EU announces 30 mln aid to help Italy refugees
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso (C) arrives on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa as residents protest against his visit. AFP photoThe head of the European Commission has announced during a visit to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa that Italy will receive an additional 30 million euros in EU funds to help settle refugees, after the sinking of a migrant boat killed at least 275 people.
Jose Manuel Barroso also pledged to work “tirelessly” for an EU-wide asylum policy and to beef up the Frontex border patrol agency to prevent similar tragedies, according to the Associated Press. He visited Lampedusa with Premier Enrico Letta, who announced that the victims of the sinking would receive a state funeral.
Barroso added that Europe “cannot turn away” following the refugee shipwreck tragedy off the Italian island last week.
“Together we can respond in a more adequate way. Europe cannot turn away,” Barroso said. “This tragedy today shows that it is indispensable to step up our efforts.” Barroso however was not greeted warmly at the site of the tragedy, with protesters heckling him upon arrival to the island, according to Agence France- Presse. “Disgrace!” and “Killers!” a small group of activists and residents shouted as Barroso stepped off his plane with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Lampedusa.
Fishermen also sounded their sirens in protest.
“They should be ashamed of themselves! They should solve this humanitarian problem!” one protester said at the fence of the local airport.
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.” Some 30,000 migrants have landed in Italy so far 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 center. This is shameful, there are children there! We try to help but we don’t have the means,” said one resident.
The centre houses around 1,000 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 -- demand to be moved to other facilities on the Italian mainland.
Barroso visited the refugee centre, as fishermen in this community of just a few thousand inhabitants sounded their sirens in the port in protest at the growing influx of asylum seekers.
Barroso was also travelling with the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, who has called on EU member states to beef up the Frontex border guard service to mount “a big search and rescue” operation across the Mediterranean.