that the Mare Nostrum operation "must be implemented and become a European mission".

    He called on greater support for rescue and resettlement efforts from the European Union.

    A similar plea came from Italy's Justice Minister Andrea Orlando who complained of a "cooperation deficit" at the EU and international level.

    "We await a strong signal," he added. "A leap forward is needed". Rome has also complained the EU is not doing enough to help Italy to police a key part of its southern border, which thousands of migrants from North Africa head for every year. Last week, as many as 1,000 migrants landed in Sicily, the latest arrivals adding to the total of about 30,000 rescued since the start of the Mare Nostrum operation, according to figures released last Wednesday by Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti.

    Most of them are from sub-Saharan Africa including war-torn countries like South Sudan, while an increasing number are from Syria and the Palestinian Territories.

    The interior ministry said earlier this month that 800,000 asylum seekers were "poised" to set off for Europe from North Africa.

    Issues around migration, including the rescue and care of illegal migrants, is a hot-button issue in Italy where last week a row erupted between the anti-immigrant Northern League and the interior ministry.

    Northern League leader Matteo Salvini called Alfano "inept" and said that Italy is being invaded by newcomers.

    "Italy is suffering an unprecedented invasion and you're not doing your job; resign for the sake of Italians," Salvini said after visiting an overflowing migrant centre in Rome.

    The League leader said Italy needed a referendum to make entering Italy illegally a criminal offense again, as it was until a League-led law was repealed last year.

    Salvini also said the migrants were "getting food and accommodation that Italians don't get," and he has questioned the cost of the rescue program.

    Mare Nostrum has a monthly budget of 9.3 million euros, of which seven million euros are earmarked to keep coast guard and Navy vessels, helicopters and other vehicles and equipment running, while the rest is allocated to personnel, Alfano said.

    Migrants abandoned by traffickers die in Algerian Sahara

    The bodies of 15 Nigerien migrants have been found in the desert a few hundred kilometers from the city of Tamanrasset in southern Algeria. The city serves as the destination for thousands of refugees from extremely poor and conflict-ridden countries in central Africa. Security forces found the corpses about twenty kilometers from In-Guezzam. Local media report that Nigerien police have told their Algerian counterparts that another at least 35 others may also have died in crossing the desert. A search operation has been initiated to find them.

    Temperatures in the Algerian Sahara can rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius in this period, and the migrants - as they had no food and water - would not have been able to survive, say Algerian police. Investigators posit that the traffickers likely abandoned the migrants a few dozen kilometers from their destination in order to avoid arrest. Algeria provides for heavy sentences for attempts to cross borders illegally and for those involved in migrant trafficking.

    The undocumented migrants are typically chosen on the basis of economic means and are then taken in small groups to secure locations, where lorries begin a journey across the desert towards Algeria or Libya. Traffickers ever more frequently let off the migrants a few kilometers from the city, saying that the lorry is having problems and they have to go into the city to get it fixed. The desert traffickers then get into a lorry and leave the other vehicles (which have been made unusable, intentionally), with little water and food, abandoning the migrants to an almost certain death. (ANSAmed).

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