Five arrested, four wanted for Lampedusa disaster

Migrants 'tortured, gang-raped' before shipwreck

01 July, 18:14

    Italian police on Tuesday detained five people in a probe into the October 3, 2013 migrant boat disaster off Lampedusa that killed 366 people Italian police on Tuesday detained five people in a probe into the October 3, 2013 migrant boat disaster off Lampedusa that killed 366 people

    (By Denis Greenan) (ANSAmed) - PALERMO - Italian police on Tuesday detained five people in an operation in Agrigento, Catania, Milano, Rome and Turin in a probe into the October 3, 2013 migrant boat disaster off Lampedusa that killed 366 people.

    Another four arrest warrants were issued but the persons were declared fugitives: two in Africa, one in Sweden and the fourth in Rome.

    Police said they had seized large sums of money including money transfers from migrants.

    Migrants aboard the boat underwent "continuous physical violence and reiterated torture as well as repeated rape, including gang rape," police said after arresting the five traffickers Tuesday.

    The arrests came the same day as statements from Palermo prosecutors saying anti-immigration policies adopted by the majority of host countries are a boon for human traffickers.

    "Policies aiming to contain the flow of immigrants adopted by practically all countries of destination have had the side effect of prompting organised crime to invest ever more resources in the illegal management of these flows," wrote the prosecutors in detention orders issued Tuesday against alleged human traffickers in connection with a probe into the migrant boat disaster off Lampedusa that killed 366 people in October 2013.

    "The ban on legal entry beyond a certain number prompted an immediate solution to that obstacle," continued the magistrates.

    "Transnational criminal organisations act like a firm or, better still, like a service company able to arrange the journey to Italy or to another European country on receipt of adequate payment," wrote the prosecutors. However, they went one step further, saying for would-be migrants such organisations had become "dispensers of hope", setting themselves up as the main tool for fulfilling the dream of a better life elsewhere. The October 3 Lampedusa disaster, quickly followed by another that killed 34, prompted Italy to launch a huge search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which is still going on, with Rome vainly and repeatedly asking the EU for more help.

    The arrests came a day after a fresh migrant disaster that shook Italy and put renewed pressure on the EU to do more to help out.

    Roughly 30 bodies, suffocated or drowned, were found aboard a migrant boat crammed with nearly 600 passengers as it was escorted to safety.

    More than 5,000 migrants were rescued off the coast of Italy last weekend alone in the government's Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue programme launched after the October disaster.

    It has saved some 65,000 migrants since the start of the year, more than 2011's record 63,000 rescues, government data revealed Monday. But it is straining to cope and migrant centers are overflowing. Italy has repeatedly asked the EU for more help in dealing with the influx. Reciprocity on asylum seekers and migrants was scratched from the EU summit conclusions last week under strong pressures from northern European countries. On Monday, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that the EU is looking for ways "to contribute more" financially to rescues in Italy, but only "with respect to existing resources," thus ruling out new funds. Italy's right-wing parties seized the moment to up pressure either to reform or abandon Mare Nostrum.

    "Stop crossing, help them at home now!" said Matteo Salvini, the head of the anti-immigrant Northern League on Facebook. "The shirts of (Premier Matteo) Renzi and (Interior Minister Angelino) Alfano are stained with blood". The rescue program has come under increasing fire from the League as well as the center-right Forza Italia party of Silvio Berlusconi for its cost and for allegedly facilitating human trafficking. "With Mare Nostrum we've incentivized, with grave consequences, an influx of illegal migrants that seems unstoppable. Our country must put an end to the operation and force the EU to confront this problem which is a European one rather than an Italian one," said FI Senator Vincenzo Gibiino from Sicily. He was echoed by Lombardi Governor Roberto Maroni of the Northern League.

    "I hear a lot of talk but the Commission isn't doing a thing. It's dumping the problem on Italy," he said. "Real measures must be put in place, something loud, otherwise we run the risk of only talking about it". Meanwhile members of Italy's left also upped pressure on the EU to help it on the front lines.

    "We're truly at the limit," said Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia, adding that Milan accepts on average 1,000 refugees per day. "This is really Europe's responsibility. It's leaving Italy all by itself".(ANSAmed).

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