EU 'looking other way' says Renzi after migrant deaths

Friction with Brussels after latest sea disasters

14 May, 20:48

    Migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Migrants rescued in the Mediterranean

    (By Stefania Fumo) (ANSAmed) - REGGIO CALABRIA - Premier Matteo Renzi on Wednesday accused the European Union of looking the other way as Italy struggles to cope with a mounting migrant crisis.

    ''Europe explains everything about how to catch swordfish, but it turns its head when we go to rescue people in trouble'', he said. There has been friction between Rome and Brussels this week after two migrant boat disasters south of Italy in which around 60 people are confirmed dead and many more may have lost their lives. Italy launched its humanitarian Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) search-and-rescue border operation in October, after roughly 400 migrants drowned in two wrecks off the coast of Sicily. It is spearheaded by 782 Italian Navy personnel aboard a flotilla of vessels supported by Carabinieri, Coast Guard, police and Air Force units. Earlier on Wednesday, EU border-management agency Frontex Deputy Director Gil Arias Fernandez said that the agency's budget has been cut this year, even as arrivals in Italy in the first four months of 2014 rose by a dizzying 823% over the same period in 2013. From January to April 2014, 25,650 migrants arrived in Sicily and 660 in the Puglia and Calabria regions, he said. ''We requested extra funding in March, and the EU Commission denied that request'', said Arias.

    Also on Wednesday, Pope Francis condemned the ''shameful massacre'' of migrants. Shortly before he spoke, police in southern Italy said they had arrested two alleged human smugglers who authorities say deliberately caused a boat carrying as many as 400 migrants to sink off the coast of Libya on Monday to induce an Italian sea rescue.

    So far, 17 people, including 12 women and two children, have been confirmed dead and more than 200 rescued by Italian Navy vessels and merchant ships that raced to the scene, but as many as 200 more are still missing. According to the indictment, the pair may face murder charges after they allegedly blocked the engines and damaged the vessel.

    The wreck follows a similar sinking off the coast of Libya on Sunday, in which as many as 40 European-bound migrants died. Premier Matteo Renzi said Monday that ''Europe is to blame'' for such tragedies. His remarks were echoed Tuesday by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who said Mare Nostrum needs to be expanded into a full-scale international mission. In Brussels, a spokesperson for Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said she had written to the Italian government in March offering further EU assistance but got no reply, a claim Alfano flatly denied. ''Our ships were there to recover the dead and rescue survivors,'' he said. ''Europe is not helping us. It lets us accommodate the survivors''.

    Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti earlier this month defended Mare Nostrum, saying it has saved some 30,000 lives, including 3,000 minors, and arrested more than 200 human traffickers.

    An increasing proportion of the illegal immigrants coming to Italy are political refugees, Pinotti added. ''Two thirds of them qualify for political asylum,'' she said.

    Most of them come from war-torn countries such as South Sudan, Syria, and the Palestinian Territories, authorities said.

    (ANSAmed).

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