It happened before and it will happen again. Thousands of young men fleeing poverty, injustice, terrorism and political oppression will keep losing their lives in shipwrecks on the shores of Italy. Men from every third world country imaginable: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia, gather into tiny fishing boats which carry twice its supposed capacity and sails into a perilous Mediterranean only for something to go wrong and the youths to inevitably drown. Over 300 passengers are estimated to have drowned when fuel on the 66-foot fishing boat caught fire, causing for panicked rush to one side of the vessel. The rickety boat -in result- capsized, and sank just half a mile offshore Lampedusa, the Italian touristic attraction.
Fisherman Vito Fiorino, who helped save 47 migrants, recounted the horrifying moment, “I could see dozens of hands and heads, and we heard cries for help.”
Another fisherman, Enzo, said that Italians “should send a ship to bring those who are fleeing wars to Italy safely.”
Only 155 young men were saved as for the other unfortunate 300, strong currents and high waves have prevented the 40 Italian rescue team of divers to safely collect bodies. Quoting Pope Francis, I say today is a day of mourning.
The drowned bodies are estimated to be found in and around the wreck, submerged in 47 meters (0.029 miles) of water, approximately 0.6 miles off the shore of the island of Lampedusa. President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy announced this incident to be one of the worst disasters of Europe’s immigration crisis and a “massacre of the innocent”.
“The gambler”, Dostoevsky’s masterpiece would’ve been adept enough to describe the feelings of those African immigrants. They are in no shape or condition to take such risky and fearful boat rides, and they pay over $1,000 to human smugglers who ship them on old craters with drastic conditions, rusty machinery and load these boats with twice its expected passenger capacity. These smuggling boats are usually too fragile to complete its ride and often stops midway or sinks under extra weight.
The survivors from such shipwrecks re often treated from dehydration, sunburns and gasoline burns. When these surviving immigrants -the few among them who could actually swim- reach safety on the shores of Italian islands, life is not peachy there at all. Over 22,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year alone. The number is a shocking increase over last year’s number of 7,981 migrant. Every year more than a 1,000 migrant die while trying to reach the southern coasts of Italy. Many shipwrecks are not not known of, so the number of shipwreck victims maybe even greater than the 19,000 which have been reported by the UN refugee agency. Most of these migrants are from Somalia and Eritrea but the Syrians have increased to a total of 3,300 who fled to Italy over the course of August-September this year alone.
Italian officials have been pressuring the European Union to take matters into hand and invoke stronger penalties against human smuggling across the Mediterranean. Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s centre-left Democratic Party suggested setting up what they called “humanitarian corridors” to provide protection for migrant boats. Human rights groups like Amnesty International have urged the Italian government to put more effort into safeguarding the fleeing migrants and increasing their search-and-rescue capacity to protect the lives of the refugees.
Meanwhile, Italy has been in mourning ever since the Lampedusa migrant ship disaster. Schools will observe a minute of silence in memory of the 300 African victims and a public mass will be held in the evening. All I can do is light a candle for the souls of the desperate innocent who have lost all hope in their own countries, only to be swallowed by an angry sea.
Written by: Jaylan Salah